Developing innovation capability through learning networks
The importance of innovation is widely accepted but a continuing challenge for research and practice is how to enable the process. Extensive discussion around the theme of ‘dynamic capabilities’ highlights the fact that organization-level learning processes are central to this. The ability to deliver a continuing stream of innovations to the market place, or to introduce a regular flow of process improvements depends on sustained search and experiment but also on the ability to extract and embed key behavioural routines which support innovation. This highlights a central issue for ‘policy agents’ of various kinds—regional and national government, trade and sector associations, large supply chain ‘owners’, etc.—who share a concern with enabling higher levels of innovation performance across their constituencies. What might be done to help firms generate and launch new products and services which drive growth and bring in new or improved processes which enhance productivity? The nature of the challenge is not (simply) the promotion of entrepreneurial behaviour to exploit a particular new market opportunity or the adoption of a single key new technology. Rather it is to facilitate the development of capabilities within target organizations to manage the process of innovation for themselves. This article focuses on one policy option—the mobilization of shared learning among formally configured groups of organizations in peer-to-peer learning networks. These form an increasingly important channel within innovation support policy and in the article, we explore the underlying rationale for such modes of intervention and try to identify some of the dynamics of successful and less successful learning networks.