What is a relational resource?
A “resource” is a source, a reserve or a tool which may be used economically (Norwegian dictionary definition). More generally, a resource is any asset that can help you reach your goals. A relational resource is in this context someone you “know” who may contribute to a specific desired development. Here, innovative networks refer to the resources found in the connections between the members and their contacts outside the network.
An important objective of networking is to gain access to more, and often alternative knowledge and competency than what is available individually because innovation frequently occurs when different fields of knowledge meet.
The basic structure of the network can be described in different ways. We will here discuss a few characteristics that can be found in network collaborations.
- Topology: A network may shape itself in a variety of forms, and which form it takes will influence what kind of interaction is made possible. Figure 15 on the next page gives an illustration of different topologies. Figure 15.1 shows a chain network – examples of this may be networks built as supplier-customer relationships. Figure 15.2 illustrates a hub or star network, where members are connected through one central coordinator, and almost all interaction happens through this central coordinator, while direct contact between members is lacking. Figure 15.3 shows a many-to-many network in which all members interact with all other members – there is direct contact among the members of the network. Figure 15.4 illustrates a mixture between a star and many-to-many model. Many networks will have a secretariat, a project manager or coordinator who has a certain responsibility, and there is also direct contact between members, but not everyone is in contact with everyone else. Chain and star networks are more vulnerable than the other two types. Redundancy, meaning there is more than one way to find connections between two actors in the network is important for network’s stability. Chain and star networks are therefore vulnerable, whereas many-to-many and the combination models have redundancy – there is more than one path between each member.
- Vulnerability and elasticity are characteristics of the network, which tells us something about how the network deals with change. If the network is elastic, it will be robust and can stand change, and changes may be reversed. If the network is vulnerable, it will be more subject to random errors and accidents, and changes will be difficult to reverse.
- Strong and weak relationships – strong relationships promote local cohesion and closed networks that are not open to others, while weak relationships open up the networks and promote the ability to innovate, mobilize and coordinate action. Compared to closed networks, these are rather able to make new plans and coordinate activities, and they engage more easily with others to obtain external competencies. With regards to regional development, this is a double-edged sword; while it is desirable to promote fellowship and loyalty (strong relationships), it is also desirable to have the ability to mobilize quickly and adopt innovations.