Knowledge bricolage

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There are actors and innovators, who apply the bricolage concept when it comes to change. They transport the knowledge contents, because knowledge cannot flow freely, it needs a transporting agent. These innovators initiate institutional recombination through knowledge transportation.

The effect of the knowledge entrepreneurs or translators depends not only on their personal characteristics, but their institutional and social position. They institutional role explains how far “the bricolage performed tends to be more evolutionary or more revolutionary. For example, the entrepreneurs who find themselves at the intersections or interstices of organisational networks and fields, are more likely than others to develop innovative bricolage, since they have access to a wider range of tools and instrumental/symbolic resources” (Smith-Merry & al., 2010, 74).

Campbells notion of “ideational brokers” describes key persons “who perform the role of conveying ideas between different areas of the production, arrangement or circulation of ideas”, they convey ideas and knowledge from one field, one nation or one institution to another. There are different forms of idea brokers: they can be key individuals, experts, layman, politicians or users as well, but also institutions like think tanks, the media, international institutions like the WHO or OECD, or epistemic communities (networks of intellectuals, academics, other experts).

In the reports we find several examples for such idea brokers. The French Education team mentions the Institut Montaigne, one of the first French think tanks, created in 2000 with the purpose of providing expertise on public policies.

The Portuguese Education team identifies the founder of Gouveia Council as an "essential mediating agent among the local actors, the regional and central authorities and other social partners involved. He enabled the confluence and cognitive compatibility of ideas and knowledge coming from different fields of knowledge”. The analyses made by the Portuguese Education team shows the indispensable role of brokering or mediating agents, who sometimes even connect the national, local and international level of public action. The Portuguese Education team concludes therefore that knowledge circulation is impossible without people circulation, and “that the circuits in which the actors moved determines the knowledge that they outline and which they have to make compatible with the other knowledge they intersperse with in different contexts of action“.

Mediating agents not only connect different epistemic communities, they also have to know the social and cognitive composition of the fields or worlds they have to connect. As described above, the transportation of knowledge elements cannot happen without the translation of the contents, because knowledge gets recognised as knowledge only when it is connectable in the given field. Knowledge, taken for granted in a sector, is incomprehensible in another. The mediating agent has to be therefore a translating agent at the same time, knowing both world, but not too much involved, to sustain its ability for translation and mediation. An interviewed Scottish expert explains this translating task as follows: “Maybe it’s not a bad thing because you don’t want to be too closely aligned to the government anyway – you want to keep that little edge where people see it as being a bit different” (Smith-Merry & al., 2010, 19).

As the quotation shows, experts don`t want to be too closely involved into policy making because then they would loose their position as scientists. But they enjoy the task of transporting insights and knowledge from science to policy in order to see changes in the social world based on scientific knowledge. They can protect their role as translators only if they keep their external position – if they “keep that little edge” to policy.

Integration report.


  • SMITH-MERRY J., STURDY St., FREEMAN R. (2010), Recovering mental health in Scotland, "Recovery“ from social movement to policy goal, KnowandPol report.

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