Globalised Market Trends and Regional Innovation System
Current trends in the globalised markets of the twenty-first century include increased interdependency and inter-organisational networking between organisations from different societies. A number of researchers who are involved in the field of innovation clusters and networks have explored positive outcomes that arise from the sustainable networking of actors with complementary resources and competencies (e.g. Porter, 1998, Asheim & Isaksen, 2000; Ferreira et al., 2012).
Following these trends, non-profit sector organisations in the fields of education and academic research have also become engaged in a variety of academic partnerships, exchange programmes and industry cooperation projects.
At the heart of these developments, the completion of the European Research Area (ERA) by 2014 was at the top of the political and legislative agenda of the European Union (EU), as it would be an area of free movement and exchange of research, scientific knowledge and technology (Chou, 2014).
Regional Innovation Systems (RIS) have been raised to the position of being the most critical tools for enhancing research and innovation capacities throughout Europe and ensuring their optimal use. Lundvall (1985) initiated the term of Innovation System (IS). A few years later, the idea of the Regional Innovation System (RIS) was introduced (Cooke, 1992; Isaksen, 2001; Iammarino, 2005). There are different approaches used by scholars to define RIS. According to Cooke (1992), the concept of RIS is the prelude to an extended discussion on the importance of financial capacity, institutionalised learning and productive culture to systemic innovation.
The complete regional innovation system consists of (1) firms representing a region’s main industrial clusters, including their support industries, (2) ‘supporting’ knowledge organisations, and (3) the active interaction between these actors. Thus, it involves cooperation in innovation activities between firms and knowledge creating and diffusing organisations, such as universities, colleges, R&D institutes, business associations etc. (Isaksen, 2001) Some researchers consider RIS as an interactive, dynamic structure made up of partners in the regional production (Lambooy, 2002) or even as a kind of complex adaptive system (Cooke, 2013).
Table 1. A hierarchy of three related concepts (Isaksen, 2001)
|Concepts||Definitions and differences|
|Regional cluster||A concentration of ‘independent’ firms within the same or adjacent industrial sectors in a small geographical area|
|Regional innovation network||Increasingly organised cooperation (agreements) between firms, stimulated by trust, norms and conventions|
|Regional innovation system||Cooperation between firms and different organisations for knowledge development and diffusion|
|Learning regions||Increasingly organised cooperation with a broader set of civil organisations and public authorities that are embedded in social and regional structures|
Isaksen (2001) emphasises that the change from a cluster to an innovation system requires strengthening the region’s institutional infrastructure through enlarging the involvement of knowledge organisations (both regional and national) in innovation cooperation. Organisations cooperate closely on an institutional level with the aim to develop and implement regional innovation strategies (Boekema et al., 2000) in order to develop the local economy.
The case of the METNET knowledge-based innovation network
Recognising the strength and power of networks in creating regional innovation system and fostering economic growth, the knowledge-based innovation network (METNET) was established on the basis of the regional cluster InnoSteel, which was founded by the Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) in cooperation with Rautaruukki Oyj (currently SSAB Ab). Establishing the METNET knowledge-based innovation network was a first step towards building a regional innovation system (RIS) in the Häme region.
The aims of the METNET network were:
- to consolidate the expertise and efforts of the regional steel construction and technology industries in research and development, and
- to share knowledge and technology services as well as new production-related solutions and operating models among the industry players.
Recognising the strength of international cooperation networks in contributing to regional innovation systems, the METNET knowledge-based network was formally founded by signing an agreement between eight foundation members in Berlin on 2 November 2006.
The METNET knowledge-based network is based on voluntary cooperation and equality of rights for its members. The purpose of the network is to bring together European educational and R&D organisations engaged in research and development in the steel construction and technology industry to support their cooperation.
The specific objectives of the METNET knowledge-based network are as follows:
- to build and maintain a large scale international innovation environment for the network members and their regions,
- to promote the exchange of information and best practices through the network to increase the know-how of companies and organisations operating in the European steel construction and technology industry,
- to support innovative processes aimed at developing new products, services and business processes by sharing capabilities, expertise and resources among network members,
- to prepare and launch joint international projects of common interest financed by companies, European Union, World Bank etc.,
- to hold international seminars, workshops, training programmes, and consultation and to seek funding for these activities.
Currently, the METNET network has over 40 members from 17 countries all over Europe including non-member states of the European Union such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Turkey. These members are universities, higher education, as well as research institutions and enterprises who represent their regional innovation networks. Each regional innovation network has its own priorities and strengths (see Figure 1).
HAMK has been the leading member of the METNET network acting as the main coordinator of most activities for the entire period since network’s foundation. As a leader, HAMK has been responsible for organising annual conferences, workshops and other forms of cooperation within the network. The METNET annual conferences and workshops have taken place in different countries and been organised in cooperation with the regional network members. The Tenth METNET International Conference will be hosted by the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) in Budapest in October 2015.
Network members fund their own participation in METNET activities themselves through their own financing arrangements and/or projects. Among the most active Finnish sponsors are the City of Hämeenlinna, Rautaruukki Oyj (currently SSAB Ab), HAMK and other university members. In the case of METNET international events, the regional sponsors have been local businesses, universities and city organisations.
Planning, preparing and managing joint international projects are the most important and most demanding activities of the METNET network. The network members have prepared and submitted several project applications for the EU funding. There is an international project, named Ruoste (financed by the Research Fund of Coal and Steel RFCS) currently running. Currently, another project in the same technical area is under preparation. Additionally, METNET members have participated in several Finnish national projects managed by HAMK.
The METNET network has significant implications for the development potential, research and innovation capacities of the Häme regional innovation system (RIS) and wider communities of Europe represented by the network members. METNET provides an international innovation environment for its members and the possibility to expand their regional innovation networks internationally.
International networking facilitates learning that promotes innovation. Through the channels of the METNET network, network members are able to use more of the information available in their research and development work. Importantly, enterprises are able to acquire new knowledge, new development and business opportunities and access to resources outside their regions.
Interpersonal relationships are of particular importance in the exchange of information between the network members. The achieved long-term trustful relationships stimulate interactive learning and inspire joint development work. In turn, joint projects developed by the members of the network maintain the METNET cooperation.
Finally, the cumulative effects of utilising the possibilities of an international cooperation network, instead of the regional innovation network only, will produce significant increases in the economic value added of enterprises. (Tenhunen, 2007)
Marina Weck, Development Manager, M.Sc. (Eng.), MBA, Häme University of Applied Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauri Tenhunen, Dr. of Science, Adjunct Professor, Häme University of Applied Sciences, email@example.com
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