Knowledge dynamics, Innovation and Learning Network

Lead Research Organisation: Institute of Education
Department Name: Lifelong and Comparative Education


The aim of this project is to create a collaborative international network to bring together researchers from two disciplines - economic geography/regional studies and organisational/workplace learning - who have been exploring issues related to learning, innovation and economic development from different theoretical perspectives. The aim is to generate new insights by exploiting synergies between the two, and the project will address two issues: (i) how the learning and skills of individuals is linked to collective learning by firms in different kinds of production-consumption networks, and (ii) how learning and innovation takes place across geographical, organisational and professional boundaries.

These issues are recognised as being increasingly important to economic growth in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Researchers in the area of economic development have noted that successful firms increasingly innovate through networks that stretch across regional and national boundaries, and that they combine knowledge and expertise from different professional and technical areas. In this context they have recognised that they need new conceptual tools to analyse the actual learning processes by which actors who are located in different places work together, and/or draw on different knowledge bases, to create new goods and services. Thus they have begun to engage with the work of researchers in the area of workplace and organisational learning who are developing new conceptualisations of the ways in which people learn to use new knowledge and tools between professional or technical communities to address the challenges they face in common, and recontextualise and reconfigure their practices in innovative ways. This project will consolidate and expand this nascent interdisciplinary collaboration.

By generating new insights into these issues, the project will assist policymakers to develop/fine-tune policies in the areas of innovation, economic development and skills. The network will consult and engage with policymakers, practitioners and private sector actors throughout the project to disseminate emerging findings and obtain input into new research proposals that will be developed from our work.

Planned Impact

Who are the beneficiaries (in the UK and partnering countries)?

1. Supra-national users concerned with regional development and innovation/skills, such as the European Association of Regional Development Agencies (EURADA), OECD, ILO and European Training Foundation.
2. National level policy makers including senior civil servants, policy analysts and professionals in the departments for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Communities and Local Government (CLG), and other public agencies including the Technology Strategy Board, Skills Funding Agency, and UK Commission for Employment and Skills. In Demark these groups include the Danish Enterprise and Construction Agency, and Danish Ministry of of Economic and Business Affairs.
3. Regional and local policy makers including regional development agencies (in partnering countries), Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) and local authorities.
4. Employer representative organisations including the Sector Skills Councils, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), and their equivalents in the partnering countries.

How will they benefit?

1. Policy actors at all levels who are involved in economic development, innovation and skills will benefit from new interdisciplinary work that clarifies the processes by which learning and innovation takes place in multi-locational and cross-sectoral networks. The identification of the practices, tools, institutions and actors that support effective and innovative inter-firm learning will eventually contribute to the formulation of more effective policies to support innovation and economic growth in the UK and Europe.
2. Employer representatives and private sector firms will benefit from a better understanding of the conditions and activities that facilitate innovation processes involving partners in different organisations/locations and professional/technical groups. The effective engagement of these users therefore has the potential to support wealth creation and economic growth, as well as contributing to the skills development of businesses in a variety of sectors.

In the UK we will draw on the existing profile of, and expertise within, the ESRC-funded LLAKES Centre to engage policymakers at all levels to achieve impact in terms of contribution to agenda setting and knowledge exchange during the initial period of funding, with a clear strategy of sustained engagment to make an impact on the formulation of policy in the medium to long term. The LLAKES Advisory Board gives access to representatives of the user groups identified above, and we will also use the Centre's well-established channels of communication and large stakeholder database to engage potential beneficiaries through public seminars and events that target a mixed group of users. We will also ensure the wide dissemination of research summaries and briefing papers through our extensive network of policymakers, public sector organisations and private sector representatives in relevant areas. The lead international collaborator will lead on engagment and dissemination in partnering countries, drawing on his extensive experience and taking advantage of existing partnership agreements and joint working with regional, national and European level policy-makers, practitioners and private sector firms.

A particularly important activity will be consultation and discussion with potential beneficiaries regarding the scope and objectives of the new research proposals that will result from the network. UK-based users from our main user groups will be invited to participate in the third workshop in order to ensure their input into the design of new projects and ensure that appropriate engagement strategies and user-friendly outputs are built in to our future work.


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David Guile, UCL's Institute Of Education Guest Editor (2018) Special Edition of the Journal Industry and innovation on "Knowledge dynamics, Innovation and Learning" in Industry and innovation

Description Given the rapid pace of technological and societal change, it is ever more important for social scientists from different disciplines to collaborate and create new cross-disciplinary perspectives. We need to know much more about how people, governments, employers, and communities (at national, regional and local levels) acquire and use knowledge about change to create innovative solutions. This network enabled researchers in economic geography, regional studies and organizational and workplace learning to develop new concepts and analytical tools for addressing the spatial and relational dimensions of knowledge, innovation, work and learning. The key finding are that firstly, cross-disciplinary debate and case study research is vital in order to identify the complex ways in which knowledge accumulates and is translated from one context to another and from one community to another. One example of the value that can come from cross-disciplinary research was the network's case study about cross-sectoral innovation and learning in the off-shore wind farm industry in the East of England. This identified how small and medium-sized enterprises, supported by public-private initiatives, can learn how to enter new markets and adapt existing technology and processes to new applications. Secondly, it is clear that there are a number of steps and stages in developing cross-disciplinary research activity, for example, sharing papers, identifying common themes and issues, submitting and having symposia proposals for international conferences accepted, broadening the focus of individual researcher's own published work and joint writing or research activity, and that not all researchers who are committed to cross-disciplinary work want to move through this spectrum of activity.

For example, all the members of the network participated in an invited symposia reflecting the intersection between knowledge, learning and innovatation at the Organizational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities (OLKCs) Conference, Oslo Business University, 2014, whereas only four members are participating in the Special Edition of the Journal of Innovation and Industry on the same themes which using new theoretical/methodological approaches to write about the same themes.
Exploitation Route The findings provide an excellent reference point for other researchers who are interested in cross-disciplinary activity because they show that it is easier for researchers from specific disciplinary backgrounds, even if they themselves combine insights from different disciplines, for example, Economic Geography, Organisation Studies, Workplace Learning, to use symposia to explore points of connection between their respective work and in the process to broaden their own theoretical and/or methodological frameworks, than it is to create new cross-disciplinary writing combinations.

This suggests that other researchers or the ESRC may consider making evidence of extant cross-disciplinary symposia a baseline criterion for, respectively, the drafting and submission of proposal for funded cross-disciplinary networks or research projects. This would ensure that future projects start further across the activity spectrum described above.
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