Innovation brokers / Courtiers en innovation

David Phipps, RIR-York
David Phipps (RIR-York) published another knowledge mobilization journal club article last week. The journal club discusses work on “innovation brokers”. Are you a knowledge broker or an innovation broker?
David Phipps (RIR-York) a publié un autre article dans le cadre du club de lecture sur la mobilisation des connaissances.  La discussion porte sur les « courtiers en innovation ». Êtes-vous un courtier de connaissances ou bien un courtier en innovation ?
We wrote a number of blogs on the K* conference a few weeks ago. At that conference I met Laurens Klerkx, a scholar from Wageningen University, The Netherlands who writes on innovation and innovation brokers in particular. I had just finished my presentation as part of the K* to civil society panel in which I showed our video of our collaboration with Nottawasaga Futures resulting in the Green Economy Centre. You can read about that collaboration and view the video here. In the video Valerie Ryan speaks about our role as helping connect them to York University research and expertise, to funding “right down to editing my proposals, we simply couldn’t have done this without them, we simply couldn’t”. Thanks Val!
In the Q&A after the panel presentations Laurens pointed out that we had done more than broker knowledge saying we had played the role of an innovation broker. Innovation broker was a new term for me. I asked for more information and Laurens sent me a couple of his papers that I discuss on the KMb Journal club.
Innovation broker? Is this truly a different term easily differentiated from the more narrowly construed knowledge broker or are we really using different words to describe the same function? If you are a knowledge broker placed within a discipline specific project or unit then you are likely brokering knowledge; however, that knowledge and that brokering function nonetheless sits within a broader system of knowledge creation to implementation.  If you are an institutional knowledge broker like those in the ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche universities you are brokering relationships within a broader system. We all care about what happens to our “knowledge” post brokering and strive to evaluate the impact of our brokerage by tracking forward to implementation and impact. As such we are tracking forward through a broader innovation system.
So are we all innovation brokers? Is this a new term (to me, clearly not to the literature as Laurens has been writing about this since 2008) to describe our work or is it describing something that we are not doing? And if the latter should we broaden the scope of our work?
Interesting beer talk. While we should avoid jumping on the terminology band wagon we should think about our roles and consider how this new terminology can help us become better brokers of either knowledge and/or innovation.

5 thoughts on “Innovation brokers / Courtiers en innovation

  1. David:
    Far be it from me to muddy the terminology/jargon waters, but yes, we are all innovation brokers. Regardless of whether we’re in public health, medicine, or international development, if we approach KT/KmB/K* (ad infinitum) from the mindset you’ve described, then we are innovating. The mindset that makes intuitive leaps to new syntheses/interpretations of data; intuitive leaps to new institution/community connections – is an innovative mindset. Which comes back around to – we’re all doing the same thing, regardless of the label we slap on it.

  2. Thanks for your comments Rick. You and I share the opinion that it doesn’t really matter what you call us. We know what we do even if sometimes we have trouble explaining what we do so a label would be nice but I doubt the knowledge intermediary community will ever agree on the diverse acronyms of KT, KTE, KMb, KTT etc…even K*

  3. I am also intrigued by the new terminology, but I think it potentially points to something deeper than jargon. When I started exploring knowledge mobilization dynamics I came up against one of its limits – it does not easily accommodate ignorance – yet ignorance (understood as the borders and the limits of knowing) is essential to understanding research and innovation. This is, in my view, why the concept of ‘innovation broker’ resonates for the authors – it captures brokerage beyond knowledge. In my research I propose ignorance mobilization as complementary to knowledge mobilization (under the umbrella term of epistemic mobilization) – to capture the full range of dynamic interactions between knowledge and ignorance in research and innovation. The dynamic epistemic model I propose can also be applied to business innovation when the latter espouses ‘real world experiment’ dynamics. The one concept that captures all dynamics is ‘Epistemic Brokers’ instead of ‘Knowledge Brokers’ or ‘Innovation Brokers’, but it is a very technical term… more work ahead!

  4. Thanks for keeping us thinking Joanne. Epistemic brokers…Peter Haas has described an epistemic network as “”…a network of professionals with recognised expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy relevant knowledge within that domain or issue-area” (thank you Wikipedia). It still feels to me to be bounded by those who know. Ignorance (not in a pejorative way, but the lack of knowing) strikes me as being beyond those bounds. Someone who might appreciate this discussion is David Yetman, a knowledge mobilization professional working in NFLD (

  5. You’re absolutely right, words certainly do matter for ideas to ‘stick’… epistemic cultures as developed by Knorr Cetina includes consideration for what she refers to as ‘negative knowledge’ (in the ‘liminal approach’). In the typology I adopt (from Matthias Gross), ignorance as the borders and the limits of knowing (quite different from the complete absence of knowledge that in Matthias Gross’ typology is designated as nescience) can be further sub-divided into two sub-types, active non-knowledge and latent non-knowledge. The critical element to the discussion I believe is how innovation and research involve complex and dynamic interactions between knowledge and ignorance. For example, policy experts and brokers mobilize ignorance in relation to potential innovation, not knowledge, as knowledge has not yet been produced (or more precisely, co-produced), but its (co-)production is an ultimate goal of innovation… and more knowledge can generate more ignorance and so forth… Focusing narrowly on knowledge blinds us to these important dynamics. ‘Epistemic brokers’ in this sense therefore is appropriate (including the borders of knowing), but not as ‘sticky’ as ‘Innovation brokers’ and ‘Knowledge brokers’… Let’s bring David Yetman into the conversation!

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