(Updated in Dec 2017)
Innovation and knowledge dynamics in localized collaborative spaces
Introduction and theoretical approach
The geography of knowledge creation has become one of the most proliferating fields within economic geography (Howells & Bessant 2012; Bathelt & Cohendet 2014). It has gained an increasing interest among academics and policy makers in order to understand how territories can develop and maintain their regional competitiveness in an ever-changing and uncertain economic environment.
In the last years, the literature on the localized dynamics of innovation and knowledge creation has challenged previous literature that in its vast majority was characterized by 1) focusing on the territory as the level of analysis, 2) largely limiting the analysis to formal organizations (i.e. firms) and institutions; and 3) considering a static temporal perspective.
My research aims to contribute to these three perspectives to understand, firstly, the intertwined relationship between local and global innovation and knowledge dynamics (Capdevila 2017), Secondly, I have studied innovation outside firms’ boundaries, by focusing on different types of communities such as communities of practice (CoPs), networks of practice (NoPs), or epistemic communities and their role in local and global dynamics. In particular, I have studied communities emerging in localized collaborative spaces (Capdevila 2017; Capdevila 2015b; Capdevila 2015a; Capdevila 2016b). Thirdly, my work has also been centered in the study of the evolution of the collective cognitive construction within communities in the emergence of epistemic movements (i.e. cubism or techno-emotional gastronomy) and the analysis of their knowledge-creation dynamics in a spatial and temporal. perspective (Capdevila et al. 2017; Cohendet et al. 2014).
Local and global innovation and knowledge dynamics
The knowledge-based conceptualization of clusters (Martin & Sunley 2006; Porter 1998; Malmberg & Maskell 2002) has contributed to the understanding of the knowledge flows in geographic agglomerations of economic agents that benefit from positive externalities. In knowledge clusters, the geographic proximity facilitates the face-to-face interaction (Storper & Venables 2004) and the participation to the ‘local buzz’ (Bathelt et al. 2004) to share knowledge and information (Asheim et al. 2007). Despite the advent of ICT and new ways of virtual communication, co-location is a prevalent concept that justifies the importance of ‘being there’ (Gertler 1995). However, too much proximity might be negative (Boschma 2005) leading to a certain isolation and the risk of a lock-in effect. Furthermore, empirical research has showed that in some cases local knowledge flows might be largely absent whereas most of the knowledge flows take place among members of global knowledge communities (Moodysson 2008).
Extant literature has also underlined that to increase the competitiveness and economic development of territories and to avoid a lock-in effect, it is crucial not only to share tacit and codified knowledge at a local scale, but also to engage in dynamics of knowledge sharing through interactions with distant partners (Gertler & Levitte 2005; Moodysson 2008; Morrison et al. 2013). In this same perspective, the buzz-and-pipeline model (Bathelt et al. 2004; Maskell et al. 2006) affirms that a combination of a rich “local buzz” together with the construction of “global pipelines” will ensure the innovation capacity of a territory.
The local buzz (Storper & Venables 2004) is “largely ‘automatic’” (Bathelt et al. 2004) and all co-located actors benefit from the shared knowledge and information. In order to profit from the local buzz, it is not required to engage in an active, purposeful and intentional search. At the same time, in order to bring knowledge from external sources to the local environment, local actors engage in the construction of global pipelines with distant actors. Global pipelines consist on extra-local linkages between two distant actors that act as channels bridging distant pools of knowledge. Unlike the buzz, due to the lack of proximities, establishing new relations with distant agents requires a cost to create and maintain such networks (Owen-Smith & Powell 2004; Grabher 2002; Scott 2002).
The concept of local buzz has been extended to the concept of global buzz (Schuldt & Bathelt 2011) that is generated by frequent “temporary clusters” of co-located individuals that exchange knowledge and information around the same profession-related topics in international trade fairs or similar events (Ramírez-Pasillas 2010; Bathelt & Schuldt 2008). Nevertheless, the buzz is not exclusively limited to co-located actors and can take place at a distance, as buzz is not necessarily related to face-to-face interaction (Asheim et al. 2007; Gertler 2008). For instance, the “virtual buzz” concept (Bathelt & Turi 2011) reflects the increasing importance of the new information and communication technologies in the transmission and global diffusion of knowledge without the need of geographic proximity.
Knowledge communities and the multiscalar character of innovation processes
The geographic multiscalar character of innovation processes reinforces the need of studying simultaneously local and global knowledge dynamics. Nevertheless, the most usual approach both in management and in economic geography studies has been to focus either on the local or on the global level but rarely combine both perspectives. There have been though some exceptions like the above-mentioned literature on the buzz and pipelines model (Bathelt et al. 2004) on one side, and, on the other, the literature on communities in general, and more specifically on communities of practice (CoP) (Wenger 1998; Brown & Duguid 1991) and networks of practice (NoP) (Agterberg et al. 2010; Tagliaventi & Mattarelli 2006; Vaast 2004). Both bodies of literature have acknowledged that knowledge management dynamics have to consider collective forms of knowledge renewal beyond an individualistic perspective (Hatchuel et al. 2002). The notions of CoPs and NoPs have contributed to the understanding of the localized processes of new knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. Community members have enough cognitive proximity and absorptive capacity to allow an optimal knowledge sharing despite of not always being in geographical proximity. In this perspective, the development of a ‘global buzz’ (Capdevila 2017; Bathelt & Turi 2011) might appear as an effective mechanism of distant knowledge sharing. Networks of practice (NoPs) (Agterberg et al. 2010) represent structures that allow distant actors to effectively interact and exchange about common practices, similarly as communities of practice (CoPs) in a context of co-location (Wenger 1998). My research results suggest that local dynamics influence the global dynamics and vice versa, as communities can simultaneously engage in local and global knowledge dynamics (Capdevila 2017).
Despite that the literature on innovation has highlighted the importance of knowledge from sources that are external to organizations (von Hippel 2005; Chesbrough 2003), previous literature has mainly focused on intra- and inter-organizational dynamics, ignoring the study of dynamics of actors outside firms. For instance, the literature on communities of practice both in management and in economic geography has insisted in studying intra-organizational communities or networks. One notable exception is represented by the study of the “anatomy” of the creative city (Cohendet et al. 2010; Grandadam et al. 2013), where localized knowledge communities configure the so-called “middleground”, that represents the platforms of interaction and knowledge sharing between creative individuals (the “underground”) and formal organizations and institutions (the “upperground”).
Open labs: localized spaces of collaborative innovation
In this context of localized innovation activities, knowledge communities (Amin & Roberts 2008) represent platforms of the “middleground” for knowledge sharing. These dynamics often take place in specific places, where community members use to interact among them as well as with other local agents. In my research, I have paid a particular attention to the study of ‘open labs’ (Mérindol et al. 2016). These localized spaces of collaborative innovation allow the gathering of community members, sharing the use of physical assets, and facilitating face-to-face interaction and the transfer of (tacit) knowledge through shared practices (Schmidt et al. 2014).
In recent years there has been an explosion in the creation of spaces where individuals motivated by the development of their creative projects, interact face-to-face and collaborate with peers. These spaces offer open access to resources (e.g. machinery and prototyping tools) and they are characterized by a culture of openness and collaboration based on sharing knowledge, skills and tools. The origin of the spaces might respond to different logics but it is often related to a local actor’s need of gathering other locally distributed actors with a common interest. These ‘open labs’ take many different forms and names, for instance: coworking spaces, Fab Labs, maker/hackerspaces, Living Labs or corporate labs (Capdevila 2016a).
Analyzing knowledge and innovation dynamics in collaborative spaces following a qualitative methodology
My main interest has been to study and compare the different types of collaborative spaces to better understand how members collaborate in innovation processes. To do so, I studied coworking spaces in Barcelona during my PhD studies. Later, I extended my research field to the collaborative spaces in Paris (Mérindol et al. 2016). In parallel, I am currently studying spaces outside urban areas, since I am leading a research project on rural coworking spaces in Catalonia.
Beyond understanding the innovation activities that take place inside these spaces, I am interested in understanding the role that these spaces play in the innovation capacity of territories. On the one hand, my research contributes to the literature on innovation management and knowledge communities by analyzing the internal collaborative and innovative activities within these spaces. On the other hand, taking an economic geography perspective, my research focuses on the localized knowledge flows, as well as the non-local dynamics that feed the innovation of territories.
My research follows an inductive, qualitative methodological approach, mainly based on semi-structured interviews and non-participant observation. Qualitative methods have allowed me to study a new field, like collaborative spaces, that little research had previously analyzed.
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