Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

InnovationXchange: A Case Study in Innovation Intermediation

Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

InnovationXchange: A Case Study in Innovation Intermediation

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The roles of 'knowledge intermediation' and 'innovation intermediaries' are attracting growing attention both in academic research and in public policy. Recognition of the importance of intermediaries for technological and business process innovation parallels a recent emphasis on the 'systemic' and 'distributed' nature of innovation involving the interplay of multiple actors connected through social, industrial, scientific and technological 'networks' (Chesbrough 2003, 2006; Fleming & Waguespack 2007; Lee et al. 2010). However, in spite of the importance of the topic, and in spite of the oftentimes considerable government support obtained by innovation intermediaries, present understanding of their roles and significance remains fragmentary (Sapsed et al. 2007; Dodgson & Steen 2008; Dalziel 2010).

There is no consensus as to the nomenclature and semantic conventions best suited for the description and analysis of innovation intermediation as a process, nor of innovation intermediaries as organizational entities. The phenomenon is variously referred to as 'innovation intermediation' (Wolpert 2002; Howells 2006), 'technology brokering' (Hargadon & Sutton 1997), 'bridging' (Bessant & Rush 1995), 'innovation brokering' (Klerkx & Leeuwis 2009), or 'networking brokerage' (Sverrisson 2001). However, the lack of consensus extends beyond terminology. There is ambiguity also - and more importantly - regarding the precise difference - if any - between knowledge intermediation and other types of consulting services (Bessant & Rush 1995). Howells (2006) identifies no less than ten 'intermediation functions', including 'testing, validation and training', 'accreditation and standards', 'regulation and arbitration', 'intellectual property: protecting the results', 'commercialization' and 'assessment and evaluation'. At the root of the problem is the absence of an accepted definition and consensus on what constitutes an 'innovation intermediary', a lexical and operational ambiguity that has hampered productive discussion and research on this phenomenon.

A further complicating factor is that, as Howells (2006, p. 720) notes, 'organizations identified as providing intermediary roles in innovation processes are complex and multiple entities, whose primary role may often not be as an intermediary'. The central issue is the demarcation between knowledge intermediaries and other consultancy organizations, who also serve their clients by providing them with new knowledge and capabilities. Howells (2006), for example, includes in his sample of intermediaries CERAM, an international consultant organization in the area of materials testing and analysis; by the same token, Hargadon and Sutton's (1997) seminal study on technology brokering is based on an intensive case study of IDEO, a large product design consulting firm.

While recognizing that organizations whose primary mission is to act as innovation intermediaries may find it to be in their own and their clients' interests to also develop and supply ancillary services (many of which are also provided by other types of consultants), the present paper focuses on 'pure' knowledge intermediation, i.e., the process in which one organization - the intermediary - assists in connecting two or more client organizations for the purpose of combining their respective knowledge and capabilities in new ways. Focusing on this 'ideal type' situation makes it easier to isolate factors and mechanisms specifically associated with innovation intermediation, rather than those found comingled with ancillary services, and to arrive at a focused and parsimonious definition and understanding of the roles of an innovation intermediary. In this ideal type situation, the intermediary provides no other value to her clients than the identification and facilitation of a fruitful cooperation between agents who were not previously aware of one another and their potential synergies or were for other reasons unable to pursue such opportunities. …

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