Innovation ecosystems have the potential to support sustained industrial competitiveness by offering an environment that allows innovation through multidisciplinary collaboration. Ultimately the success of such alliances depends on trust.
Within their paper The dynamics of trust and control in innovation ecosystems, Nadine Roijakkers and her colleague Dieudonnee Cobben of the Open University of the Netherlands investigated the formal and informal governance of innovation ecosystems and identified three types of control and two types of trust that are used by focal entities within innovation ecosystems.
- Output control, monitoring against a desired output but the feasibility of this was uncertain
- Social control through leadership, management of expectations and trust
- Behavioural control through open discussion, communication and trust
- Goodwill trust based on characters of the organisations and long standing relationships
- Competence trust through reputation, allocation of resources, involvement of innovation department
Overall they concluded that it is the characters of the individuals involved, the strength of their leadership and their ability to resolve conflict were key factors in the success of the ecosystem.
Getting to know and understand each other was highlighted by those interviewed as important ways to build trust, so what will be the impact of the new protocols introduced in response to Covid-19?
We asked Nadine about her thoughts.
Do you think in a post COVID world we will need new ways to ‘get to know’ people?
Covid-19 has changed our world forever, and also the way in which companies innovate. We have seen in the healthcare sector, for example, that in order to speed up innovation processes ecosystems have become more important than ever. With short notice, a wide variety of organizations, such as governments, companies, patients, NGOs, etc. have had to come together to completely turn around the value chain.
As safety rules did not allow face-to-face meetings, the ecosystem partners had to meet and align in online environments, using platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Skype. We expect that in the future the use of these types of platforms will be continued and its usage will be probably expanded.
We would expect innovation in these services to be continuously evolving as well, to enhance the user experience of the ecosystem partners and will develop new ways of ‘getting to know’ each other safely.
One of the findings that your paper revealed was that behavioural control often fails. Why do you think that is? Is insufficient time allocated to getting this right?
In the past, ecosystem orchestrators mostly relied on behavioural control to govern the ecosystem, because they were afraid of opportunistic behaviour of the ecosystem partners. However, this resulted in a lack of alignment between partners, making it difficult to keep the partners committed in the long run and to realize the ecosystem’s goals.
Over time, ecosystems have made a shift towards more trust-based rather than control-based governance mechanisms.
This change from a mere focal firm-centric ecosystem, towards ecosystems as social and sustainable contributors, requires partners to communicate with each other, and to create a feeling of a common understanding and commitment. It is therefore important to constantly monitor each other and include formal and informal meetings, to stimulate each partners’ commitment and to prevent opportunistic behaviour.
Monitoring should become part of the ecosystem’s DNA.
Do successful ecosystems rely on geography? Is it possible for an ecosystem to be international?
Successful ecosystems do not necessarily rely on geography; they can have a regional, national or even global scope. The most important success factor for ecosystems is the alignment of interests between partners. When partners feel aligned, they will be more motivated to commit their resources and knowledge to the ecosystem, to realize the common goal.
Alignment can be developed by creating a mutual understanding and trust between people, and to do so, it is important that ecosystem partners know each and have seen each other face to face at least a number of times, to create an initial feeling of cohesion among partners. When partners have met and get to know each other, it will become easier for them to work on distance, also in international environments. Ecosystems thus do not necessarily rely on geography, but on the power of alignment and commitment!
Do you think having an intermediate as a facilitator is essential or can you have an ecosystem without a neutral party acting as a broker?
Especially at the start of an ecosystem, it is important to have a facilitator and connector that is able to align the interests of the different partners. It is this starting point, where a sense of mutual understanding, trust and commitment will be created that will lay the fundament for the future of the system.
The orchestrator can be any type of partner, as long as they are able to move beyond their own interests and to connect all the partners. It is about taking ownership and responsibility and being able to connect. It is thus possible to have an orchestrator that is not necessarily neutral; the most important thing is to be able to be a steward and motivator.
Read the paper The dynamics of trust and control in innovation ecosystems, authors Dieudonnee Cobben and Nadine Roijakkers.
Int. J. Innov., São Paulo, v. 7, n. 1, pp. 01 – 25, January/April. 2019.
Nadine Roijakkers is Director of the Expertise Centre for Education & Full Professor of Open Innovation at the Open University of the Netherlands. She has for many years advised international companies on cooperation strategies and practices. See her LinkedIn profile here.