Sub-theme 23: Knowledge integration and innovation

Fredrik Tell
Linköping University, Sweden
Kristian Kreiner
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Jacky Swan
Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, UK

Call for Papers

The generation and integration of knowledge in organizations is fundamental in creating innovations. However, the basis for knowledge integration and innovation in organizations is changing under the influence of three major trends: (1) globalization of R&D, markets and manufacturing; (2) transformation of markets; and (3) changes in the character of scientific and technological development. First, in Western economies, large, medium-sized and even small firms are internationalizing more and more of their R&D, production and markets. Although most R&D relocation so far has been limited to the developed OECD countries in Europe and North America, new economies, such as China, Taiwan and India, are becoming increasingly important as sources of new knowledge. Second, organizations are subjected to transformations in national and global markets. Organizations need to find new ways of organizing their innovative activities and must enter into new alliances and partnerships, for instance through private public partnerships (PPP). Third, there are changes in the character of developments in science and technology, in particular in terms of increasing speed and specialization. With respect to the former, there is evidence that in a number of industries, product/service life cycles are growing shorter with each new generation. The recent trends to focus on core competences and outsourcing have resulted in a clearer division of labour between companies in the supply chain and specialization on delineated tasks. Successful organizations need to integrate knowledge that is both broad and deep.

In the literature, it has been argued that knowledge integration is core in explaining the existence of firms. While a number of organizational knowledge integration mechanisms has been identified many approaches are essentially static, and there is a need for further analysis and development of the processes of knowledge generation and its relation to knowledge integration. Joseph Schumpeter alluded to the process and outcome of innovation as "new combinations". The implications of this statement for knowledge integration processes and innovation in organizations are manifold. First, the notion of new combinations suggests certain cumulativeness also in innovative processes, which will exhibit path dependent properties. Second, new products, processes and services may stem from integration and combination of knowledge that is not entirely new to the world. Third, the idea of new combinations points to the importance of the integration of knowledge that to some degree is specialized and to some degree dissimilar (but most likely complementary). Such integration of knowledge may thus differ from processes of knowledge transfer and sharing, which may imply diffusion and standardization. Fourth, such integration can take place with regard to both more implicit (tacit) dimensions of knowledge as well as through explication of knowledge into symbolic form. Fifth, new combinations may also be taken to imply a certain "modularization" of knowledge.

It has been argued that firms to a greater extent than ever before are relying on technology and knowledge which is developed outside the boundaries of the firm as part of their innovative activities. However, there is evidence that knowledge integration in innovation is not easily enabled and that degree of absorptive capacity among organizations may differ. Among the challenges of knowledge integration in product development projects are mental models and cognitive representations, stemming from the fact that the actors involved represent different occupational cultures. Other challenges include conflicting interests as well as conflicting values and problems posed by the type of knowledge that has to be integrated.

In addition to the theoretical issues still unresolved, there is thus also a shortage of empirical studies of knowledge integration in organizational practices. This means both operationalizing abstract concepts involved to observables, as well as providing illuminating narratives of the practices whereby organizational knowledge gets integrated. In addition to theoretical papers and empirical papers on knowledge integration and innovation, we thus also welcome papers suggesting methodological developments.

We invite a broad range of papers discussing knowledge integration and innovation, for instance:

  • Knowledge integration in distributed contexts, such as e.g., physically distributed product development teams, on-line communities, R&D alliances, and outsourced work
  • Knowledge integration and innovation studies in other contexts than in New Product Development Processes

  • Theoretical developments linking organizational knowledge integration mechanisms to innovation

  • Studies of knowledge integration through collective practices and which mediators that are involved

  • Various means for knowledge integration in innovation available, such as e.g. ICT and boundary objects

  • The role of modularization and platforms management in creating innovation

  • Knowledge integration in cross-disciplinary and temporary settings, involving projects and project-based organizations

Fredrik Tell 
Kristian Kreiner 
Jacky Swan