Department of Economics and Business University of Padova Italy
School of Business, Economics and Informatics, Birkbeck College, University of London, United Kingdom
Department of Economics, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy
Intermediary organisations that support firm-level and collaborative innovation, often called knowledge or innovation intermediaries, have gained increasing prominence in knowledge-intensive economies. The label “intermediaries” is not meant to be
reductive. Intermediaries do not merely offer matchmaking services, but provide a wide range of knowledge-intensive services including, among others, knowledge and technology mapping, technical assistance in R&D projects, dissemination and commercialisation of research results, support for universityindustry collaborations (Bessant and Rush, 1995; Lynn et al, 1996;
Hargadon and Sutton, 1997; Den Hertog, 2000; Howells, 2006; Doganova, 2013). Most importantly, they are innovation catalysers,
as they “mobilise, reframe and structure expertise and policy imperatives” (Meyer and Kearnes, 2013, p423). Intermediaries are
not third parties, but they are often an integral part of innovation processes. While typical intermediaries include knowledgeintensive
business services providers, technopoles, technology transfer agencies, science parks and incubators, a wide range of organisations can provide at least some intermediary functions (Howells, 2006; Caloffi et al, 2015a).
In what follows we review the features and role of innovation intermediaries, and focus on the challenges involved in the design of
innovation intermediaries that can appropriately support the ongoing Forth Industrial Revolution.
1. Innovation intermediaries: characteristics and role
Innovation intermediaries are often created and/or funded through public budgets, in order to support R&D, innovation, and technology transfer (Uotila et al, 2012; Knockaert et al, 2014; Fiordelmondo et al, 2014). Examples include competitiveness poles in France, innovation poles in Italy, technology catapults in the UK (Longhi and Rainelli, 2010; Kerry and Danson, 2016; Russo et al, 2016a).
System failure rationales (Klein Woolthuis et al, 2005) appear to underpin most policies funding innovation intermediaries (Dalziel, 2010; Dalziel and Parjanen, 2012; Russo et al, 2016b). In fact, intermediaries can be expected to address failures in the information infrastructure of an innovation system, by diffusing information about opportunities for collaborations with other actors (Bougrain and Haudeville, 2002), as well as about useful and applicable techniques or technologies for product and service development (Howard Partners, 2007; Rosenkopf and Nerkar, 2001). They can help firms to address their capabilities failures (Bessant and Rush, 2005; Knockaert et al, 2014) by providing training and knowledge and technology mapping services. Very often, intermediaries are required to address interaction failures in the innovation system (Russo et al, 2016a). Finally, intermediaries can be called upon to address the lack of formal or informal institutions supporting innovation, and facilitate the emergence of social norms that underpin good innovative performance (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 1998). In many cases, intermediaries are required to specifically provide services to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are less likely than large firms to carry out R&D activities systematically and, therefore, are often less innovative and more easily prey to cognitive lock-ins (Laranja et al, 2008). Our long-term research agenda on publicly-funded innovation intermediaries, has produced a number of key policy implications.
The pro-networking activity of intermediaries. Innovation policies that aim to encourage SMEs to network with other organisations, should target intermediaries. Intermediaries perform a key role in connecting firms or firms with other agents (Caloffi et al, 2015b), and this is particularly true for specialised intermediaries, which have specific knowledge and competencies in the field of innovation support and technology transfer. Instead, their presence seems to be redundant in more complex multi-agent relationships, such as those developing in complex consortia (Caloffi et al, 2013).
Variety is important. Different types of innovation intermediaries can play a role in different environments and at different stages of the innovation process. For instance, intermediaries operating in technologically turbulent environments or supporting knowledge exploration processes need to bridge previously unconnected organisations with very different knowledge and competencies, while intermediaries operating in more stable environments or supporting knowledge exploitation processes need to coordinate organisations that are part of overlapping communities (Caloffi et al, 2015b). Therefore, there is no a unique model of innovation intermediary that policy makers should support.
Intermediaries by policy design. Policymakers should refrain from defining ex ante the specific type of intermediary that must be part of an innovation project. The best option is to let the organisations that develop the project define the partnership that is needed to carry it out. Indeed, imposing constraints on the composition of the partnership that can apply for public funds does not always get the expected results, as compliance with policy requirements stifles experimentation (Rossi et al, 2016).
The evaluation of intermediaries’ performance.
Intermediaries’ performance is often assessed through indicators that, to be effective, need to be closely aligned with policy objectives. The lack of such alignment – a phenomenon that is quite common and often overlooked – can lead intermediaries to implement actions that, while allowing them to reach their performance targets in a short time, are not consistent with the final objectives that the policy intends to achieve (Russo et al, 2016a, 2016b). Therefore, policymakers are required to pay careful attention to the design of performance indicators.
Intermediaries to address system failures. The fact that intermediaries are often called upon to address a number of system failures has implications for both the type of assessment that these organisations should undergo, and the kind of knowledge and skills they need. In this respect, we argue that a system-based framework of performance indicators to assess the intermediaries’ publicly-funded activities would be particularly useful. We provide an example of these indicators by looking at a specific type of innovation intermediaries, the innovation poles (Russo et al, 2016a, 2016b). We also argue that a system-based evaluation of intermediaries’ activities should provide some implications in terms of policy design, with particular reference to the type of specialised competencies intermediaries need to effectively support the development of their innovation system.
2. Intermediaries for Industry 0
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is in progress. Building on the achievements of the Third Industrial Revolution, which has witnessed the rise of information technology, the Fourth exploits the power of digitalisation to connect people and objects globally (Schwab, 2016). In factories, so-called Industry 4.0 technologies like robotics, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are reshaping production processes and the associated value chains (McKinsey, 2013; World Economic Forum, 2016). To remain competitive, firms need to rapidly adapt their skills, processes, and technologies to the new paradigm (Brynjolfsson and Mcafee, 2016). Since the Fourth Industrial Revolution has a markedly systemic and recombinant character (Brynjolfsson and Mcafee, 2016; Schwab, 2016), we believe that intermediaries can play an important role in this context, helping firms, particularly SMEs, to proficiently adopt and integrate new technological and organisational systems and processes.
However, as technological revolutions tend to disrupt established relationships among individuals, organisations and artifacts (Tushman and Anderson, 1986), it is by no means assured that this important role will be played by existing intermediaries such as technopoles and technology transfer agencies – which have been funded largely by regional and national governments in order to broker the supply and demand (particularly from SMEs) of innovative technologies and specialised competences. Indeed, as other scholars have observed, the Fourth Industrial Revolution “call us to re-think the roles of the university, government, and industries that form the Triple Helix of the innovation eco-system and re-imagine their interfaces in the governance of emerging technologies” (Kim, 2017, p11). While some technical and policy reports have tried to illustrate the actual or possible new applications of technologies (e.g. European Parliamentary Research Service, in Davies, 2015), there are no systematic analyses of the role, competences, governance and business models of intermediaries in the implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies. In this scenario, new characteristics of innovation intermediaries will play a crucial role in the generation and diffusion of innovations.
Current structural changes require us to update our understanding of how to support firm-level and collaborative innovation, and what type of organisations are able to perform this task, so as to inform policy-making and to help firms organise their technological upgrading.
The industry of the future will be very different from that of the past, to the extent that robotics, 3D printing, and IoT will have a strong impact on production processes, and interconnected bundles of technologies (mechanical, electronics, digital) characterize these applications. Intermediaries can facilitate and even drive the emergence of some technological applications and the related innovations, and their diffusion to user firms, particularly SMEs that are unlikely to possess (or to be able to acquire) the internal skills and knowledge needed to seamlessly transition to the Industry 4.0 paradigm (Motohashi, 2017). Moreover, they can help firms to implement the organisational transformations that are essential to fully exploit the opportunities of the new technologies. By looking at how innovation intermediaries are creating their own competences, structure and business model, and which kind of support they provide to help firms facing the structural changes inherent in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our future research will support an innovative perspective to address a well-known set of real-life challenges brought about by technological change.
Bessant, J and Rush, H. (1995) Building bridges for innovation: the role of consultants in technology transfer, Research Policy, 24: 97-114.
Brynjolfsson, E and Mcafee, A. (2016) The Second Machine Age – Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, W W Norton.
Bougrain, F and Haudeville, B. (2002) Innovation, collaboration and SMEs internal research capacities. Research Policy, 31(5): 735–747.
Caloffi, A, Mariani, Mand Mealli, F. (2013) What kind of R&D consortia enhance SMEs productivity? Evidence from a small- business innovation policy. Marco Fanno Working Papers, n.12.
Caloffi, A, Rossi, F and Russo, M. (2015a) The emergence of intermediary organizations: a network-based approach to the design of innovation policies. In Geyer R, Cairney, P (Eds), Handbook on complexity and public policy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Caloffi, A, Rossi, F and Russo, M. (2015b) What makes SMEs more likely to collaborate? Analysing the role of regional innovation policy. European Planning Studies, 23(7): 1245-1264.
Dalziel, M. (2010) Why do intermediaries exist? Paper presented at the DRUID Summer Conference 2010 on “Opening Up Innovation: Strategy, Organization and Technology” at Imperial College London Business School, June 16-18.
Dalziel, M and Parjanen, S. (2012) Measuring the impact of innovation intermediaries: a case study of Tekes. In Melkas, H, Harmaakorpi, V (Eds), Practice-based innovation: Insights, applications and policy implications (pp117-132). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Davies R. (2015) Industry 4.0 Digitalisation for Productivity and Growth. EPRS|European Parliamentary Research Service, September 2015. www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/ etudes/ BRIE/2015/568337/EPRS_BRI (2015) 568337_EN.pdf
Den Hertog, P. (2000) Knowledge-intensive business services as
co-producers of innovation, International Journal of Innovation Management, 4 (4): 491-528.
Doganova, L. (2013) Transfer and exploration: Two models of science-industry intermediation. Science and Public Policy, 40 (4): 442-452.
Etzkowitz, H and Leydesdorff, L. (1998) The endless transition: a ‘Triple Helix’ of university-industry-government relations. Minerva, 36(3): 203-208.
Fiordelmondo, V, Ghinoi, S, Silvestri, F, Caloffi, A, Rossi, F, Russo, M and Kaulard, A. (2014) Politiche a sostegno del sistema di ricerca e sviluppo in Danimarca, Finlandia, Francia, Germania, Italia, Spagna e Svezia, DEMB Working Paper Series, n.45, http:// merlino.unimo.it/ campusone/web_dep/wpdemb/0045.pdf.
Hargadon, A and Sutton, R I. (1997) Technology brokering and innovation in a product development firm, Administrative Science Quarterly 42(4): 716-749.
Howard Partners. (2007) Study of the Role of Intermediaries in Support of Innovation, Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, Australia.
Howells, J. (2006) Intermediation and the role of intermediaries in innovation. Research Policy, 35(5): 715-728.
Kerry, C and Danson, M. (2016) Open Innovation, Triple Helix and Regional Innovation Systems: Exploring CATAPULT Centres in the UK. Industry and Higher Education, 30(1): 67- 78.
Klein Woolthuis, R, Lankhuizen, M and Gilsing, V. (2005) A system failure framework for innovation policy design. Technovation 25(6): 609-619.
Klerkx, L and Leeuwis, C. (2009) Establishment and embedding of innovation brokers at different innovation system levels: Insights from the Dutch agricultural sector, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 76: 849–860.
Knockaert, M, Spithoven, A and Clarysse, B. (2014) The impact of technology intermediaries on firm cognitive capacity additionality, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 81: 376-387.
Laranja, M, Uyarra, E and Flanagan, K. (2008) Policies for science, technology and innovation: Translating rationales into regional policies in a multi-level setting. Research Policy, 37(5): 823-835. Longhi, C and Rainelli, M. (2010) Poles of competitiveness, a French dangerous obsession? International Journal of
Technology Management, 49(1-3): 66-92.
Lynn, L H, Mohan Reddy, N and Aram, J D. (1996) Linking technology and institutions: the innovation community framework, Research Policy, 25(1): 91-106.
McKinsey Global Institute. (2013) Disruptive technologies: advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy, May (www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital- mckinsey/our-insights/disruptive-technologies).
Meyer, M and Kearnes, M. (2013) Introduction to special section: intermediaries between science, policy and the market. Science and public policy, 40(4): 423-429.
Motohashi, K. (2017) Survey of Big Data Use and Innovation in Japanese Manufacturing Firms, RIETI Policy Discussion Paper Series, 17-P-027.
Rosenkopf, L and Nerkar, A. (2001) Beyond local search: boundaryǦspanning, exploration, and impact in the optical disk industry. Strategic Management Journal, 22(4): 287-306.
Rossi, F, Caloffi, A and Russo, M. (2016) Networked by design: can policy requirements influence organisations’ networking behaviour? Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 105:203-214.
Russo, M, Caloffi, A, Rossi, F and Righi, R. (2016a) Designing performance-based incentives for innovation intermediaries: evidence from regional innovation poles. CIMR Working Paper n34. Birkbeck College, University of London.
Russo, M, Caloffi, A, Rossi, F and Righi, R. (2016b) Creating incentives for innovation intermediaries to address innovation system failures: evidence from regional innovation poles. Paper presented at the Uddevalla Symposium 2016, 30 June–2 July 2016, University of London.
Schwab, K. (2016) The fourth industrial revolution. Cologny (Switzerland): World Economic Forum.
Tushman, M L and Anderson, P. (1986) Technological discontinuities and organizational environments. Administrative science quarterly, 439-465.
Uotila, T, Harmaakorpi, V and Hermans, R. (2012) Finnish mosaic of regional innovation system – assessment of thematic regional innovation platforms based on related variety, European Planning Studies, 20(10): 1583-1602.
World Economic Forum. (2016) The future of jobs: employment, skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution, January (www3.weforum.org/docs/ WEF_Future_of_ Jobs.pdf).
Kim, S Y. (2017) The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Triple Helix. Hélice, 6(2): 8-11.
Annalisa Caloffi is Research Fellow at the Department of Economics and Business, University of Padova. Her main research interests include industrial and innovation policies, innovation networks, R&D consortia and industrial districts and clusters. She has been involved in a number of international research projects on innovation policies, including EU-funded Research Framework projects, as well as in several projects funded by national and regional agencies. Her work has been presented in several conferences worldwide and published in peer-reviewed journals, books and other national and international outlets.
Federica Rossi is a Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research interests focus on science and technology policy, the economics and management of intellectual property rights, innovation activities of firms and networks of firms, the economics and governance of higher education. She has collaborated on numerous research projects for, among others, the OECD, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office, the World Intellectual Property Organization and EC/Eurostat. She has authored numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals and books.
Margherita Russo is a Full Professor of Economic Policy, Università of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy. Her research interests are innovation dynamics, the effects of innovation on the organization of labour and on skill requirements; analysis and modelling of the structure and change of local production systems; the socio-economic impact of natural disasters. Since 2016, she is the Italian Representative at the OECD Working Party on Technology and Innovation Policy. (*email address protected*)
- PRESIDENT’S CORNER – The Wisdom of the University
- SIXTEENTH TRIPLE HELIX CONFERENCE MANCHESTER, 2018 Call for Participation
- TRIPLE HELIX 2017 CONFERENCE – DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA
- VIEWPOINT – Piero Formica
- INNOVATION INTERMEDIARIES: FROM THE THIRD TO THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
- SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT THROUGH THE CREATION OF A KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY
- BOOK REVIEW
- RESEARCH ASSISTANCE INITIATIVE – SPIRAL
- WORKING PAPER SERIES
- TALKS SERIES
- CHAPTER NEWS
- WEBINAR SERIES
- NEW THA MEMBERS – JUNE/AUGUST 2017
- THA NEWS