Knowledge - the most valuable resource of the future?

How can knowledge generate valuable insights for society, how does knowledge transfer work at the Fraunhofer IMW, and what does the future hold for the institute? The director of the institute, Dr. Thorsten Posselt, and Dr. Steffen Preissler, the head of the Knowledge and Technology Transfer division, discuss these questions.

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Posselt: Knowledge transfer is a key research subject at the Fraunhofer IMW.

Complex questions cannot be addressed from the perspective of a single scientific discipline alone.

Knowledge is referred to as the most valuable resource of the future. What impact does knowledge have on a society, a company or an organization?

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Posselt: This may sound a bit dramatic coming from an economist, but I do actually believe that knowledge develops its full potential in organizations and helps to improve social, economic and political processes. This knowledge transfer is a key research subject at the Fraunhofer IMW. However, may I mention in passing that we should not be referring to this process as “knowledge“ but rather as “data“ transfer.

Dr. Steffen Preissler: Each piece of information has a different value in different contexts. In this respect, we tend to apply the term “context“ very broadly. Where the knowledge economy is concerned, the evaluation of data and information is increasingly gaining in importance. Within the scope of our research, we are therefore asking ourselves which data and information is relevant to whom, and which methods are suitable for evaluating the value of insights as early as possible. This allows us to conclude suitable transfer strategies. Thanks to the makeup of our teams, we can develop a very precise understanding of problems from a multi-disciplinary perspective. We can also identify patterns and social processes that provide starting points and triggers for innovative solutions.

...at the Fraunhofer IMW, the generation of knowledge is therefore also a social process?

Dr. Steffen Preissler: Yes, exactly. When I left the university, I was initially a lone warrior. Here at the institute, we have the opportunity to generate knowledge in international and interdisciplinary teams. The knowledge generated by several people collaborating, for example through four people examining an issue from four different perspectives over a year, has a completely different quality. Something comparable cannot be produced by someone on their own in an ivory tower – the social process is missing. The exchange of ideas and the dialogue in interdisciplinary work contexts here at the institute are extremely valuable for me.

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Posselt: Innovation is definitively a social process. This leads to an interesting phenomenon: The Fraunhofer IMW researchers, for example, were socialized as economists, business administration and management or political scientists. Inherently, they look at research questions from a certain perspective but then notice that this one perspective alone does not suffice to develop something truly innovative and to answer complex questions that cannot be addressed from the perspective of a single scientific discipline alone. Not only ideas but also individuals thrive better in interdisciplinary teams. At the institute, we are providing the scope needed for innovation; it allows everyone involved to input their particular talent and ensures that this happens in a goal-oriented way, with everyone working towards the same goal. Abstract thinking, institute, country, language and methodology expertise, putting insights into practice – our strength is the ability to combine all of these. It is firmly anchored in our DNA.

In comparison to the well-established sciences, socio-economics is a relatively young discipline. ‘Knowledge economy’, the term chosen for the name of the institute, describes transformed economies for the globalized knowledge society. Professor Posselt, do you find it interesting that you are involved in the definition of entirely new fields in the area of applied science?

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Posselt: I would not necessarily classify the term “socio-economics“ as a new one. However, the actual question is in fact what it is that is new in this context. Until quite recently, we investigated technology from the outside; we therefore conducted accompanying research. However, now this distant perspective no longer suffices – why? Because the progress is so rapid that we need to integrate socio-economic components into technology research right from the start. The establishment of knowledge economies in Europe and their international competitiveness with other economic regions such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), for example, needs stimuli and support from applied research. We are currently tasked with the development of the shape these are to take. That is extremely interesting and that is what we are working on here in Leipzig together with other Fraunhofer institutes in the newly established Fraunhofer Innovation Research Alliance.

Dr. Preissler, in 2017, the Leipzig Fraunhofer center can look back over ten years of experience. You have been on board since the beginning and are therefore one of the longest serving members of the institute staff. What keeps you at the Fraunhofer IMW?

Dr. Steffen Preissler: The people with whom I have the pleasure to work every day. This structure results in the kind of work that is both challenging and remarkable. There is also my unflagging interest in the subjects and contents. They are incredibly relevant for the future. As a scientist, I can really make a difference here as the institute provides me with scope for development and leadership responsibility. I can contribute to shaping the products and the strategic direction of the institute.

Professor Posselt, looking back over ten years, and forward to the next ten – what position has the institute earned since its establishment in 2006?

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Posselt: The institute has “arrived“ in the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. We now belong to numerous science consortia, have established resilient partnerships and client relationships, and are showing presence with a clearly defined profile. All of this I value very much. With our hypothesis that applied socio-economic research is becoming increasingly important, we are attracting ever more attention. The digitalization unlocks an increasing number of research projects for the evaluation of innovation policies, business models, Industry 4.0 and the transformation of work from a socio-economic perspective. Many other countries will only realize the full extent of the challenges and consequences we are facing as a result of the transformation processes associated with globalization in a few years' time. This means that questions related to social equalization will become more relevant in our research. We intend to play an active role in the examination of these questions. In this respect, we benefit from the interdisciplinary teams at the Fraunhofer IMW as they allow us to develop innovative solutions for increasingly complex problems.