Through the Profitnet project, our researchers studied ‘constructed’ networks of small and medium-sized firms, which are formally designed and established for a purpose, rather than emergent. We focused on how to create and operate these networks and scrutinised knowledge sharing and development among communities of practitioners.
Examining facilitated communities of small business entrepreneurs improved our understanding about the skills and competencies required, as well as giving insight about the actual facilitation practices used and how these affected the learning of those involved. We considered open innovation practices in the context of small firms and the challenges of forming partnerships between universities and industry, bridging the gap between learning and practice.
Our researchers used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods namely surveys, interactive workshops, direct observation of network sessions and interview-based cases.
This research contributed to the academic agenda in several areas:
We captured and codified experience across the five Profitnet networks (West Sussex, Gatwick area, Brighton and Hove, East Sussex and Hastings), distilled from comparing different networks and identified the management challenges of such ‘constructed’ networks.
Dynamics of facilitated groups
Our researchers were able to leverage the ‘live laboratory’ of this programme by capturing attendance and members’ satisfaction for all groups while observing high-, mediocre- and low-performing groups.
Innovation policy and how to bridge the gap to smaller firms
We used a specially developed instrument to measure the absorptive capacity of a significant number of small enterprises. Moreover, we carried out selected case studies to identify the knowledge transfer and flows in the context of open innovation among SMEs.
We identified the enablers and inhibitors to building extensive interactions with industry (and significant numbers of SMEs, in particular) from the standpoint of higher education institutions and other ‘supply side’ players.
The research led to practical deliverables for policy agents, universities and group facilitators alike seeking to add networking to their repertoire and needing guidelines about how to do this effectively and how to scale up pilot activities.