Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

The Networks of Learning in Technological Innovation

The Emergence of Collaboration Across Fields of Expertise

Janne Lehenkari

Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Department of Education.

This study addresses four issues concerning technological product innovations. First, the nature of the very early phases or "embryonic stages" of technological innovation is addressed. Second, this study analyzes why and by what means people initiate innovation processes outside the technological community and the field of expertise of the established industry. In other words, this study addresses the initiation of innovation that occurs without the expertise of established organizations, such as technology firms, professional societies and research institutes operating in the technological field under consideration. Third, the significance of interorganizational learning processes for technological innovation is dealt with. Fourth, this consideration is supplemented by considering how network collaboration and learning change when formalized product development work and the commercialization of innovation advance. These issues are addressed through the empirical analysis of the following three product innovations: Benecol margarine, the Nordic Mobile Telephone system (NMT) and the ProWellness Diabetes Management System (PDMS).

This study utilizes the theoretical insights of cultural-historical activity theory on the development of human activities and learning. Activity-theoretical conceptualizations are used in the critical assessment and advancement of the concept of networks of learning. This concept was originally proposed by the research group of organizational scientist Walter Powell. A network of learning refers to the interorganizational collaboration that pools resources, ideas and know-how without market-based or hierarchical relations. The concept of an activity system is used in defining the nodes of the networks of learning. Network collaboration and learning are analyzed with regard to the shared object of development work.

According to this study, enduring dilemmas and tensions in activity explain the participants' motives for carrying out actions that lead to novel product concepts in the early phases of technological innovation. These actions comprise the initiation of development work outside the relevant fields of expertise and collaboration and learning across fields of expertise in the absence of market-based or hierarchical relations. These networks of learning are fragile and impermanent. This study suggests that the significance of networks of learning across fields of expertise becomes more and more crucial for innovation activities.

The title page of the publication

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Last updated 13.11.2006

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