11.1.1 What are Innovation Networks?

The most valuable and complex technologies are increasingly innovated by networks that self-organize. Networks are those linked organisations (e.g., firms, universities, government agencies) that create, acquire, and integrate the diverse knowledge and skills required to invent complex technologies (e.g., aircraft, telecommunications equipment, biomass etc). In other words, innovation networks are organised around constant learning. Self-organisation refers to the capacity these networks have for combining and recombining these learned capabilities without centralised, detailed managerial guidance. The proliferation of self-organising innovation networks may be linked to many factors, but a key one seems to be increasing globalisation. Indeed, globalisation and self-organising networks may be coevolving. Changes in the organisation of the innovation process appear to have facilitated the broadening geographical linkages of products, processes, and markets.
At the same time, globalization seems to induce cooperation among innovative organisations.1

What are Innovation Networks? As with many definitions, the term “innovation networks“ has been defined in many ways by many people and so far there is no unity on what innovation networks really are. In the purpose of this component we will use the following definition framework.2

Innovation networks ...

  • are all forms of organisations
  • that serve the exchange of information, knowledge and resources
  • and by suitable learning among at least three partners
  • help to bring about innovation
  • are based on confidence and stable cooperation relations.

In innovation networks …

  • innovation activities are coordinated
  • legally independent enterprises pool their business relations as far as their innovations potentials are concerned
  • stable relations are formed between enterprises and other players (training and research institutions, political players, etc, in order to gain competition advantages jointly and in a cooperative way
  • the joint efforts yield innovative products, processes and services.


1 Rycroft, Robert: (2003): Self-organizing Innovation Networks: Implications for Globalization
2 InnoSupport: Supporting Innovations in SME. 11. Innovation Networks. 2005