What are membership benefits?
Membership benefits are the good reasons to join a network, implying the network needs to provide its members with something the individual members could not do on their own. But there is more to it than that. We must understand that different groups may have different reasons for joining, and that the motivation for membership is something that has to be maintained over a longer time. Following this, there are three important questions connected to membership benefits:
1. What are the target groups for network membership?
2. What benefits may the network create for these groups?
3. How may we maintain the perceived usefulness over time?
If we are trying to develop innovative networks, five main groups of members will stand out. The first one will clearly be the businesses that are part of the industry or relevant area. In addition, R&D and the public funding and advising systems need to be included to ensure a triple helix effect. If we have a multi helix approach, we should also involve investors/risk capital and the entrepreneurial community in the network.
The relevant business area may be described as a value chain from several links of subcontractors, then production of goods and services, and then distribution to end users. Parallel to this we can imagine a regulatory sector where we have political authorities and lending institutions. When a network is established, it is important to decide whether the network should include the total value chain or only parts of it. It is possible to imagine a network of subcontractors or a network of businesses which supply the end users. The business network in Jostedalen is an example of the latter, whereas Energy Region Sogn og Fjordane involves the whole value chain. It is crucial for all business managers to know the business area and the whole value chain one is a part of.
When we know what we are aiming for, the next step will be to outline which benefits the network may provide for the different target groups. A common factor is that innovative networks should help to increase value creation among members. We may well say that this is their main purpose. The actual activities that are involved to increase value creation may vary, depending on what group we are looking at. For this reason, the members need secondary objectives in order to reach the main objective.
It is not sufficient to create a short-term interest in networking collaboration and then let everything run into sand. As networks grow and mature, new measures are needed to keep the strength and stamina in the members’ commitment.