Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Trust Builders as Open Innovation Intermediaries

Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Trust Builders as Open Innovation Intermediaries

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Innovation is a systemic and interactive process where relationships and cooperation among stakeholders play a central role. In order to promote and boost these interactions innovation intermediaries have been regarded as key agents of innovation processes by the innovation management literature (Howells, 2006; Phan, Siegel, & Wright, 2005). The role played by these agents has been identified from multiple perspectives within this stream of research. On the one side, some scholars define these intermediaries as bridge builders among various organizations (Sapsed, Grantham, & DeFillippi, 2007)or as technological brokers (Hargadon & Sutton, 1997). Intermediaries are here regarded as independent agents (e.g. consultancy and engineering firms), their purpose being the creation of synergies among the stakeholders involved in innovation processes (Intarakumnerd & Chaoroenporn, 2013).

On the other side, the state of the art shows increasing interest in the study of informal communities (Diani, 2000) to promote innovation and knowledge diffusion. Networks and communities of practice have thus been identified as mechanisms to promote knowledge diffusion (Bertels, Kleinschmidt, & Koen, 2011; Burt, 2004; Swan, Scarbrough, & Robertson, 2002). These networks act as self-organized entities, embracing the existing relationships in an economic system beyond formal links (Brown & Duguid, 2000), and underlying the role of informal ties in knowledge diffusion (Lawson, Petersen, Cousins, & Handfield, 2009).

Recently, the term 'trust builder' (Giaretta, 2013) has been introduced. Giaretta (2013, p. 679) identified senior managers or retired business owners, who have accrued their experience with businesses operating in the area and are available to devote part of their time, as the main agents supporting local enterprises. However, to date, the literature has not yet provided any evidence of their systemic behavior. Following Giaretta, in this paper trust builders are defined as volunteers that cooperate with firms, facilitating interaction with other relevant stakeholders they are interested in cooperating with. The main contribution we make to Giaretta's analysis is that trust builders, beyond the firm level, can also aim to influence regional competitiveness through the promotion of joint activities among local actors. In this sense, trust builders have the potential to indirectly improve the competitive situation of the territory, while upgrading local firms' competitiveness through the promotion of inter-firm activities.

We are thus interested in exploring the incidence trust builders show on the innovative behavior of local firms and their impact on the territory as a whole. In this sense, we contribute with a set of measures oriented to assess the performance of trust builders. Our research question can be formulated as follows: do trust builders contribute to innovative performance of local businesses? And to that of the regional innovation system in which these firms are embedded? The research is based on a qualitative case study conducted in the County of Durango, Spain. The approach followed is qualitative, relying on structured interviews with regional stakeholders from Durango County.

This county keeps a very high level of industrialization, sectorially specialized around the metal industry. Firms located in the area are mainly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro SMEs. The paper focuses on the firm level, as firms are considered the essential players of any economic system (Chung, 2002). This view is also shared by the literature on boundary spanners (Guston, 1999; Hustad & Bechina, 2012; Lee, 2014) or that on innovation intermediaries (Dalziel, 2010; Håkanson, Caessens, & MacAulay, 2011). This firm perspective is also complemented with an innovation system view in order to have a comprehensive and holistic view of the role played by intermediary organizations within the broader system of innovation (Eriksson, 2000). …

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