Knowledge Sourcing and Foresight: Public and Private Agencies in Health and Life Science
(Theme 4: Managing Knowledge Flows for Innovation in Europe)

Dr Sue Newell
Dr Jacky Swan
Dr Harry Scarbrough

The Project

Innovation is a process involving the creation, diffusion and utilization of new knowledge across and within organizations. The project focuses on a critical aspect of this innovation process. This is the interface between external knowledge diffusion processes and the use of knowledge as innovation within firms. This interface constitutes a key juncture in the processes and structures of knowledge production, creating barriers to innovation in some contexts and facilitating innovation in others. It therefore exerts a crucial influence upon the management of knowledge and innovation at firm level. A greater understanding of the dynamics of knowledge transformation at that interface will contribute significantly to policies and strategies in the domain of innovation management.

The research will investigate the interface between firm-level utilization of knowledge and the external networks through which knowledge is diffused. The creation of internal expertise is not a simple process of translating external knowledge into internal knowledge. Rather, it relies on individuals who articulate new knowledge, drawing upon external and internal sources and thus provide a bridge between firm-level utilization and macro-level diffusion networks. This articulation process has arguably become particularly critical to competitive success as global trends in knowledge production have eroded the structural and disciplinary boundaries between producers and users of new knowledge or techniques. This is especially important when considering the development and design of information technologies that integrate traditionally distinct disciplines or areas of expertise.

Networks and patterns of knowledge diffusion vary across different industries and different countries and the process of innovation is also dependent on industrial and national contexts. This project therefore uses a comparative research design which addresses the context in which diffusion, articulation and utilization of knowledge occurs.

Research Aims

Specifically this project will:

  • Identify the key elements (i.e. organizational, social, cognitive) of the processes of articulation occurring at the interface between external knowledge diffusion and firm-level knowledge utlization.

  • Use comparative case studies of innovation across industrial and national contexts to determine the relationship between the articulation of knowledge and expertise and success or failure of the innovation process.

  • Develop a theoretical framework for understanding the processes and mechanisms of articulation.

  • Establish the policy implications arising from a better understanding of the articulation process across countries and industries.

  • Make practical recommendations for firms so that they can transform external knowledge into internal expertise.


The research will use comparative case studies in each of four European countries (UK, Netherlands, Sweden, France). These cases will examine the knowledge diffusion networks and the transformation of knowledge into new skills and expertise within the context of a particular innovation project. Cases will be selected where the firm is involved in the introduction of information technologies that integrate different areas of expertise. Four case study firms will be selected in the UK and two in each of the othercountries. In each country half the firms will be in manufacturing and half will be in the service sector. These sectors are expected to be qualitatively different in terms of the structure and patterns of networks connecting the firms within them.

The firms will be studied during the early stages of their innovation projects. Each firm will be visited three times over the two year period of the research. At each visit key players will be interviewed using semi-structured interviews. The interviews will focus on what knowledge and expertise is being used, where it came from (i.e. from which inter- and intra-organizational networks), and how it is being used for strategic and tactical decision-making episodes relevant to the innovation process. In addition secondary sources, observation and (where possible) log books and cognitive mapping techniques will be used to gather and enrich the case study data. The focus of the analysis will be at the level of the innovation project.


The project started on 1st June 1997 and will end on November 30th 1999. A Senior Research Fellow (Donald Hislop) has been appointed and will be employed on the project until May 1999 (i.e. to cover the entire fieldwork period). For more information contact Donald Hislop or Jacky Swan at Warwick Business School (addresses above).

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