What is a Collaborative Innovation Network?

What is a Collaborative Innovation Network?
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Success Factors for Collaborative Innovation

The rise of the knowledge economy has brought with it more turbulent business environments and a constant churn within markets. The resulting growth of interconnected and interdependent networks requires that organizations now act more as a complex adaptive system, rather than, as was the case in the past, a hierarchical industrial-age factory executing a series of linear processes.

Research shows that the origin of most collaborations between organizations is via informal chance meetings and weak-tie relationships, coupled with the presence of an opportunity.  Typically, these informal relationships and opportunities (research, market, product or services based) exist in high-trust environments such as inter-organizational networks and ecosystems such as communities of interest, trade associations and regional industrial clusters.

As such these networks or ecosystems come under the heading of collaborative environments, as they support the social and business networks in a particular industry, to create potential collaboration opportunities.

These collaborative environments in local economies are central to the creation and sustainability of inter-firm collaboration. They provide the requisite environment of common cooperation and a level of trust among the individual organizations and individuals necessary to share knowledge and identify opportunities based on shared experiences and challenges. This common cooperation and trust lead to the development of collaborative partnerships, where the key attributes for success consist of:

  • Focus within a specific industry vertical e.g. Health, AgriTech, High Value Manufacturing, Services, or technology horizontal such as cloud, mobile, analytics etc
  • The creation of a single focal point (either via branding or overarching program) for industry, markets, government and academia to engage with and leverage the capabilities of the collaborative group or partnership.
  • The appointment of an independent broker, facilitator or coordinator to promote the collaborative partnership and engage with opportunities on behalf of partnering organizations.
  • The creation of a separate teams, projects or entities to execute on specific commercialization opportunities and comprise a subset of collaboration partner organizations best suited to deliver the opportunity, along with a 'dis-establishment' process when the project or program outcomes have been achieved.
  • The establishment of systems and processes that support the partnership, program execution, opportunity identification and commercialization activities.

What Stops Collaboration?

Photo by Nadine Shaabana / Unsplash

Inter-firm collaboration is now recognized to be a primary driver of competitiveness and performance, where the rise of interconnected and interdependent networks act as complex adaptive systems giving rise to the fundamental requirement to collaborate.

However, the process of establishing and maintaining strong and fruitful collaboration between firms is not well understood and as a result most attempts to manufacture such associations fail.

The primary cause of failure is that facilitators perceive collaboration from a technical and/or mechanistic perspective. They examine how competencies and capabilities can be transferred between firms before trust and commitment, key determinants of strong and positive bonds between individuals and groups, are created. In essence the human dimension is seen as peripheral rather than central.

To facilitate collaborative partnerships, trust and commitment must be developed first. That means that individuals and groups need to be given opportunities to meet for extended periods and for interaction and dialogue to be facilitated. As part of this process individuals need to be encouraged to spell out the values that underpin their business, their goals and aspirations and the competencies and capabilities they have and need. Only through such interaction and dialogue can potential collaborators come to an understanding of each other.

From these ‘human’ interactions, scope is created for organizations to examine the opportunities for collaboration in a more structured format. At this second stage firms need to undertake a critical evaluation of their firm, extending their own understanding of the competencies and capabilities they have and need. This check list can then be used as a basis for firms to compare comparative strengths and weaknesses and therefore begin the process of identifying specific areas where collaboration will be mutually beneficial. This is the third stage.

The process from here on is iterative. From an understanding of each firm and key individuals at the human level, tactical collaboration can be undertaken as a trial. Subsequently, as understanding between collaborators is enhanced, trust and commitment will deepen, leading to deep pocket alliances that facilitate strategic alliances. This can be viewed as the fourth stage and will often require one-on-one coaching.