Theme 1

Innovation support services


Alex Koutsouris (

Eelke Wielinga (

Thomas Aenis (


Innovation Support Services/ ISS (found in the literature under different labels such as extension and advisory services, intermediary organizations, etc.), conceived as an integral part of Agricultural (Knowledge and) Innovation Systems (AKIS/ AIS), face theoretical and practical challenges. Such challenges relate to our current understanding that, on the one hand, innovation involves the successful combination of ‘hardware’, ‘software’ and ‘orgware’ and, on the other hand, that successful innovations are usually based on an integration of ideas and insights from multiple stakeholders engaged in networks. The latter implies that innovation processes are dependent on dynamics in networks; they are affected by complex inter‐dependencies, unintended and unforeseen developments and interactions and may well be conflictive. Therefore, there is a sustained interest in inventing new ways to build innovations and the need for more robust theories, methodologies and tools.

The necessity to deal with interactions between heterogeneous and interdependent stakeholders who do not necessarily share objectives, knowledge, values or practices implies that the role of newly recognised actors (who have been variously been called innovation brokers, intermediaries and free actors), stimulating the mutual learning process, is crucial. In such constellations ISS intermediaries (advisors) still play an important role, but different from what usually was assumed before. This implies the change of paradigm (i.e. the shift from transfer to ‘intermediation’) and new roles of advisors as facilitators/ brokers stimulating and facilitating the process of learning with stakeholders in networks (networking, linking, conflict management, vision building, etc.). In this respect they need to properly utilise participatory and collaborative methodologies for the co-generation, adaptation, and use of innovations at scale.

Objectives and orientations for abstracts

Within this theme we invite contributions to discuss and reflect upon different theoretical and methodological approaches that promote collaborative, participative and transdisciplinary learning of members of different scientific disciplines and societal stakeholders involved in the management and governance of their respective farming systems – including their evaluation. Papers on relevant learning processes, both theoretical and practical, are welcome. The aim is to build a better understanding of how learning processes can be practiced as, for example, how is knowledge being built through experience and action, especially in open networks. Additionally, learning across scales, ranging from the individual to the group, community, organisation and polity, is an issue of interest.

Assuming that learning is seen as a process that can be facilitated, in this workshop we would also like to address, on the one hand, the changing role of ISS towards facilitating such kinds of processes and the need for relevant institutional change and, on the other hand, issues pertaining the governance of ISS as well as of relevant systems in pluralistic situations. Furthermore, with regard to their changing professional roles, advisors have to develop new competences.  This brings into focus issues of identity and capacity building both at individual and collective level.

We welcome both theoretical and methodological contributions as well as empirical cases (including challenges and opportunities resulting from recent EU rural development and research and innovation policies) on learning and learning systems, innovations and innovation processes, ISS and ISS systems and their governance as well on ISS advisors’ education and training-on-the-job.

As an orientation for abstracts we propose a number of key questions below. However, other related topics are welcome.

  • Which approaches and methodologies are appropriate for collaborative learning?
  • What kind of tools are suitable in promoting collective learning?
  • How to evaluate collective learning and innovation through co-creative processes?
  • What makes ISS relevant and effective for diverse farmers and farming systems?
  • Which contexts are conducive to their success?
  • How can the coordination and governance of ISS and pluralistic ISS systems be improved?
  • What are the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of multi-actor approaches?
  • How to scale out and scale up activities for knowledge sharing and interactive transformation?
  • How are generic and specific skills for advisors as facilitators and brokers (at both individual and collective or organisational level) identified, translated into training tools and methods, and implemented?