Creating Knowledge for Impact – a Triple Helix Approach

05Creating Knowledge for Impact – a Triple Helix Approach
Professor Mattias Elg (Director)
Professor Per-Erik Ellström (Co-Director)
Associate Professor Malin Tillmar (Co-Director)

HELIX VINN Excellence Centre

Linköping University. Sweden



The vision for the HELIX Excellence Centre at Linköping University ( can be captured by the phrase Knowledge Creation for Impact, that is, to carry out research that contributes significantly to scientific knowledge and, at the same time, adds value to practice. In outcome terms, our vision is that HELIX will promote innovative practices in work, organisation, and regional development, developed in close collaboration with our partners as well as with authorities and other actors at the national and the transnational level.

Five Knowledge Platforms

The HELIX Centre is a vigorous multi-disciplinary environment for interactive research and innovation, where researchers from different disciplines within the fields of behavioural and social sciences, economics, health sciences, and technology, can meet and work on joint projects. It is an environment for collaboration between researchers and actors within companies, public sector

organizations, and social partners.

The HELIX research program has a focus on five knowledge platforms:

1. Production and organizational development in firms and public sector organizations.

2. Learning for change and innovation in organizations.

3. Work-related health, work ability and competence.

4. New forms of organization – new ways to organize.

5. Entrepreneurship and regional development.

Ongoing projects within these clusters are in many respects interrelated, for example, in terms of common theoretical concepts such as work organization, learning, gender, innovation, and leadership. These interrelations are of course important not the least in perspective of promoting knowledge integration across the different knowledge platforms.

A Triple Helix Partnership

HELIX is organized as a partnership supported by interactive research. The partnership comprises members from companies,public sector organizations, and labour market organizations. Through this approach, we have been able to establish HELIX as an intermediary between different interests and actors: firstly, between companies and public sector organizations; secondly, between employer and union representatives; and thirdly, between actors at the local, regional, national, and European level. The interactive research approach is not only a means for the creation of knowledge and implementation of research results among partner organizations, but the interactive research approach

developed and used by HELIX researchers can also be considered as an emerging new model for university-industry collaboration.

An Interactive Research Approach

The overall model for interactive research that is used within the HELIX Centre (see Figure 1) has been developed on the basis of many years of experience by the research group in carrying out research based on different forms of action research or interactive research (e.g. Aagaard and Svensson, 2006; Svensson, Ellström and Brulin, 2007). In our view, interactive research aims to contributeboth to practical outcomes, for example, how to handle practical issues in relation to organizational or technological change, and to the creation of scientifically valid knowledge (e.g. new concepts, theories, and models). In addition, however, a third task needs to be included, namely the educative task of enhancing the knowledge and competencies of the parties involved in the research process through processes of individual and collective learning. Indeed, it could be argued that interactive research is essentially about joint learning between the participants and the researchers throughout the entire research process.

In line with the interactive research approach, HELIX projects are not initiated only or primarily by researchers from an interest in scientific knowledge. On the contrary, there is a strong emphasis on joint definition of research objects and research questions in interaction between researchers and representatives of partner organizations. Thus, a comparative advantage of interactive research is its potential for combining and integrating the concerns of research, development work (innovation) and learning.


Cross-Fertilization as an Innovation Mechanism

Partners identify issues for needs-driven research from monitoring of their internal processes, for example, through surveys or different types of indicators. Issues for needs-driven research are also identified as a result of feedback from previous research projects. Partners underline the importance of the interactions with the researchers to build up a stock of knowledge and new ideas and perspectives on specific issues. Representatives of partner organizations also underscore that it is through the force of new ideas and perspectives rather than through more formal mechanisms that research results translate into practice. The CEO of one of our partner companies emphasizes that research at itsbest provides opportunities for “cross-fertilization” and for challenging established views and patterns of thinking and acting in an organization.

This type of productive “cross-fertilization” between research and practice is one of the basic ideas behind our interactive research approach. An important precondition for this to happen is that one is able to build trustful, long-term relations, and links between academia and companies or other organizations. In our case we have been able to build such links through our partnership approach in combination with the interactive research approach. In practice, this means that we meet and discuss with representatives of the partner organizations on a continuous basis during seminars, project meetings etc.

Through the development of the HELIX partnership, we have been able to establish the Centre as an active intermediary between different interests and actors. The role as an intermediary means, firstly, that HELIX is an attractive meeting place for its partners. Secondly, that HELIX has a mediating role (a broker role) linking, for example, companies with the university, or actors at the local, regional, national, and European level. Thirdly, it means that HELIX has over time developed into being a motor or vehicle for change and innovation in partner organizations. Thus, HELIX as an intermediary has the tripartite function of meeting place, mediator and motor. In this way we have been able to both create and

transfer knowledge of relevance to our partner organizations, as well as to a broader range of national actors in the innovation system.


Aagaard Nielsen, K and Svensson, L (Eds). (2006). Action and Interactive Research – Beyond Practice and Theory. Maastricht: Shaker Verlag.

Svensson, L, Ellström, P-E, and Brulin, G (2007). On Interactive Research. International Journal of Action Research, 3, 3, 233-249.