Research Programme KTI

Our research programme is entitled (Re)Configuring the Bio-Material, the Social and the Symbolic.
Both positive and negative societal outcomes emerge from a complex interplay between:

  • Bio-material phenomena
    Ecology, technical devices, bodily skills
  • Social phenomena
    Relationships, organisational forms, institutions
  • Symbolic phenomena
    Knowledge, communication, meanings, visions, discourses

In abstracto, we study how current macro level outcomes are (re)produced by prevailing configurations and interaction patterns, and how re-configuration (i.e. innovation) takes place and may be supported at micro level.

Our main lines of questioning are (numbers refer to key projects mentioned on this map):

Research Themes

1. Anchoring and competition

How do new connections emerge and what determines the strength of new socio-technical configurations in competition with others?

Project 2, 8 and 14 (see map)

We know that bio-material, social and symbolic are intricately intertwined, and that new configurations are needed to address pressing issues in the world. But strictly speaking we know little about the patterns through which new linkages around bio-material, social and symbolic novelties come about and about how old connections are broken. We have recently studied this using the analogy of an anchor, to characterise the initial instability that may occur in new relationships: anchors can dig in deeper and become solid links, but they may also slip and let go if forces are going in opposite directions. Understanding of the making and breaking of connections, is linked to gaining insight into how new socio-technical configurations may come to replace currently dominant systems. At any point in time, there are different possible futures (more and less desirable) that can be seen to compete with each other and with the status quo in an ever changing selection environment. There is a lot of scope for developing a better understanding of the success or failure of new configurations in the competition with others. Such competition is likely to happen in various dimensions: the dimension of developing social and technical options that actually work in a specific setting; the dimension of societal discourses about such options; the dimension of networks and support coalitions; the dimension of financial gains and their distribution. Developing an integrated understanding of how these dimensions of competition relate to each other is likely to generate new insights for different social science disciplines.

2. Scaling and societal transformation

How are benefits and risks associated with alterative configurations distributed in society?

Project 6, 9 and 18 (see map)

Processes of socio-technical change in one area or context always go along with changes in others. This research line seeks to uncover the intended and unintended consequences and impacts of the everyday-use of technology in different (but interconnected) time and space settings. Such impacts are evaluated against normative standards in the sphere of ethics and social justice, including considerations related to equity, solidarity, democracy, dignity and human rights. Comparative research across contexts can reveal conditions that affect whether or not particular technological and institutional designs contribute to achieving developmental objectives. In connection with this, we seek to gain insight in the extent to which consequences and impacts for different categories of people (in different time and space settings) can be foreseen and anticipated, and in the kinds of methodologies can be used effectively for this purpose

3. Innovation support

What is the efficacy of extension, communication and research for development (R4D) approaches in influencing (re)configuration?

Project 1, 7 and 13 (see map)

In the past decade we have witnessed the emergence of new intermediary actors in innovation systems whose role and profession is to build bridges between different communities of actors in a network. These include facilitators, mediators, knowledge brokers, action researchers, systemic intermediaries, etc. Similarly, we see that new intervention models (for example Research for Development Platforms and Business Hubs) are widely used in development oriented programmes. Current studies on these often look at their effects, but give little insight in their actual operation, the interactions that are orchestrated, the dilemma’s that professionals face and the mechanisms through which outcomes come about. Studying the everyday practice and performance of these intermediaries and the enactment of new intervention strategies, can lead to highly original contributions to innovation studies; a field that is currently more oriented towards macro phenomena. In this research line, we also seek to understand factors influencing synergy between new forms of intermediation and classical extension.

4. Integrative methodologies

How can (re)configuration be studied in a cross-disciplinary and reflexive manner?

Project 5, 10 and 21 (see map)

It is widely agreed that responding to complex problems and challenges demands research and design efforts that integrate understandings from different scientific disciplines as well as insights from societal stakeholders. However, commonly accepted frameworks and methodologies for cross-disciplinary collaboration do not exist, and fundamental challenges remain. One such challenge is that different communities of actors (including natural and social scientists) interpret and understand reality differently, may reinforce rather than adapt their perspectives and/or find it difficult to find common ground. A deeper understanding of human sense-making, epistemic belief systems and learning may serve as a basis for the design and testing of communicative and other approaches for cross-disciplinary collaboration, research and design.

The KTI group shares the view that understanding and influencing (re)configuring requires process-oriented methodologies and a multi-sited analysis of the relations between different kinds of ‘doing’ and ‘performing’. We explore the potential of process-oriented research approaches (e.g. technography, innovation histories, process tracing, process ethnography) to enhance social scientific inquiry of (re)configuration processes, ‘change-in-the-making’ and associated societal implications.


Insights on these larger questions are synthesised from highly contextual studies that often start from specific practical challenges such as: ‘the bulking of agricultural produce’, ‘maintenance of irrigation canals’, ‘experimentation with solar-powered malaria mosquito traps’, ‘including smallholders in value chains’ or ‘combatting Panama disease’.