Towards Understanding the Research Challenge - "Track and Trace" of Ideas?

Dear all – while there are many activities underway to finalize preparations for the January 22/23 event in Zweibrücken and the to complete our Knowledge Alliance proposal for submission by 26 February latest, there is a fundamental question we need to start exploring which is “How to “track and trace” the diffusion of an innovation from ideation to market saturation. In my previous post I suggested the analogy of “cookies” that we encounter on the Internet as a tangible example for reflection. Internet cookies basically allow a website to identify users (to then capture user information) and then provide customized services to those users based on the information gathered.

Another nice analogy might be diffusion tensor imaging used to explore diffusion of changes in organisms – the image shows this for the human brain (

When it comes to “ideas” we are faced by these arising in many different places, in many different formats and in many different (often unstructured) data formats. Indeed many ideas do not initially “appear” on the Internet either. Ideas then evolve in many way and along many paths. Ideas decompose, re-assemble, cluster, and change their nature in many ways as well.

If we wish to “track and trace” ideas as they evolve through innovation systems as the first step towards designing acceleration measures and then validating that these measures work we need to be able to first answer four basic questions:

How do we define what constitutes a relevant idea?
When do we START monitoring?
When do we STOP monitoring?
What attributes can we monitor between start and stop?

Once we have provided a reasonable answer to these questions we can begin thinking about what mechanisms we need to put in place to monitor the evolution of these ideas. There will obviously be a lot of experimentation involved to understand what works and what does not work.

The important thing perhaps is not to jump to solutions too quickly – yes, there are many technologies out there which allow for tracking and tracing ideas, however without ensuring that the ideas have robust attributes we can track this will not help in the long run. For example a colleague recently suggested that we could create a web based platform where ideas could be registered and then blockchain technology could be applied for tracking and tracing from ideation to market saturation…. Good idea and maybe a viable approach… will it work considering the dynamic nature of ideas though?

This challenge is a significant one and in my view the only way forward is an experimental one based on the first answers to the four questions above.

As a starter we might remember that diffusion of innovation theory and research has significant roots in agricultural industry where major structures exist for transferring new technologies into practice. At first look a nice little article exploring our challenge in that context is German, L., Mowo, J., Kingamkono, M. (2006) A methodology for tracking the ‘‘fate’’ of technological interventions in agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values (2006) 23:353–369. DOI 10.1007/s10460-006-9008-2

The first step perhaps is to clearly define the challenge we are tackling! Something we will focus on moving forward.

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