Making innovation systems work in practice... Published in KM4D Journal May 2011 7(1) 109-124

Making innovation systems work in practice KM4D Journal Volume 7, i...

This article by Hlamalani Ngwenya and Jürgen Hagmann presents a different dimension of the innovation systems approach, going beyond analysis and shedding light on how these processes can be facilitated in practice. This is based on 20 years’ experience with innovations systems. The focus is on the role of facilitation in triggering the changes, as well as in integrating learning and knowledge management (KM) in the innovation process.

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The article above is up for the first KM4Dev articles discussion here on the KM4Dev Ning, right on this page I would suggest. If all goes well, you should read about a have read deadline so we start our first KM4Dev article chat, exciting! - Peter

Very exciting. I am ready to get started! Perhaps a read by April 6? Is that reasonable?

I'd say that is too long a period.

What about having read by a week from now and then a conversation of about 2 weeks?

Regi Adams said:

Very exciting. I am ready to get started! Perhaps a read by April 6? Is that reasonable?

Overall, I want to say that this article (Ngwenya & Hagmann, 2012) illuminates a brilliant method of engaging many aspects and levels of the change process when attempting to generate and disseminate innovative practices, especially when traditionally disenfranchised people are involved.

I was a bit confused at the outset, wondering what knowledge management (KM) and innovation had to do with each other, and with the changes in agricultural practices in Africa.  As the article continued, however, I began to see that KM and "innovation" were but two aspects of a matrixed dynamic of change management, politics, enablement, supply and demand economics, business practices, and the role of the change agent in all of this.  Perhaps the foundational description of the history of this process was (I speculated) being shoe-horned into an article on KM and innovation, in the anticipation of publication in the KM4D Journal - but it did all seem to come together at the end.  The relationship between KM and innovation, and the arc of development of KM and its specific outcomes, were never quite elaborated; perhaps a follow-up article that focused on this aspect more specifically would be of interest to this audience?

Again, all-in-all, I found this article to be noteworthy, and I forwarded the link to several others who have interest in developments of this sort, in Africa and other areas of the developing world.  I think that the model plays well even in "developed" areas, as it incorporates the nuances of so many aspects of change.  Congratulations to the authors on such a fine and rewarding effort!  I do hope the model is expanded and evaluated in those larger venues, as the authors propose.

Hi Lawrence

I just want to quickly respond to your very insightful post about this article by giving a little bit of background about the Special Issue in which it appeared. The purpose of the Special Issue was to bring KM4D and innovation systems approaches closer together and to encourage cross-fertilization between them because we felt this was important when we started the journal in 2005 but it took a few years for this to happen. So this possibly explains a bit the KM and innovation focus.

Interestingly, the article was too long for the journal in its original format - it included lots more case study/country material which had to be removed because of the length, although this was a terrible shame too - but the authors were always planning a second article including this material. Your positive comments may encourage them to do just that!

First KM4Dev Journal Article Conversation

How I understand we will go about it:

  1. read the article before 6 April 2012
  2. start contributing to the conversation, I'd say, any time from now onwards
  3. continue the conversation for 2 weeks after 6 April, making the formal conversation ending on 20 April
  4. identify a volunteer to document the outcomes of the conversation
  5. publish the documentation on the KM4Dev wiki in a new section on Journal Articles conversations
  6. add if possible tags for later reference
  7. this conversation nevertheless remains open for contributions beyond 20 April 2012.

Hope this suits you too. Peter

Having just read the article by Juergen and Hlamalani, I think it's better to share the points triggered by the article right away. In order to remain succinct I limit myself to my points, no thanks etc... type of text...:

  1. The title does not specify the experience shared focusses on the agriculture sector, does that imply that making innovation systems work would work in a similar way in other realms, e.g. the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene sector I work in)?
  2. A clear lesson is that to set up (and keep them running?) such innovation systems, requires top level facilitation skills: a weakness?
  3. Following from point 2: the experience shared starts in the early 90's. How many of the systems set-up have grown in the mean time? Any references? In other words: is there scope for scaling up within the systems and if so, is that with or without (external) high quality level facilitation?
  4. Also following from point 2: setting up innovation systems as described by the authors, seems very costly. That defeats the potential for replication, is that right?
  5. Finally also following from point 2: is there any evidence that innovation systems set up have been able to sustain themselves without (external) highly qualified facilitation? Please share references!
  6. The article unfortunately shares very little about how Knowledge Management is / was operationalized in the case studies mentioned: how was/is KM done? What roles, what channels, what tools, what metods? Any references to share?

Thanks nevertheless for a very thought provoking article, leading hopefull to an interesting conversation here! 


Hi Peter,

I look forward to reading the article by April 6 and responding within two weeks after that  although I will most likely respond  soon after I read the article.

Best wishes,

Linda Morris

I just bumped into this publication.

Anyone an opinion on it?

It is definitely relevant to the topics covered by the article we converse about!

Many thanks for having decided to organize a special issue on the link between KM and innovation in the KM4Dev journal, Sarah and others. I have always be interested in this link, it is of growing importance for the KM work in my research institution that’s why this article and the whole special issue is quite of importance for me.

What I learnt from the article is that the agricultural innovation system is structured along a vertical axis (figure 2).

  • Local level: farmers
  • Municipal/district level: service delivery
  • Provincial/national level: financing, competence and policy of service delivery

I think the dominance of the vertical structure is typical for international development. Projects are often designed on a national or international level (between funding and receiving country) and are later translated down to the district and local level. That’s why the end-users – local farmers – are often considered as receivers and not as creators of knowledge as the authors convincingly explain. Therefore, I believe the authors are right to focus mainly on hierarchical scales (and I think this experience is true for other fields like WASH, Peter). But innovation systems also have a horizontal dimension, don’t they? I think of consumers, middlemen or other local stakeholders. These are also possible sites of innovations (e.g. adapting agricultural production to changing consumer behavior). It would be interesting to learn more about the complexities of agricultural innovation systems.

Further, I agree with Peter and Lawrence that the article is not very explicit about the link between KM and innovation. The authors tell us that KM is to facilitate change and KM in this setting means information management, learning-oriented monitoring and evaluation, communication, innovation, learning and adaptation (p. 111). Later the authors say that KM entails facilitating entrepreneurship and institutional development, technical experience, business experience, system thinking, empowerment (of farmers), self-organization, creativity, coordination and leadership (p.191-121). We would need to know much more in terms of stories, case studies, evidence why the authors draw these conclusions. Therefore, a second article would be interesting.

I wanted to offer my initial reactions to the article and why I chose it as the first article to discuss as a group.  When I first read this article, I was fascinated by the institutional complexity the authors described and how they had worked over the years to manage this complexity to work for the farmers as opposed to against them. I thought the article was relevant to a wide range of KM4Dev members, since most of us are a part (at one level or another) of an institutional system for development.  Finally, as a researcher of organizational communication I was curious to read about the process of changing institutional interaction patterns within and between organizations in order to build a "healthy" system from an uncoordinated group of organizations operating as "silos".

I am excited to talk about the role that time plays in the knowledge management and innovation process. I think it is important to acknowledge the years of experience the authors are synthesizing in this piece. Although the article did not give as many details as I had hoped, I think our discussion can provide insights into the different difficulties and solutions people have used to create more systemic solutions to issues of knowledge management and innovation at the community/regional/state/etc. level.  I will post again on Wednesday to kick off our first facilitated conversation.

What stood out to me most about the article were the following points:

  • Perceived power disparities can impede innovative dialogue
  • Innovation occurs when people have access to the societal structures to implement ideas

Though not explicitly stated in the article providing access and a safe environment for the exchange of knowledge is central to innovation.  The disillusioned farmers who did not share their insights because they perceived their contributions to be insignificant illustrated this principle in the article.  Where supportive communities thrive, comprised of people along the value chain, ideas and information can find their way to those prepared to leverage them.


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