Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Technology and infrastructures policy in the knowledge-based economy - New agents of knowledge

The new agents of knowledge are not really 'new'. What is new is that in the meanwhile as economic actors they play a far greater role than in the past. The new actors are mostly small firms characterized by skilled knowledge workers. The study of Creplet et al. tries to analyse in more detail the role of two specific new agents of knowledge from a cognitive point of view. The study by Muller/Zenker is focused on knowledge intensive business services in general and their characteristics in creating, reengineering and diffusing knowledge. The core characteristics of the new agents are a very high degree of interactions with customers, a deep access to the knowledge structure of these customers and significant capability of knowledge re-engineering. As a consequence policy has to understand that this target group shows very different characteristics compared with the traditional target groups such as R & D performing firms within manufacturing industries.

The study of Creplet et al. demonstrates the differences between consultants and experts with respect to a cognitive dimension: summarized in an over-simplified manner, consultants contribute to the problem-solving process of their customers by standardized methods, routines and processes and by their knowledge of best practices. The development of their competencies is mostly based on links with communities of practice. Experts mainly intervene in complex situation and create and operate a relatively new knowledge. The development of their learning process is mostly based on links with epistemic communities. This study demonstrates how different the new agents of knowledge behave due to their different roles and roots in epistemic communities or communities of practice. As a consequence simple policy conclusions cannot be drawn.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that several policy shifts are necessary. This new target group of KOP has to pay attention far more to skills, competencies and personnel (instead of R&D), on soft factors such as management organisation, training (instead of hard factors), on changes of behaviour (instead of reaching technological advances) and on knowledge management (instead of R&D projects) than in a traditional policy perspective.

With regard to knowledge intensive business services (KIBS) the case study of Muller/Zenker comes to the following conclusions: It shows that KIBS play a role of knowledge processing, reengineering and diffusing for innovation. Fulfilling this function implies knowledge transformation from its generation to its application in client firms. KIBS thus take on a go-between function between research organisations that produce scientific results and firms that use and apply this new knowledge. Since firms mostly cannot directly apply new knowledge and since KIBS know firm-internal processes and demands, they process "new" knowledge, diffuse it among their clients and support its application in firm innovation processes.

This knowledge transformation process consists to a large extent in a modification and reengineering of codified knowledge made public by research organisations into tacit (or specific) knowledge that is communicated to firms and applied by them. Interactions between KIBS and SMEs lead to a circle based on the exchange of knowledge in both directions. This fosters innovations in both types of firms and can be described as mutual activation of knowledge resources. Cooperating manufacturing SMEs and KIBS treat certain problems commonly and they participate in shared learning processes. A very close interaction, a far reaching access to the knowledge structure of their customers and reengineering of knowledge are the very specific characteristics of KIBS as new agents of knowledge. In this respect, KIBS may also compensate for regional weaknesses in research infrastructure since they approach scientific results and prepare those results for application in manufacturing firms. As a consequence, the strategic aim will be to support the expansion of the KIBS industry in Europe and to acknowledge their activities in terms of innovation "boosting", both internally and in their clients.

This has two implications for innovation policy: on the one hand, policy should devote more attention to these new agents of knowledge as a new target group. On the other hand, in order to stimulate co-operations between KIBS and other types of firms, the visibility of the former firm type should be raised, especially for small and medium-sized firms that often lack information concerning co-operation partners. A helpful means could be a special type of certification of KIBS in order to label their competencies. This could be useful for KIBS marketing as well as for manufacturing SMEs to get information about KIBS offers.

Furthermore, innovation policy can increase collaboration by giving incentives for using KIBS services. The benefit from this kind of support cannot only be expected in innovation activities of manufacturing SMEs, but also in KIBS' internal innovation that are "nurtured" by knowledge they gain from co-operation with their manufacturing partners. The emittive capacities of KIBS, the absorptive capacities of SMEs and the level of interaction between both are the main targets of policy.

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