Success factors of innovation networks: Lessons from agriculture in Flanders

Innovation has been identified as a critical asset for SMEs to survive (Hitt et al., 2001; Lee et al., 2001). However, SMEs that need to improve their innovation process often lack the essential resources to innovate when relying solely on their in-house activities (Batterink et al., 2010). A large body of literature therefore highlights the role of external partnerships, or networks (Lazzarini et al., 2001; Pittaway et al., 2004; Sawhney et al., 2006). Despite the increasing number of studies focusing on the relationship between networking and innovation, there is still considerable ambiguity and debate within literature regarding appropriate network characteristics for successful innovations (Nieto and Santamaria, 2007; Pittaway et al., 2004). Furthermore, the existing studies focus mostly on high tech companies (Edquist 2006, van Galen 2008). The objective of our study is to gain insight into the network characteristics critical for successful innovations within the agricultural sector in Flanders. The study is based on interviews and focus group discussions with farmers and network coordinators active in Flanders. In total, 109 respondents were consulted. This research is based on four innovation characteristics which seem crucial for each innovation (Kanter, 1988). For each of these innovation characteristics, we investigated how networks could contribute, via their network characteristics. The results showed that networks serves as a net for knowledge about e.g. new technologies, or changing legislation in order that farmers are faster aware of developments. When farmers have multiple contacts, they have a higher chance to discover new things. Thereby, it is important that knowledge providers are part of the network and connected with the different actors, and not only provide their information to the farmers as an external actor. Also the face-to-face communication within a network is an essential issue. Furthermore, coalition can play a crucial role for some innovations, as a lot of farmers are not able to implement their idea because for example the retailer or research institute is not supportive or interested. If the farmers set up a self-initiated coalition, it can be easier to initiate the innovative idea. Fourth, it is important that individual actors from the agricultural system revisit their actual role. Successful innovation processes often originate in situations where creativity is not limited within one unit. Based on the findings, recommendations for farmers as well as network coordinators are formulated to increase the innovation capacity.

Schiefer, Gerhard
Rickert, Ursula
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Conference Paper/ Presentation
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ISSN 2194-511X (Other)
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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-04-26

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