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Translational Studies for Inclusive SocietyThe potential of “knotworking” for an inclusive society

writer: INABA, Mitsuyuki(College of Policy Science, Professor) published: 2017-3


The “Translational Studies for Inclusive Society” project (hereafter referred to as the “Inclusive Society” project) begun in 2013. It has developed practical research through collaboration between “study” (researchers) and “practice” (practitioners/professionals) concerning the provision of support to allow people in various situations to be positioned as legitimate participants in social activities. A final symposium for this project was then held in November of 2015.
I was impressed with the reports by project teams in the symposium because each team had developed cooperation among “study and practice” in addition to expanding the “knots” not only between researchers in different fields (study to study) but also between professionals working in different places (practice to practice) through the process of solving problems related to human services. Engeström (2008) refer to the creation of these kinds of boundary crossing and flexible knots as “knotworking.”

Translational studies as “knotworking”

Yamazumi (2008) asserts that knotworking is “born out of pressing on-site needs.”

“Knotworking is born out of people’s pressing on-site needs. As a result, it should be possible to find the improvisation and maintenance of practical efforts that people are engaging in toward performance beyond boundaries at these sites. The lateral movement of knotworking gives a vital pulse to expansive connections between people.” (pp. 49 – 50).

Various “pressing needs” arise one after the other at the sites of practice, and it is natural for boundary-crossing “knotworking” activities to be developed in order to solve these problems. In the world of traditional “research,” however, because the terminology and methodology differs in each field, it is not easy to conduct this kind of knotworking that transcends the boundaries between fields and disciplines. In the “Inclusive Society” project these pressing practical issues are given a central position, and we aim to create knots between professionals and researchers in each case in a consistently effective manner.

A new example of knotworking: The Japanese version of the innocence project

In April of 2016, on the basis of the “Inclusive Society” project, we created the Japanese version of the innocence project as a new “knotworking” initiative to solve the practical problem of aiding people who have been falsely accused of a crime. We have obtained cooperation from experts in various fields, including lawyers, legal scholars, forensic scientists, information scientists, and so on.
My specialty is information science, and what led me to have doubts about the Japanese criminal justice system and initiate knotworking with the aim of helping the falsely accused was being involved in verifying testimony analysis and judicial rulings. After receiving an assessment request from legal counsel, through a process of analyzing testimony of witnesses for both the defense and prosecution together with a psychologist and asking forensic scientists about various pieces of evidence, I came to believe that in order for the three elements of the legal community and lay judges to arrive at fairer and more just determinations it is important for scientists in various fields to collaborate and actively provide assistance in arriving at judicial rulings.

Surveys of overseas innocence projects

In order to support judicial rulings and victims of false accusations, we visited innocence projects in New York, San Diego, and Taiwan to study situations in which experts in various fields are collaborating in relation to these issues. On these visits we administered interview surveys to people involved in these projects and asked their opinion about launching an innocence project in Japan.
Each of these three projects has a different historical background and structure, but they share a common aim of evaluating cases of false accusations and helping those who have been falsely accused and approach that involves creating a network of experts in various fields including psychologists and scientists such as DNA testing experts. The idea of building this kind of network of experts provided an important hint when it came to thinking about the structure of the Japanese innocence project.

The present and future of Innocence Project Japan

We set up a preliminary office for the Japanese innocence project inside Ritsumeikan University and began constructing a network of experts, including legal practitioners, forensic scientists, psychologists, and information scientists, for the assistance of people who have been falsely accused. The Japanese Innocence Project was then formally established in April of 2016. We continue to pursue a structure of international cooperation with innocence projects in the United States and Taiwan.
In this way we are continuing to develop our activities as an instance of the “knotworking of experts for the sake of people needing support” of the sort undertaken by the “Inclusive Society” project. Of course, collaboration between experts in fields that employ different jargon is far from easy, and there are places in which the current justice system and a purely scientific way of thinking differ in their philosophies and values. But in order to overcome various paradoxes and conflicts, we think it is important to point out problems with processes and systems and work to expand and improve them. We hope that knotworking in the Japanese innocence project is able to promote the “learning by expanding” (Engeström, 1987) of society as a whole and contribute to the realization of a fairer and more just legal system.


  • Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit
  • Engeström, Y. (2008). From teams to knots : activity-theoretical studies of collaboration and learning at work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Yamazumi, K. (2008). From Network to Knotworking: New Generation of Activity Theory. In Yamazumi, K. & Engeström, Y. (Eds.). Knotworking (pp. 1-57). Tokyo: Shinyo-sha. (in Japanese).

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Institute of Ars Vivendi. Ritsumeikan Univ.