Introduction to the Toolbox
The main purpose of this booklet is to present some tools for developing functional and innovative business networks. A business network is quite simply a set of actors (e.g. from companies, academia, public sector, investors and others) with collaborative relationships among themselves. We imagine this collaboration is formalized by the presence of certain objectives and guidelines for this collaboration, as well as management of the network. By innovative networks we mean networks of businesses that drive innovation and which contribute to economic development in a way that wouldn’t be possible if the businesses operated separately. Examples of innovations may be new or better products, new markets, new inputs, new processes or forms of organization. “New” may in this context imply varying degrees of novelty, from rather small to revolutionary changes. The former is more common than the latter.
The contents of the toolbox, which is inspired by Bergek et al. (2008), is shown in figure 1. We suggest four phases in a network development process: Network status initially, development of network functions as dynamics in the network, identifying obstacles and driving forces, and strategy development which should lead to a new and better status of the network.
Defining the network’s status implies securing an overview of who takes part, the relations between these, objectives and policies, organization and network management. Goals can be related to quantitative measures like total value creation in the network, number of participants or number of successful innovations. But also qualitative goals as e.g. having a culture for sharing knowledge and other resources is important for network success (Larsen & Nesse, 2017).
In the VRI2 Sogn og Fjordane research project we focused on the following functions, which we consider important to promote successful network cooperation in an innovative ecosystem (Bergek, 2008; Nesse, 2017):
The network dynamics involve the above mentioned functions. By working on the network’s functions, the network will be developed and one will also get a clearer idea of what the driving forces are, and what the barriers to collaboration in the network are. Such experiences could be summed up by using a SWOT analysis; a brief overview over the network’s internal strengths and weaknesses, and the external opportunities and threats. We do not present SWOT analysis in detail in this toolbox, but more information about SWOT can be found in nearly any textbook in business strategy, or by searching the internet.