The Use of Social Network Analysis in Innovation Studies: Mapping Actors and Technologies

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ABSTRACT

The utilization of social network analysis (SNA) in policy development and evaluation is still very limited. The aim of this paper is to identify research themes in innovation that may benefit from the application of SNA, and to examine implications for management and policy that are derived from this application in the academic literature. Three relevant research themes were identified: 1) networks of collaboration; 2) communication networks; and 3) networks of technology. The implications for management and policy and promising directions for further research are discussed.

Keywords: social network analysis; innovation studies; collaboration; communication; technology networks.

1. INTRODUCTION AND RATIONALE

Organisations are increasingly paying attention to the notion of 'open innovation', i.e. making use of knowledge generated outside the organisation in innovation processes and vice versa. As a result, organisations are increasingly organising their access to complementary knowledge in knowledge intensive networks (Grant & Baden-Fuller 2004). Policy makers also emphasize this growing importance of knowledge intensive networks for innovation. As indicated in a recent OECD Policy Brief, the increasing organisation of innovation in networks implies that (OECD 2008, p.7):

the potential for innovation depends on how well knowledge circulates and how well the system is connected: policies to foster or enable the development of world class clusters and networks are thus of growing importance.

The importance of networks for innovation was also stressed in a recent report of the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR 2008). More specifically, the structure, strength of the relationships and the nature of a network is said to influence innovation. The analysis of networks provides a means to aggregate microlevel data and get a grasp on meso-level trends and developments. As concluded from prior research, stimulating network formation and development is often an under-utilized opportunity in innovation policy (Kaufmann & Schwartz 2008). However, to devise policy to foster the development of networks, monitoring and evaluation of these networks is necessary. For this, methods to analyse those aspects of innovation networks that are relevant for innovation policy are needed. Measures and concepts deriving from the field of social network analysis (SNA) are likely to be useful in this respect. Until now, these measures have hardly been assessed in policy studies, with the exception of a few studies on the European Framework Program (Breschi & Cusmano 2004). Because of this, the potential contribution of SNA to innovation policy development and evaluation remains unclear. Moreover, due to the generic nature of many concepts and measures deriving from social network analysis (Kilduff & Tsai 2003), there may be a variety of research themes in the field innovation to which it can make an insightful contribution, next to the quite obvious theme of interorganisational collaborations. This paper aims to address these issues by providing an overview of the contribution of SNA to the academic field of innovation studies. We focus on the academic literature as SNA is increasingly applied here, and it constitutes a primary source for future policy studies to built on. In reviewing this academic literature, we more specifically focus on the implications of its findings for management and policy. The research questions to be answered in this paper are:

For what purposes is SNA used in academic publications in the field of innovation studies? What insights have these publications provided, more specifically with regard to management and policy implications?

To answer these questions, this paper begins with an overview of primary concepts in SNA and their relation to innovation. Section 3 gives an overview of the methods used to compile the literature review. …