Rethinking Communication in Innovation Processes: Creating Space for Change in Complex Systems

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This paper systematically rethinks the role of communication in innovation processes, starting from largely separate theoretical developments in communication science and innovation studies. Literature review forms the basis of the arguments presented. The paper concludes that innovation is a collective process that involves the contextual re-ordering of relations in multiple social networks. Such re-ordering cannot be usefully understood in terms of ‘diffusing’ ready-made innovations. Hence, we need to think about communication as playing a role in innovation development and ‘design’. In such development processes, everyday communicative exchanges and self-organisation among societal agents are likely to be of critical significance in connection with the re-ordering of social relationships. In this light, the role of communication professionals and deliberate communication is often overstated or misinterpreted. Instead of striving for predefined change, communication professionals should facilitate that ‘the potential for change’ in complex dynamical settings increases. This includes efforts to enhance the survival chances of existing initiatives for change, by facilitating that they become more effectively adapted and/or linked to their dynamic selection environment than competing initiatives. This implies that communication professionals must play broader intermediary roles than before. A systematic rethinking of the role of communication in innovation processes in view of recent developments in communication sciences, innovation studies and complex systems thinking is largely absent. This paper fills a void.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-36
JournalJournal of Agricultural Education and Extension
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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