The conundrum of articulating societal knowledge and technology demand

Leeuwis, Cees


One of the strategies to ‘make knowledge work’ is to design ways to enhance the articulation of knowledge demands in society, assuming that such articulation will lead to the production (or co-creation) of more relevant knowledge and technology. Using five mini case studies, this chapter critically examines the idea that demand-articulation can enhance the applicability of knowledge generated in a straightforward manner. Assumptions that are critically examined include: (a) the idea that prospective users and scientists have a similar idea about what ‘research’ entails and what kinds of questions may be answered by it; (b) the idea that citizens can explicate unequivocally what it is that they need; (c) the idea that answers and solutions that result from citizen’s questions will face less constraints in terms of their applicability; (d) the idea that it is the research results rather than the research process that has impact in society; and finally (e) the idea that articulating the demands of citizens is sufficient to escape from the linear model of innovation. Identification of the limitations in these assumptions helps to understand why the results of involving citizens in agenda setting for research are often disappointing. Finally, I discuss implications for the practice of involving citizens in knowledge creation and provision, and propose an altogether different view of how demand-articulation may be embedded in society.