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Research Methodology for Determining How a Region Can Lever Participation in a Global Network to Accelerate the Development of a Sustainable Technology Cluster

Module by: James Abbey. E-mail the authorEdited By: James Abbey, Andrew R. Barron

The Hypothesis

Can a Region Lever Participation in a Global Network to Accelerate the Development of a Sustainable Technology Cluster.

The aspiration of participation in the Texas/UK Collaborative is not solely to produce a regional innovation engine but a sustainable innovation system. The thesis sets out a definition of a sustainable innovation system i.e., a triple helix with the key strands of People, Culture, and Environment bound together with good Science and Governance as cross cutting themes in Figure 1. The purpose of the research is to objectively measure the impact of participation of the Texas/UK Collaborative on an emerging knowledge culture in the Southwest Wales region on and around the Swansea University campus.

Figure 1: Sustainable innovation system.
Figure 1 (5012.jpg)

This thesis is a study of how a region can lever participation in a global network to accelerate the development of a sustainable technology cluster Figure 1 captures the dynamics that influence the strategic development of a cluster.

The key dynamics are considered to be a global sector, product innovation capacity in the sector in the sub region and knowledge company activity in that sector in that region. Each of these dynamics evolves with time and each has stages of development. The “Dead Mouse” analogy has been used to illustrate the phases of development of the three key dynamics.

Any emerging sector has itself to bridge “Death Valley”. Figure 2 illustrates products and sectors at various stages of their life cycle. Video tape (VHS) is clearly at the end of the cycle and is now only used by a few enthusiasts; fixed line internet is at the cusp of its decline. Indeed mobile phones are arguably stating to plateau, where hybrid vehicles could be said to have past “Death Valley” and are posed for rapid growth. Nanotechnology and NanoHealth as a technology and a sector is probably yet to successfully navigate “Death Valley” but many commentators predict that it will have dramatic impact on a range of markets and sector.

Figure 2: The “Dead Mouse” sector, product, company life cycles based on Moore (2005).
Figure 2 (502.jpg)

The hypothesis here assumes that Wales has identified Nanotechnology and NanoHealth as a sector that it is targeting. Major infrastructure investments have been made for example; Higher Education Funding Council of Wales (HEFCW) has invested in the Multidisciplinary Nanotechnology Centre (MNC) focused at Swansea University but involving a number of research led institutions. In 2009 the CNH was funded using European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) through the Convergence Program. Wales as a small region has therefore wagered a great deal on the fact that Nanotechnology as a sector will safely navigate “Death Valley” and will emerge creating major new markets feeding the regional economy.

The purpose of this thesis is to study whether participating in a global network thereby linking to other world class centres will assist the development of the NanoHealth in the region. The thesis as already discussed assumes that there are five key components that essential prerequisites namely, people, culture, economy, good science and good governance and the following sections seek to measure how these five components have been influenced by participation in the Texas/United Kingdom Collaborative in this context to the emerging sector.

The second dynamic in the creation of a sustainable cluster is the product innovation capacity. This is again dependent on the five key components, People, Culture, Economics, Governance and Science. The “Dead Mouse” is again used to illustrate the phases of any product innovation life cycle. It has its “Death Valley”, rapid growth phase followed by plateau and decline. A sustainable cluster is dependent on a constant flow of product innovation, which in turn relies on the five key components. This chapter seeks to identify how participation in a global network, the Texas/United Kingdom Collaborative, has influenced product innovation capacity. The third dynamic is that of knowledge company activity these companies again have phases of development they themselves are confronted with “Death Valley” can themselves grow rapidly plateau and any company is always confronted with the possibly of decline. It is the function of a board of directors to strategically manage these companies thorough these troubled waters. The Chapter seeks to measure the influence of participation in a global network on knowledge company activity. It looks at companies of all sizes from the sole inventor to the multi national and also considers the dynamic between these organizations.

The hypothesis is that a sustainable cluster needs to select its sector carefully it needs to have excellent product innovation capability and a wide range of knowledge company activity. All of these are totally dependents on the five key components. People are critical they have to be appropriately skilled and those skills need to be constantly refreshed they need to be motivated and rewarded, recruited and retained. The culture even though difficult to measure is all important, success has to be recognised and celebrated, failure forgiven and the ability to learn from mistakes embedded. The economic considerations allow value to be grown and reinvested in the agenda to ensure that today’s success fuels tomorrow’s activity. All of this is based on aspects of the science base that is truly world class whilst recognising that no one can be expert in all and that partnership of mutual benefit on the global basis is essential. All of this will not deliver optimally without good governance. The public sector and the private sector must recognise their roles, strengths and weaknesses and work together to allow good people to flourish.

This section is intended to study and measure the influence of the TX/UK Collaborative on the above thereby testing the thesis of how a Region can lever participation in a global network to accelerate the development of a sustainable technology cluster.

Methodology

The methodology used to generate the data to investigate the research question was a combination of qualitative and quantitative research supported and supplemented by semi-structured interviews. A mixed methodology approach was applied as the research question could be most comprehensively informed by drawing together the widest possible range of data from across the samples.

Opinion Data derived from questionnaire responses from actors who are components of a member group active in the Texas/UK Collaborative compared with responses to the same questionnaire from a non-member control group who are not active in the collaborative. These member and non-member groups exist in the same university and on the same campus and indeed the same departments. They therefore undertake their activities in the same environment with the significant difference of participation or non-participation in the Texas/UK Collaborative initiative. The qualitative data generated reflected the opinions relating to value benefits of participation in a global network such as the Texas/UK Collaborative, from the perspective of individual academic/researcher actor. The non-member group acted as a control group to allow unbiased comparison. In addition questionnaires responses were collected from participants from Texas that engaged in the Swansea related initiatives within the Texas/UK Collaborative. Whether or not the data shows the participation in the collaborative to be a success from a Swansea perspective it will be short lived unless it is similarly regarded from a Texas perspective. The Texas questionnaires were evaluated with particular regard to their perceived derived value from the Swansea participation. All of these questionnaires analyzed the impact of the Texas/UK Collaborative on and from the perspective of the individual.

A second category of questionnaire was designed to collect different but supportive data. A group of 68 knowledge based companies were identified subject to the criteria of being active in the nanotechnology field; Nanotechnology being one sector where the Texas cluster is recognised as world leading. The purpose of this study being to identify the needs of the UK based nanotechnology companies and their perception of value that participation in the Texas/UK Collaborative could deliver.

Along side the qualitative data generated by the questionnaires quantitative data was harvested to reflect the academic entrepreneurial and economic impact of participation in the Texas/UK Collaborative. Traditional Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) were used to measure impact similar to those that might be applied to the RAE or in economic impact analysis. Traditional KPI’s such as employment, patents filed, new start ups, increasing profits and turnover are of course important and the impact of the collaborative were measured. However efforts were made to measure other changes reflecting the development of an open innovation culture of the region critical to a sustainable innovation system.

A subset of the membership of the four constituencies was interviewed in a semi structured manner i.e., the member group, non member group, partners based in Texas and the representatives of knowledge industries relevant to nanotechnology. The purpose of these interviews was to validate data derived from the questionnaires and secondly and possibly more importantly to further develop dialogue relating to the positive evolution of an open innovation philosophy in individuals, organisations and the region. In particular were the experiences of working within the collaborative leading to a more open global collaborative and multidisciplinary approach.

e-inform software program was used to create two surveys. The first was a 47 question Likert scale survey to measure the opinions and level of agreement to the survey questions of academic participants of the Texas/UK Collaborative. The second was a 37 question Likert scale survey of a control group of non-participants of the Texas/UK Collaborative initiative. The Likert scaling was chosen as it is widely used scale in survey research.

Note:

Methods in educational research: from theory to practice, 2006, Marguerite G. Lodico, Dean T. Spaulding, Katherine H. Voegtle.

The e-inform software was also chosen due to the ease of analysis and breakdown of survey respondents and ability to distribute online on a secure server.

In addition to the two surveys conducted on participants and non-participants of the Texas/UK Collaborative initiative, a 21 question Likert scale survey was distributed online to the Nanotechnology Technology Transfer Network a United Kingdom based network of both national and international companies engaged in nanotechnology development. The survey questions focused on the assessment of individual companies strategic needs for competing in emerging nanotechnology market and their strategic view of the importance of innovation.

The results provide a qualitative comparative analysis obtained from data field surveys. The sizes of the samples are presently limited and no attempt has been made to draw any statistical inference on uncertainty at this early stage. However, the data provides a powerful indication of the comparative judgements exercised by the various survey groups. In the fullness of time it would be appropriate to consider an extension of the survey sample, but for the present purposes it was judged to be sufficient to draw comparative conclusions.

The use of semi-structured interviews was chosen due to the fact that they enhance the data that were derived from survey respondents in this study. These were conducted on a random sampling of Texas/UK Collaborative academic participants. This allowed for considerable flexibility about how and when questions were raised, thusly allowing for considerable amount of additional topics to be built in to the responses, inclusive to this, all interviews were transcribed.

Note:

A Rationale for the Use of Semi-structured Interviews, 1990 Volume: 28, Issue 1, p63-68, Journal of Educational Administration, John Carruthers.

Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) Questionnaire

A knowledge transfer network’s primary mission is to put firms and innovators in contact with the knowledge and funding that they need to bring new products and processes to market (www.ktn.com 2009).

The UK government has set up Knowledge Transfer Networks which are single over-arching national networks in a specific field of technology or business application which brings together people from businesses, universities, research, finance and technology organisations to stimulate innovation through knowledge transfer. They are funded by government, industry and academia bringing together diverse organisations and providing activities and initiatives that promote the exchange of knowledge and the stimulation of innovation in these communities (www.innovateuk.org 2009). These networks have been created to steer the flow of knowledge within, in and out of specific knowledge areas.

The objective of a Knowledge Transfer Network is to improve the UK's innovation performance by increasing the breadth and depth or the knowledge transfer of technology into UK-based businesses and by accelerating the rate at which this process occurs. The Network must, throughout its lifetime, actively contribute and remain aligned to goals of the Technology Strategy Board.

Within the overall objective of accelerating the rate of technology transfer into UK business, the specific aims of a Knowledge Transfer Network include the following:

  • To deliver improved industrial performance through innovation and new collaborations by driving the flow of people, knowledge and experience between business and the science-base, between businesses and across sectors;
  • To drive knowledge transfer between the supply and demand sides of technology-enabled markets through a high quality, easy to use service;
  • To facilitate innovation and knowledge transfer by providing UK businesses with the opportunity to meet and network with individuals and organisations, in the UK and internationally;
  • To provide a forum for a coherent business voice to inform government of its technology needs and about issues, such as regulation, which are enhancing or inhibiting innovation in the United Kingdom.

The mission of the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN) is to accelerate innovation in nanoscale technologies, encouraging and supporting organisations to collaborate and share knowledge with key partners in attractive end user markets to achieve growth of the UK nanotechnology sector. With the end aim of leading to a dynamic, vibrant, application focussed nanotechnology based industry that gains competitive advantage by transferring and sharing knowledge with key end user sectors to develop and commercialise products.

The key objectives of this sector network are to:

  • Improved industrial performance through adoption of nanotechnology.
  • Increased knowledge transfer between companies and the research base.
  • Enabling interactions through networking and event organisation.
  • Providing thought leadership and industry input into UK policy and strategy.

The UK position

Within recent years in the UK there has been significant investment into both infrastructure and R&D, through the Government’s Micro and Nano-Manufacturing initiative, with £150m joint investment split approximately 50:50 in micro (including micro fluidics and micro electro mechanical systems) and nanoscale development. The NanoKTN forms part of the Technology Strategy Board's nanoscale technologies strategy for 2009-2012 and plans to build on, and be complementary to, the existing nano infrastructure and knowledge networks (www.innovateuk.org 2009).

KTN Questionnaire

The KTN questionnaire was published on the NanoKTN website for a period of one month, at the end of the month there were 63 respondents all of whom are companies working in the scope of nanotechnology physically located within the United Kingdom. The key component of this questionnaire was what does industry want and perceive to need in regards to driving forward their innovation capacity.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for 97% of businesses and over 50 % of employment worldwide. A thriving SME sector can drive growth and jobs in developing countries. (www.ifc.org, 2009) Small to Medium Enterprises (SME’s) drive the economy reference OECD. Within this study a definition of a small company has been adopted as being an undertaking employing fewer then 100 employees with annual revenues of £10m or less (Figure 3). While it is acknowledged that the European Commission has a specific SME definition, as presented in Figure 4(Europa 2009) however for the purpose of this study a specific focus on small enterprises was required, hence the alternative definition as above. This provided a dichotomy of small and large companies.

Figure 3: Definition of Small and Large Companies for this Study.
Figure 3 (graphics1.jpg)
Figure 4: European Union Threshold Indicators of an SME, Europa, 2009 (www.ec.europa.eu 2009).
Figure 4 (Picture 1.png)

Tools and Approaches

Figure 5 shows the primary thrust of each of the research tool used. The primary purpose of the secondary data research was to identify the relevant scientific research and in particular pockets of world class activity. Despite the primary focus on science useful information was generated on the four components People, Culture, Economics, and Governance. The knowledge transfer questionnaire was primarily focused on generating information relevant to the economic component and in particular, how nanotechnology companies felt that their quest to create value could be assisted by collaboration with university. The collaborative questionnaire was designed to study aspects relating to people and culture in the context of Swansea University whilst also mapping the scientific strengths of the activity. Following completion of the collaborative questionnaire and studying its results short comings were identified and it was recognised that an opportunity had been lost in generating information relevant to the economic component. A supplemental questionnaire was designed with a specific purpose of harvesting that economic data. Following completion of the first four studies, semi structured interviews were conducted to create greater granularity of the issues relating to governance.

Figure 5: Component relevance by research approach. Legend: 1 star = Relevant; 2 stars = highly relevant; 3 stars = extremely relevant.
Figure 5 (graphics2.jpg)

Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network Questionnaire

The details of the questionnaire are available upon request from the author; however, the cover page is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: KTN questionnaire cover page.
Figure 6 (graphics3.jpg)

Texas – United Kingdom & Collaborative Questionnaire

The details of the questionnaires are available upon request from the author; however the cover pages were as shown in Figure 7 and Figure 8.

Figure 7: TX/UK collaboration questionnaire cover page.
Figure 7 (Picture 7.png)
Figure 8: Collaboration questionnaire cover page.
Figure 8 (Picture 11.png)

Supplemental Questionnaire

During the study it was identified that more in depth information was needed to better understand the collaborations, nature of the researchers involvement in the identified collaboration, the nature of the researchers interest of the collaboration, the type of partnership of the collaboration whether it’s a one to one or multi partner collaboration, the local of the collaboration and finally the resulting outcome of the collaborations that occurred within the control researchers and the Texas United Kingdom Collaborative researcher. An equal proportion of fourteen of the control researchers and fourteen of the Texas United Kingdom Collaborative researchers were selected to complete these questions, of the two groups of fourteen, an equal number of professors (6 each) and researchers/lecturers (8 each) were selected.

Interviews

As presented in Table 2 and Figure 5 (theme mapping and tools & approaches) the primary thrust of the interviews was exploration of governance in establishing and developing regional knowledge based clusters. Prior to commencement of the study Dr. Malcolm Gillis, the former President of Rice University, Houston, Texas and Chair of the Texas/United Kingdom Collaborative was interviewed at length. The purpose of this interview was to gain an in-depth understanding of both the history and reasons for establishing the collaborative and the aspirations held by the stakeholders for the collaborative in particular the interview focused on the key question” what would success look like?” in the opinion of the chairman of a major international knowledge based collaborative.

Following the desk-based and questionnaire study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals who played a leading role in the Collaborative. Six key participants were interviewed in Texas and 6 from Wales. The purpose of these interviews was twofold; firstly to validate conclusions derived from the harvested data and clarify issues of ambiguity and detail; and secondly to tease out opinions related to issues of governance. Many of these governance issues are sensitive in nature and can be political with both a big P and small p. These governance issues are arguably even more important in a small community of Wales where politicians and opinion formers are very accessible. This offers both strengths and weaknesses and the questionnaires had identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the context of issues related to governance.

The approach taken to structure these interviews involved consideration of three stakeholder groups within each region: “Political” Observer, Academic Facilitator, and Coalface Researcher. The nature of these roles and rationale for this breakdown is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Stakeholder rationale.
Stakeholder Nature Rationale
Political Observer Stakeholder involved in the knowledge life of the region, providing strategic influence across regional actors, though with no institutional ties. To explore the governance issues affecting strategic development of the regional cluster.
Academic Facilitator Senior institutional stakeholder capable of influencing strategic direction of the research agenda, though with no/limited individual academic activity To explore issues of aligning institutional imperatives and operational delivery with regional objectives.
Coalface Researcher The individual academic involved within the activities delivering discreet projects, though may have some institutional influence and responsibility for research group(s). Explore the boundaries of institutional facilitation and hindrance.

Deconstructing the Components

As described in star Table 2 particular aspects of the thesis were the focus of individual studies in the context of the five components. The following figure explains how and where sub-hypothesis was tested.

Table 2: Theme mapping.
Components Sub - Hypothesis Primary Research Approach Questions TX/UK & Control Group KTN Questionnaire
Science Science is Multidisciplinary Questionnaire/RAE Graph C NONE
Science There has to be World Class Science Questionnaires Graph A Q4, Q10j, Q14a, Q17b
Science Facilities are both relevant to Science & Industry Questionnaires Graph G Q7a, Q7b, Q7d, Q7e, Q7f,Q7i, Q7n, Q7o
Science Relevance Questionnaires Graph D Q7h, Q9a, Q9e, Q10a
People Openness to academic and commercial domains (Openness) Questionnaires Graph D, E, I, P Q7i, Q10d, Q10i, Q12-All
People Need to be themselves collaborative (Collaborative) Questionnaires Graph D, E, I, P Q 9b
People Do they work in networks (Local, National, International) (Global) Questionnaires Graph H, L Q7j, Q10j, Q17a
People Need to engage & Value Multidisciplinary work. (Multidisciplinary) Questionnaires Graph C, I, P Q 9c, Q9d
People Supply of Talent Questionnaires Graph A, Q Q7c, Q7g, Q10e
Culture Research Environment supports and values Multi-disciplinarily Questionnaires Graph C, I , N Q9h, Q11-All, Q13-All
Culture Colleagues recognize mutual beneficial collaboration (Institution & Away) Questionnaires Graph F, H, N, O Q9d, Q9e, Q10d
Culture Within the Institution the opportunity in the Wider World is Recognized Questionnaires Graph G, J, N Q7j, Q9f, Q9j, Q17a
Economics Science is in Growth Sector KTNQ/Interview Graph B Q5, Q7m, Q10a, Q20
Economics Chrysalis of Regional Sectoral Activity (Deal Flow) KTNQ/Interview None Q1,Q2,Q3,Q6
Economics Strategic Governmental Support KTNQ/Interview None Q7k, Q10k
Economics Access to Markets KTNQ/Interview None Q3,Q4, Q7l, Q10f
Governance Regional coherence (Access to Player) Interviews/Questionnaires Graph L Q10f, Q14g, Q15
Governance Institutional Responsiveness and ability to evolve Interviews/Questionnaires Graph J Q10a, Q10c, Q10g, Q10h,
Governance Embedded in Institutional Strategic Plan Interviews/Questionnaires Graph E Q14b-f, Q15, Q9k

The five components were broken down into sub-hypothesis then the primary research approach was identified i.e., Knowledge Transfer Questionnaire (KTNQ), the Texas/United Kingdom Questionnaire, Control Questionnaire, or interviews then tagged to the relevant data collected.

Bibliography

  • Carruthers J., 1990, “A Rationale for the Use of Semi-structured Interviews”, Volume: 28, Issue 1, p63-68, Journal of Educational Administration.
  • Lodico M. G., Spaulding D. T., Voegtle K. H., 2006, “Methods in educational research: from theory to practice”.
  • www.ec.europa.eu, Accessed 2009.
  • www.ktnetworks.co.uk, Accessed 2007.
  • www.ifc.org, Accessed 2009.
  • www.innovateuk.org, Accessed 2009.

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