Managing Actors, Resources, and Activities in Innovation Ecosystems both at the inter-organisational and the interpersonal level

By Katri Valkokari and Tiina Valjakka

Only around a third of innovating companies drew on external development or knowledge sources within their innovation process. Therefore, there is a huge potential in innovation ecosystems that are able to integrate diverse actors for collaborative innovation. This was a key motivation of our study on two emerging innovation ecosystems, in Finland and Italy. We studied how actors in a network create and sustain competitive advantage independently and through participation in an innovation ecosystem. The concept of innovation ecosystem was used to capture the dynamic, temporary and networked assemblage that enables collaborative innovation.

Our main research question, ‘How are the innovation ecosystems created and managed – and by whom?’, was broken down into three sub-questions: 1) Who are the main actors in an innovation ecosystem? 2) What kinds of resources are needed to integrate key actors in an innovation ecosystem? 3) What are the key activities of the various actors within the innovation ecosystems? There were both similarities and differences between the two innovation ecosystems. Results (similarities) in a nutshell:

  • Actors. The participants recognised that in the ecosystem composition phase, it is important to confirm the involvement of a broad spectrum of actors, while membership dynamics (i.e., entry and exit of actors) were emphasised in the orchestration phase.
  • Resources and roles. Both cases show that public organisations can have the role of a keystone in innovation ecosystems. Furthermore, more than one actor may act in this kind of role, but no one can own the ecosystem.
  • Activities.For both ecosystems, the participants suggested that having various kinds of joint activities – such as joint discussions and operations – and shared resources was critical. In this connection, face-to-face discussions and networking via development forums were considered to be important for increasing commitment. Developing clear joint rules was seen as an especially strong way to increase trust in a situation wherein the relationship does not necessarily have a long history.

The findings highlighted that management needs and governance possibilities in innovation ecosystems differ from those in direct business relationships.The results were summarized as a collaborative model for innovation ecosystem management (Below).  araproveRecognising the resources of actors was a starting point for a negotiation process aimed at balancing out the self-interest of the actors involved. Accordingly, the practitioners pointed out that, in addition to their resources, it is important to understand the roles of actors. The role, which is closely linked to the relevant actor’s business model, affects what resources that actor is ready to bring and on what kind of terms. Finally, portraying the key activities of the various actors within the innovation ecosystems proved to be the most case‑specific element and depended on the goals of the development programme.

Relationships between actors proved to be the primary mechanism for managing in the innovation ecosystem. Also, in order to manage actors, resources, and activities, it is vital for actor organisations to find a balance between the interests of the individual actors involved and motivate the actors to put effort into the joint activities and the whole ecosystem. This requires understanding and managing both the inter-organisational and the interpersonal level at the same time.

Valkokari, K., Amitrano, C., Bifulco, F. and Valjakka, T. Managing actors, resources and activities in innovation ecosystems – a Design Science Approach. PRO-VE 2016, 17th IFIP Working Conference on Virtual Enterprises, Porto, Portugal 3-5 October 2016.


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