Meeting tool for innovation processes

1 July 2015

Meetings of chain partners who want to innovate are different from ordinary meetings. They are less predictable and have a changing composition. Under the leadership of Barbara van Mierlo, a group of researchers from Wageningen University has developed a methodology for this type of dialogue for NWO's Responsible Innovation programme. A new meeting tool – the 'learning mirror' – structures, monitors and encourages.

Meeting tool for innovation processes

A growing number of companies and entrepreneurs are seeking new ways to connect generating profit with a better environment and improved animal welfare. By doing this they pay heed to societal concerns. For example, they want to set up an ultrashort chain through which farmers can deliver directly to consumers or close a raw materials cycle. Due to their innovative nature, such initiatives typically have no clearly defined end result and they are dependent on changing partnerships that often involve new partners. Traditional methods for project management and monitoring and evaluation – such as step-by-step plans – are not adequate for this type of initiative.

Reflexive monitoring

A group of researchers at Wageningen University under the leadership of Barbara van Mierlo applied a new approach: Reflexive Monitoring in Action. The researchers acted as a sparring partner for entrepreneurs and companies with an innovative initiative, carefully examined the learning and innovation process, and used their observation to provide immediate feedback to the innovators. The researchers studied the relationships between the main issues: the societal ambitions for the long term, the standard practice at this moment, the embedding of this in legislation and policy, and the opportunities for innovation. They also reflected on the ethical values that – consciously or otherwise – lay at the basis of intended decisions and actions. This process of studying and reflection gave rise to new activities or the adaptation of intended actions, with results that were once again jointly monitored. The method offers guidelines and instruments that participants in the innovation chain can use. It helps the initiators to find joint solutions for the challenges that are typical for system innovation, such as breaking out of old patterns of thinking and doing, and solving institutional bottlenecks.

Dairy chain and greenhouse horticulture

For the NWO Responsible Innovation programme a new tool has been developed for monitoring meetings in a system innovation initiative. For this project Anne-Charlotte Hoes and PJ Beers, both researchers in the area of learning processes, participated for more than a year in meetings of boards and other consultative bodies. They also spoke extensively with dozens of people involved in two initiatives. The Sustainable Dairy Chain is an initiative of the Dutch Dairy Association (NZO), in which the milk-processing industry and the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture (LTO Nederland) are united. The second initiative is from the Stichting versterking Afzetpositie Producenten (STAP), in which various greenhouse horticulturalists have taken the lead together with the Chain Knowledge Platform of horticulturalists and knowledge institutions set up by them. The researchers analysed the communication during the regular meetings in detail and acted as a catalyst to facilitate the learning and innovation process. For example, they helped participants in the meeting to gain a clear idea about the obstacles for innovation in greenhouse agriculture and the opportunities in the wider context. In the Sustainable Dairy Chain they helped participants not just to focus on solving problems but also to communicate more actively about what they wanted to achieve. This allowed a more complete and attractive vision of the future to be developed.

Stimulating questions

By following the developments in three dimensions, progress in the project could be made visible and that had an encouraging effect in a process that is by definition unpredictable. Sometimes the participants also need to pay more attention to developments that are occurring outside of the initiative. Does new intended policy from the ministry, for example, offer new opportunities? The learning mirror contains stimulating questions that invite the participants to be aware of their surroundings. The learning mirror is suitable for researchers in the role of reflective monitors or for process supervisors who support innovation initiatives. Yet it is also for the team members of a project if they and the clients want to determine whether the innovation process is heading in the right direction. The learning mirror could then replace traditional evaluation systems. These are not adequate enough to give innovative, searching initiatives the space they need while still keeping a finger on the pulse. The learning mirror, however, does offer this possibility.

Source: NWO


Science area



Responsible innovation


Collaboration in themes (2011-2014)

Learning mirror

The 'learning mirror' is a new meeting tool that maps what participants learn together during a meeting. That is done by noting three dimensions of learning on a whiteboard or flipchart: content, relations and actions.