Counter-Intuitive Innovation Approach


Use for

Identifying fixed patterns in cognition and social environment and interventions to overcome them.


The Counter-Intuitive Innovation approach is based on the theory of socio-cognitive configurations. This theory states that intensive contact between people leads to shared opinions (knowledge) and fixed forms of interpersonal behaviour. These can create taboos and obstacles to innovation and lead to the exclusion of outsiders.

What do you do?

You analyse networks in terms of actors, their views, knowledge and rules of behaviour (see also Methods, actor analysis). Important questions are:

  • With which stakeholders does an actor have contact, and if not, why not?
  • What does that actor talk about? What does he not talk about, and why not?

On the basis of the information you can distinguish ‘configurations' (sub-networks characterised by actors with shared perceptions and knowledge). It also allows you to identify fixations within and between configurations, including the mechanisms that cause and maintain these fixations.

The next step is to formulate interventions designed to weaken these fixations and so create room for learning processes. In the case of cognitive fixation, the intervention should be focused on new actors or new rules. With social fixations (fixations in the network or the rules of behaviour between those in the network), you introduce new content.


Because the innovators are often part of the existing configuration with its accepted truths, it is advisable to recruit external researchers, who should preferably work together with the stakeholders to make the study a joint process of analysis and learning.

More information

Termeer, C.J.A.M. and B. Kessener (2007). Revitalizing stagnated policy processes. Journal of  Applied Behavioral Science, 433(2), pp. 232-256.

Used by

Among others: Katrien Termeer, Wageningen UR.