17 Jun 2016

Research and innovation networks diversify

Increasingly research and development is created in innovation ecosystems, collaborating in a triple helix consisting of public and private sector organizations, and research and education institutes. The fourth dimension of societal actors is alas not always included, but in some regions this is promoted.

This type of triple helix collaboration in knowledge development can be seen on the local, national and international level where individual actors persuade diverse big parties to invest in joint development. Resources in the network can be identified, for example, facilities such as laboratories. On the level of a facility there can be joint ownership by some partners, or for a project or event there can be collaboration by a larger number of actors, or on the higher level of transnational networks collaboration can be created either in new legal entities or by working in a more loosely coupled network where the partners each devote time of their personnel, and other resources.

On the one hand, this is a positive way and flexibly open to initiatives, on the other hand, this may occur rather outside of other e.g. political structures and there may be a dominance of big investors. All these networks open opportunities for innovation, and at the same time form their own societal order, a world within this world.

In the area of security (there will be similar developments in other areas) networks are formed, for example, at the level of Safety & Security Clusters that bring together a large group of related but diverse local and regional actors such as rescue organisations. The clusters -in general- intend to stimulate the local economy and work as a motor for employment and quality improvement. They can be very large and comprise thousands of security-related organizations, combining efforts of large corporations, SMEs, governments, and -of course- also research and education institutions, focusing on for example rescue and (cyber)security.
The regional clusters collaborate with other clusters in the same country but also across borders to create an international Knowledge Innovation Community. There is no national actor as a go-between and the activities of any cluster depend on the activity of its local members. There are some funds that facilitate exchange of insights or travel, but largely the work in networks is divided by those that form the network. One region may focus on different sectors than another, but this may not be an official policy but rather an outcome of local activities. The sectors may have very different ways of organizing themselves, for example, the way in which health care innovation is facilitated by networks may be very different. Depending on the spearheads of a university it will need to monitor and interact in many different networks.

In such clusters the partners invest by time of personnel. If the university wants to be part of such clusters and follow developments, in turn it also needs to support such participation. Nowadays, universities need to participate in many different kinds of innovation ecosystems, networks that may have different legal structures. One might argue, that it is not so much the university but rather individual scholars that together co-create such triple helix collaboration networks and thus making the spearheads a result rather than a starting point.
Is the university aware of the importance of monitoring such sector-specific networks by their personnel and ensuring that such activities are facilitated and linked to the choice of its spearheads? It seems impossible to ‘manage’ such activities top to bottom, and thus there should be space for this also bottom up. Monitoring and being open for exchange are keywords, whereas institutionalizing such collaboration in a fixed format is hardly effective, as the networks by definition are dynamic.