Research Programme KTI

KTI enhances reflexivity in science, makes innovation more responsible and sustainable, and supports the 're-configuration' of societal interactions. Our ethos of ‘studying and doing’ brings together societal impact and critical theoretical reflection across three central intersecting research lines: (1) Making knowledge work; (2) Configuring technology and society; and (3) Co-designing responsible and sustainable innovations.

Research Themes

1. Making knowledge work

Knowledge about socio-environmental processes is produced by heterogenous stakeholders and linked to competing values, identities and worldviews.

This knowledge pluralism fundamentally affects how societies engage with domains such as food, health and the environment. At KTI, we address the challenges, opportunities, and processes of negotiating knowledge in inclusive development and innovation. In part, this is about the process of knowledge production, in which we not only study how knowledge is produced by different stakeholders but focus on the challenge of “making knowledge work” in a variety of settings and through different forms of stakeholder interactions. Current research at KTI focuses on domains such as indigenous seed systems, pest management, nature conservation and renewable energy. Our projects situate these concrete negotiations of knowledge diversity in wider ethical, epistemological and ontological debates to contribute to critical reflexivity of actors in practices of making knowledge work. Other projects study how knowledge diffuses and how it is translated and communicated by different actors, such as extension agencies, advisory services and other intermediaries. At KTI, we develop new research lines that contribute to societal impact through multi-stakeholder engagement with local knowledge in action research in order to stimulate learning, inclusive innovation and transformative change, while intervening in theoretical debates about knowledge diversity and transdisciplinary design.

2. Configuring technology and society

Technology can be defined as a human capacity for making.

At KTI we generate descriptive accounts of mundane socio-material practices grounded in the use of tools, skills, techniques and knowledge. This varies from seed selection in farmer groups, the aggregation of produce by intermediaries, to taking care of ill neighbours. Research detects patterns through which new linkages around bio-material, social and symbolic novelties come about, and old connections are broken. We aim to explain why practices remain durable over time and how actors agree to cooperate despite a range of unknowns and risks. We analyse how social actors relate to the affordances of material objects, how a new practice or innovation configures human and non-human actors, and under what conditions (mis)alignment between a technology and socio-institutional change occurs. From a systems perspective we study sustainability transitions and innovation systems, examining the role of agency and design and the conditions for successful intervention. The KTI Group leads interdisciplinary research programmes on ICT–based and other platforms, ranging from the study of solutions for multi-actor landscapes affected by plant disease, to grassroots responses to policy plans, local subversions to colonial cultures, and the diversity of production in contrast to imposed and uniform climate change mitigation strategies. The Group plans to advance integrative and comparative analysis of entangled socio-material practices and processes needed for reinforcing or reconfiguring institutional mechanisms, for example in local food markets and global commodity chains.

3. Co-designing responsible and sustainable innovations

Science and innovation are increasingly directed at solving global challenges.

Yet, many innovations that are promoted to meet these challenges fail to be embedded in society because they are overly technocratic and regarded in isolation from their interaction with contested socio-environmental issues. At KTI we develop systemic approaches to innovation processes bringing social, organisational and technical components together, promoting knowledge exchange and learning between stakeholders, and enabling interaction between natural scientists, social scientists and practitioners in transdisciplinary research. We also develop macro-analytical frameworks, building on the tradition of agricultural knowledge and information systems, to analyse the emergent outcomes of open-ended innovation dynamics, and relate this to micro-level processes including advocacy, dialogue, selection and feedback. Current projects at KTI contribute to the co-design of responsible innovations in relation to emerging technologies such as big data, digitalization, and gene editing. We integrate the co-design with critical reflection on theoretical frameworks from science and technology studies, innovation studies and research policy. We plan to develop future research lines that further sharpen conceptual and methodological engagement with responsible innovation and contribute to reflexive and just negotiations of contested technologies.