Unravelling webs of knowledge in innovation projects

Greald Henstra

Groningen University, faculty of Management and Organisation


For many people collaboration equals making use of each others knowledge. In many cases it is not necessary to transfer knowledge itself; a simple derivative instruction usually is sufficient. Organisations then rely on their people who just deploy their knowledge whilst keeping its essence to themselves. Indeed, in reproductive processes task repetition usually provides organisations with enough opportunities to have knowledge disseminated in ways like Nonaka’s SECI cycle.

In processes like in innovation projects however, very sparsely performed tasks may be invoked. In those cases, it is widely recognised to be a major problem to localise and address suitable knowledge.


In innovation projects knowledge often is exploited to deal with ‘problem solving’. Conversely, ‘problem solving’ processes also have proven to be useful to explore new knowledge. They thus may hold the key to elucidate ways to trace appropriate knowledge in organisations.

A vast volume of literature apparently agrees on the nature of ‘problem solving’ or ‘designing’: it is considered as the process by which designers search for sets of means, solutions to the ‘problems’, to attain a certain set of specifications or purposes.

A design, in any stage of development, consequently can be represented by (1) a set of purposes, (2) a set of problems to be solved, and (3) a set of solutions to the problems or, equivalently, a set of means that effectuates the purposes.


In practice the separation between the three is not obvious however. During the development of a design its representations grow interdependently and continually transform into one another.

But, in spite of their entanglement, the design representations may be helpful for analysing problem solving processes and the knowledge associated with them. For, if any state of a design can be indicated by its representations (1, 2 & 3), any design transformation can be so by the representations of both its input and output states.


This has given rise to the set up of a framework connecting networks of design processes and knowledge carrying people. This framework is helpful in both their traceability and analysis of these networks. Finally it is an intentional tool for testing as well as exploring hypotheses on effectiveness and efficiency of de facto problem solving routines in organisations.