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Knowledge translation mechanisms in open innovation: the role of design in R&D projects

Luca Simeone (Department of Architecture, Design and Media Technology, Aalborg University, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Giustina Secundo (Department of Engineering for Innovation, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy)
Giovanni Schiuma (DiMIE University of Basilicata, Potenza, Italy)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 9 October 2017




This paper aims to investigate the role of design as a knowledge translation mechanism in R&D-oriented open innovation. In particular, the paper intends to look at how design can be used as a means of knowledge transfer among various stakeholders who speak different languages and have divergent needs and interests in a process where knowledge openly flew across the boundaries of a high number of organizations.


The paper combines the insights from theory with the empirical evidences gathered by adopting an extreme case study approach: the detailed analysis of a case study related to an R&D project funded by the European Commission and aimed to investigate and produce innovative serious games in the area of healthcare. The project gathered a large number of stakeholders and deliberately adopted design to support an open innovation approach.


The paper provides insights into the use of design outputs such as artifacts, sketches, visual representations or prototypes to translate ideas, theoretical and technical requirements, documents and outputs into formats that can be more easily understood and appreciated by various stakeholders. This supports and favors coordination in open innovation projects where many different stakeholders are engaged in.

Research limitations/implications

Although the adoption of an extreme case study approach offers important implications to understand the role of design in R&D-oriented open innovation, the use of a single case study represents the basis both to explore hypothesis and to provide first evidences that need to be further tested with other qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Practical implications

The paper offers practical implications about how design can help individuals and organizations involved in R&D activities to better communicate and share knowledge among various stakeholders by aligning their different needs, interests and languages along the various phases of their project development.


The originality of the paper lays at the intersection of three different fields: open innovation, knowledge management and design for innovation, thus integrating mature, but so far isolated, research streams. It provides insights for theory building by explaining the use of design as knowledge translational mechanism as well as it informs the practice by highlighting the power of design as a mean to support knowledge flows into open innovation-based R&D projects.



This paper forms part of a special section “knowledge management practices and strategies for open innovation”.

The authors are particularly indebted to the comments of the guest editors Prof. Antonio Messeni Petruzzelli and Dr Lorenzo Ardito and of the two anonymous reviewers. They would also like to thank the entire 3D Tune-In consortium for their support and collaboration. The research leading to this contribution has received funding from the European Community’s H2020 Programme under Grant Agreement No. 644051. This article reflects the authors’ views. The European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.


Simeone, L., Secundo, G. and Schiuma, G. (2017), "Knowledge translation mechanisms in open innovation: the role of design in R&D projects", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 1406-1429.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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