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.
Figure 15. Topology.

Burgos Alimenta, an agro-food brand, is a good example of how a network can be developed and expanded. Important is a conceptual change of who should be members. From the P-IRIS case description:

Burgos Alimenta is the agro-food brand of Provincial Government of Burgos; in 2017 it celebrates 10 years of existence. This network has become a point of reference for producers in the province of Burgos. It allows them to value the products of the land and open a gap in the market.

Nowadays, there are 244 companies included in Burgos Alimenta distributed in different subsectors.

Burgos Alimenta has been one of the most successful brands in this decade, which has grown steadily. In the worst years of the crisis has represented a transformation and an evolution that has allowed the gastronomic sector of this province of Burgos show its value and promote, above the rest, the products of Burgos. During these 10 years, the network has undergone an important conceptual change to accommodate not only agri-food producers but also chefs, restaurants and shops, among others. This innovative vision is based in involved in the network to all local stakeholders related to gastronomy, so the network (which was initially though as a normal producers association) has become an innovative platform grouping together most relevant actors operating in the supply chain (from the field to the table).

IT Forum may also serve as an example of establishing and developing a network. IT Forum Sogn og Fjordane was established in 1995 by Jan Per Styve from Vestlandsforsking, and by Oddvar Flæte. the County Governor of Sogn og Fjordane. Several businesses in the county were invited to participate, among these, the County Authority of Sogn og Fjordane, the Public Roads Administration, Sogn og Fjordane University College, and KS. The network was more directed at IT users than IT developers or the IT industry, and this is still the case today, even though it is more common for representatives from the IT industry to be in the network. The network was clearly dominated by the public sector, but the business community became involved early on.

There were many issues to tackle and the network developed their structure early on: a supervisory body, a board of directors, a secretariat and a number of workgroups – frequently connected to projects or the pursuit of various issues.

The supervisory body conducts the long-term strategic work, implements, controls and approves new activities, and the activity is in turn controlled by a strategic plan. The supervisory body annually chooses a management group of seven persons. The supervisory body establishes and terminates work groups based on strategic choices.

The board of directors is supported by a secretariat from Vestlandsforsking and involves two people. The working groups are involved when most of the specific networking activities occur. These are focused on specific challenges. Subgroups are established when challenges and opportunities arise and are terminated when the work is done. Some of the work groups that exist/existed are the broadband forum, supplier network, welfare technology, eGovernment, youth and education. By working in this manner, they build the network by identifying relevant issues as well as searching for and involving participants if they are not already in the network.

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