What is knowledge and knowledge flow?
Knowledge is to know how something works, as opposed to not knowing. This sounds simple, but it may be quite complex from a philosophical point of view. For instance, we do not always know what we don’t know, and we do not always know what others know or do not know. But it is not necessary to read Wittgenstein to understand that participation in networks may give the actors new and useful knowledge. Knowledge that is shared may achieve much greater value than knowledge kept to oneself. This does not imply the need to hand over all knowledge, but maybe the need to develop new products through collaboration to achieve more value creation for more participants.
Who has knowledge? Everybody has knowledge, but depending on what kind of work you do, the knowledge will vary. Typically, we distinguish between tacit and explicit knowledge.
- Tacit knowledge – “experience-based knowledge” which is only present in people’s heads and therefore is difficult to document. Such knowledge is acquired through doing work, be it different kinds of artisanal work, skills or know-how which may only be transferred through practice. This knowledge vanishes if a person leaves the business.
- Explicit knowledge – “academic knowledge” which can be documented and therefore be found again. This may be transferred readily from sender to recipient. Such knowledge is left in the form of documents, specifications, etc. when a person leaves the business.
Knowledge and flow of knowledge are essential for innovation. No one can be innovative without receiving input. Most innovations happen when stakeholders meet and exchange knowledge. The way in which knowledge flows in the network and among members is vital for the degree of innovation. The network can plan activities that strengthen the flow of knowledge. Let everybody present themselves and their business in order to help securing them a platform and to be heard at meetings and venues.
When working with innovation, adding knowledge from others may distinguish success from failure. A full overview of the knowledge held by various participants may be what enables connecting oneself to the necessary “knowledge resource”. The scientific literature frequently describes innovation as an interactive process, that is to say non-linear knowledge development and knowledge transfer: technology and knowledge flow freely between the businesses, research and development, and other stakeholders.
What promotes and inhibits knowledge flow- what promotes active participation in the networks?
There may be many different reasons to participate in the network. In a new study, we extracted some common factors such as building legitimacy and mobilizing social and cultural capital. The actors attribute great importance to these intangible assets, but there is also a need for tangible economic value creation. Due to the variety of reasons for membership, and the fine balance between intangible and tangible assets, managing a network is an exercise which requires engagement and sensitivity (Larsen and Nesse, 2016). There was, for instance, a lack of collaboration projects along the way in the ESF case, where they only pursued one major project that didn’t get funding.
Since the members know each other well, they have formed their own smaller groups that share information on certain topics. This prevents overflow of information and allows information to be targeted to those who will benefit from it. Whenever a member of the network attends a seminar or training, the information is shared either in these smaller groups or to the entire network, depending on the need.
Biovalley has its own webpage, Twitter-account, press releases and newsletters, which are a channel for internal and external knowledge sharing. Members of the network are also members in other local and national networks, which allows information to be shared and received.
The network is working towards having more common working spaces, which would be beneficial for knowledge sharing. This is already happening with the common laboratory, where students and researchers can gather from different actors and work simultaneously.
The network has good relations with external actors, which can be seen in for example the Ministry of agriculture and forestry being an external member. Thus, knowledge is also shared nation widely. What is yet to be done, is to familiarize more external actors with the network. The network is working on improving the recognisability of the Biovalley-brand.
Lessons to learn: Make the network members familiar with each other and encourage them to start smaller groups for knowledge sharing. This will prevent overflow of information and make the knowledge sharing more targeted. Have one person as a central communicator – it is easier to get information through when it is coming from one central figure. Do not be afraid of including external actors to your network. Share tools of education and thus make the educators and researchers more acquainted with each other, allowing innovation to flourish.
Another good example is the tourism network in Jostedalen, which is a relatively small but tight network. The participants know the same people therefore information as well as experience is shared and spread quickly. In the business network, the general manager makes sure everybody is informed about what is happening. Information from meetings and activities individual members have participated in is circulated afterwards in the form of minutes/summaries. In addition, people meet informally, many of them frequently. In this way, tacit knowledge is made explicit to the participants in the network.
Tight networks are often associated with constrictions related to acquiring new knowledge. In tight networks, without many weaker links to actors from other networks, a relatively small amount of new knowledge will be added. It is argued that people in tight networks will have a fairly similar knowledge base and thus little new knowledge is generated. One purpose behind Innovation Norway’s business network initiative is to contribute to sharing experiences with other networks. Knowledge is often transferred via network meetings that is positively perceived by all respondents. The process of learning to collaborate internally in new ways in Jostedalen was also mentioned as a positive contribution to knowledge generation. By working together more tightly, the businesses are now more aware of which resources each participant in the network may contribute with.
Through their contact with Innovation Norway and the external process manager, the network was given access to knowledge. In this case, the contact is channeled mainly through the project manager, who then will pass it on to the other businesses.