2.1. STI Organizations as Innovation Intermediaries
The innovation systems perspective not only draws attention to the dynamics at play in ‘producing’ an innovation or solution (among different actors), but also highlights the forces at work in its adaptation, adoption, and embedding in local settings to generate societal impact. In this regard, the centrality of STI as a driver of development has long been recognized in the academic and policy literature [21
]. As firms find it difficult to generate all relevant knowledge by themselves, networking with STI organizations to pursue knowledge and know-how has become critical for keeping up in a changing market environment [21
]. Under these circumstances, authors, such as Edler and Yeow [23
], OECD [24
], and Stewart and Hyysalo [26
], recognize the role of STI organizations as key innovation intermediaries.
The variety of innovation intermediaries, their roles, and their organizational modes have been explored by authors, such as Bessant and Rush [27
], Howells [28
], and Landry et al. [29
], among others. Although different authors have coined different terms for them, from bridges [27
], consultants, and brokers [30
] to technology centers and public science-based or research organizations [31
], this research adopts the term ‘innovation intermediaries’ to describe the entire range of organizations that play this role. Adopting Howells’ [28
] definition, this study understands an innovation intermediary to be:
[a]n organization or body that acts [as] an agent or broker in any aspect of the innovation process between two or more parties. Such intermediary activities include: helping to provide information about potential collaborators; brokering a transaction between two or more parties; acting as a mediator, or go-between, [for] bodies or organizations that are already collaborating; and helping find advice, funding, and support for the innovation outcomes of such collaborations.
Innovation intermediaries are organizations that favor association and add dynamism to the STI system. As linkages between the scientific and industrial sectors, they are fundamental in the innovation systems of a nation [16
] classifies innovation intermediaries into four groups, namely, (i) diffusion and technology transfer; (ii) innovation management; (iii) innovation systems and knowledge networks; and (iv) intermediation as a service. He identifies five key functions or roles as the base of his taxonomy, namely: Scanning and information processing, knowledge processing, gatekeeping and brokering, testing and validation, and commercialization [28
]. Other authors, such as Stadtler and Probst [30
], classify intermediaries as either conveners (connecting different stakeholders); mediators (influencing the interaction between partners); or learning catalysts (helping partners to learn). Others identify the systemic objectives of intermediaries as either knowledge or business oriented. Some of the activities performed by intermediaries in pursuit of these goals are the stimulation and organization of relevant stakeholder participation, the stimulation of interaction among the actors in the innovation system, and the acquisition of financial, physical, and knowledge infrastructure [35
sets out the main roles of innovation intermediaries complemented by type, functions, and activities [28
]. Although many of the activities, functions, and types are interchangeable among the columns, they are only presented once to avoid repetition.
2.2. Knowledge Management in Open Innovation
The taxonomy presented in Table 1
shows the variety of sources from which innovation intermediation is approached. The research conducted by Howells [28
] is a pillar work in classifying intermediaries and their role in innovation and technological change. However, it does not address the implementation of open innovation by innovation intermediaries, nor the managerial challenges that firms face when working with innovation intermediaries.
As highlighted by Nonaka [36
], a critical aspect of knowledge creation and innovation is problem formulation. The adoption of proper organizational and managerial practices, particularly knowledge management practices, is crucial to enable firms to explicitly identify and formulate their problems and, consequently, to be able to embrace open innovation [4
In this study, we understand open innovation as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for [the] external use of innovation, respectively [37
]”. The adoption of suitable knowledge management practices in the firm are of the utmost relevance to embrace the open innovation paradigm [4
]. The literature identifies three main processes through which firms establish these practices, namely, inbound, outbound, and coupled [4
]. Inbound processes refer to those in which knowledge flows from external sources towards the firm. Outbound refers to flows of internally developed knowledge towards external entities. Coupled processes are those combining inbound and outbound mechanisms. These three archetypes make use of different mechanisms to bring knowledge to the firm. Table 2
presents some examples of mechanisms adopted by firms under each of these three archetypes.
The implementation of knowledge management practices in firms is a recognized pre-condition to internalize the opportunities provided by external knowledge and to integrate it into the internal knowledge base [4
According to Sieg et al. [5
], when firms decide to work with an innovation intermediary, at least three common managerial challenges are faced in the search to receive support that will facilitate the internalization of external knowledge. First, internal scientists are reluctant to modify their established working practices and to share an explicit and structured statement of the problems they face with external agents [5
]. Second, firms have difficulty selecting the correct problems that required support from outsiders and that could be revealed to agents outside the firm [5
]. Third, the formulation of a problem statement is not an easy task for many firms, which should be clear enough to enable the intermediaries to relate it to similar problems and past solutions [5
Another important element in the adoption of open innovation in a firm is the origin of the external knowledge. The literature identifies different sources, which range from science-based partners to value chain partners and technology service providers [1
]. Different sorts of partners bring firms a wider variety of resources for innovation [1
]. The two main sources of external knowledge providers are universities and research institutes (science-based actors) and customers and suppliers (market-based actors). These sources of external knowledge bring about positive effects on a firm’s innovation performance [1
]. However, according to Chen et al. [1
], collaboration with value chain partners has the strongest effect on innovation performance, more than collaboration with universities or technology service providers. Therefore, innovation intermediaries should be able to advise firms on creating an adequate mix of partners that allows a complementary effect between internal and external knowledge activities [1
2.3. The Global Need for Transformation
Around the world, governments have realized that they cannot mobilize sufficient resources and capabilities for the attainment of the SDGs on their own. The governance challenge of going back to traditional innovation approaches is highlighted by Kuhlmann and Rip [11
], who remark that societal challenges are part of the overall societal development, requiring new innovation actors and dynamics favoring transformation, and not just reformulating priorities settings or addressing the SDGs as individual targets [12
This need for fundamental change or transformation is called for by authors, like Schot and Steinmueller [12
] and Schot, Boni, Ramirez, and Steward [8
], who highlight the need for transformative innovation policy as a key success factor in “overcoming the implementation failure of ambitious challenge-driven policy ambitions” (p. 2). Transformative change requires a focus on socially and environmentally sustainable innovations, requiring new forms of organizational change, business models, and collaborative arrangements [12
]. They require the acknowledgement that innovation-market economy entanglement could be unsustainable and economic growth should remain a mean and not a goal in seeking sustainable development.
This leads to a new phenomenon whereby different kinds of non-governmental economic actors, ranging from civil society organizations, social enterprises, start-ups, firms, and multinationals, are aligning their strategies to create transformative social innovation through partnerships. The success of these partnerships depends on how they meld with, alter, or even replace existing consumption, production, and innovation trends [10
2.4. Public-Private Partnerships in Research and Innovation
Collaborations or associations between the public and the private sector on infrastructure and development can be traced back as far as the 18th century [40
]. However, in the mid-1970s, the adoption of such arrangements became more common, with public sector firms seeking to promote the development of road infrastructure, as well as health, prisons, water, and sanitation services, and so forth. PPPs complemented the limited available public budget with alternative sources of (private) capital, external knowledge and skills, and risk sharing. By the late 1970s, Europe, Australia, and the USA had already adopted PPPs, in the form of research partnerships, as common practice in the financing of development projects. This type of partnership became an STI policy tool involving universities, research centers, government agencies, and private firms. Research partnerships are defined as “an innovation-based relationship that involves, at least partly, a significant effort in R&D [41
] (pp. 567–568)”.
In an advanced industrial economy, like the USA, research partnerships helped firms gain technological leadership by improving technology-driven competitiveness. To achieve this aim, the US government has invested considerably in the establishment of institutional structures to facilitate technology transfer between universities and industries [42
]. Within the European Union, countries promoted research partnerships in the 1980s with the adoption of the first Framework Programmes. These Programmes are policy tools that foster research coordination across the European Union, but, more importantly, they are financial tools that support the competitive capacity of the member states [44
]. Through Framework Programmes, the public research organization structures of the European Union are modernizing, avoiding duplication, and limiting intra-community competition. In the South, as a regional bloc, the literature on latecomer firms identifies several case studies, especially from the 1990s, of firms updating their capabilities, not only through informal arrangements, but through formal contractual arrangements, such as research joint ventures [45
], cross-licensing, research agreements, direct investment, customer-supplier relationships, R&D contracts, licensing and outsourcing, and other types of research partnership [41
As globalization increased, non-market coordination and the integration of the national market into more complex systems, such as global value chains, required the adoption of policy instruments that facilitate the management of different interfaces and coordination mechanisms, as well as dealing with market and system failures [46
]. Examples of market and system failures include: (i) The absence of key systemic actors and lack, or poor availability, of appropriate capabilities or competences to face technological change; (ii) technological locking hampering the development of new technologies [48
]; (iii) weak interaction among agents in the system; (iv) inadequate habits and practices for innovation to occur [50
]; and (v) insufficient infrastructure for innovation, i.e., financial, scientific, and physical [6
As a result, and promoted by the OECD [25
] and the European Commission through Horizon 2020 [44
], PPPs in RI have become a recurrent collaboration paradigm between private, public, and civil society organizations. They are a tool of innovation programs in key areas of national STI and growth policies [55
], and have become the partnership paradigm of today, particularly in the North.
The inclusion of PPPs in RI in innovation policy has dominated STI policy trends in the last two decades. Increasingly, PPPs in RI are seen as a tool to foster the generation and exploitation of innovation activities, as well as to promote technology transfer from the policy sphere and facilitate innovation-related infrastructure [55
PPPs in RI are defined as modes of cooperation between publicly-funded research organizations and private firms, characterized by a long-term institutional and strategic formal arrangement in order to achieve complementary goals by jointly operating research activities [56
], sharing financial risk, and exploiting research results [57
]. They are a top-down STI policy instrument, promoting knowledge generation and entrepreneurial innovation activity within a system of innovation through the coordination of private and public actors [35
]. PPPs in RI target the changing nature of innovation in order to address societal challenges, such as those identified by the SDGs and the European Commission. This is a key feature that distinguishes them from research partnerships and partnerships for development.
Another characteristic of PPPS in RI is that they not only target pre-market research, but also involve joint-investment in technological infrastructure, the development of human resources, and the development and commercialization of activities [25
]. Features of successful PPPs in RI identified in the literature are: (i) Geographic and social proximity between stakeholders; (ii) medium- to long-term collaboration arrangements; and (iii) legally-regulated contractual agreements [59
]. Challenges hampering the successful implementation of this type of partnership include partners’ limited experience in cross-sectoral, multi-disciplinary collaboration, poor governance, and complex settings [61
2.5. Science Granting Councils in Sub-Saharan Africa
Although most studies in the literature focus on universities and their linkages to the private sector [62
], very few address national research ministries, councils, SGCs, and public technology centers as innovation intermediaries [27
], even though they are recognized as key actors in influencing the policy landscape governing national innovation systems. With regard to technology centers, studies tend to focus more on their intermediation functions and their organizational profiles and less on their research strategies and linkages with the private sector [27
]. Along this line, Stezano [31
], in his analysis of four public technology centers as innovation intermediaries, classified them according to: (i) Their market orientation adjusted to clients’ STI needs, which ranged from basic science approaches more in line with the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to formal R&D targeting larger firms; (ii) the type of STI service provided (i.e., exploration, technical validation, or commercialization); (iii) the type of firm with whom the interactions took place; and (iv) the price-setting of the STI services provided.
Studies on SGCs or equivalent actors present the need for such organizations to act as intermediaries and to connect other actors in the innovation system. The study of the Dutch Research Council by Van der Meulen and Rip [64
] presents an illustration of the intermediary role of SGCs in influencing policy. What is clear from the empirical literature is that the extent to which science and industry are linked, and the role that innovation intermediaries play in strengthening this network, is associated with the development strategy of the State and the type of interactions taking place among the STI actors. The role or function of the innovation intermediaries is primarily to act as connectors between the policy and operational levels, influencing other actors in the innovation system [64
]. The organizational management of STI organizations as innovation intermediaries is defined in the literature according to their impact, via the scientific production of primary and executive research, interpretation and analysis, human resources training, business, and consultancy contacts, or collaboration with other knowledge sectors [31
]. They also play an important role in connecting societal challenges with the relevant policy and regulatory frameworks by identifying operational and research needs.
In adopting the 10-year Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 in June 2014, African countries signaled their commitment to development led by STI. This strategy is the first of five 10-year strategic frameworks under Agenda 2063 to accelerate Africa’s transition towards an innovation-led, knowledge-driven economy [67
]. This first framework aims at accelerating and developing human capital, innovation, industrialization, entrepreneurship, and value addition to facilitate social transformation and enhance economic development and the competitiveness of the continent [67
SGCs are critical actors in the configuration of the national innovation system, as they are central agents in funding and they propel STI. While many sub-Saharan Africa countries have long-established SGCs, they have different national structures and, therefore, operate in different ways, with implications for how they are funded and how they carry out their functions. Although, in broad terms, all SGCs in sub-Saharan Africa seek to advocate, fund, and support STI, they differ in their history, setup, level of organization, and presence within the national system of innovation.
According to the African Capacity Building Foundation [68
], over two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa countries have adopted (at different levels of intensity) STI policies and strategies. However, many of these countries still lack the requisite capacity to optimize the potential of STI to enhance the structural transformation of their economy [69
]. The majority of sub-Saharan Africa countries have “underdeveloped STI institutions and fail to effectively generate and deploy knowledge and technological innovations for socio-economic growth [68
]”. Therefore, the critical technical skills and resources to conduct and promote R&D, as well as higher education (which is generally technically weak), are common bottlenecks in much of sub-Saharan Africa [69
In order to strengthen and support the underdeveloped SGCs in 17 sub-Saharan Africa countries, and under the premise that SGCs are central to funding and catalyzing research and innovation, a program funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Department of International Development (DFID), and National Research Foundation (NRF) South Africa launched the Science Granting Council Initiative (SGCI) in 2015 [70
]. The main objective of the program is to promote SGCs that strengthen the national innovation system and contribute to the development of sub-Saharan Africa. This is done through the construction of capacities in the participating countries to (i) manage research; (ii) design and monitor research programs and the use of STI indicators; (iii) promote and support knowledge exchange with the private sector; and (iv) establish partnerships with other science actors of the innovation system [70
A 2017 study by the Science Policy Research Unit and the African Centre for Technology Studies on how political economy factors influence the evolution of science funding in the Science Granting Councils Initiative participating countries provides two instructive findings. First, all five case study countries (i.e., Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tanzania) were committed to increasing their STI funding, but, in general, funding levels were still low [71
]. In these countries, SGCs have been established, but in varying ways, which has implications for how they are funded and carry out their functions. Second, while there is reference to the role that the private sector can play at both the regional and national levels, private sector funding remains low and engagement “patchy” across the case study countries [71
]. The study points out the following:
…greater involvement from the private sector will take dedicated effort and there is a need for greater communication between private and public sectors about the value of different types of research. Greater consideration could be given to the variety of ways in which the private sector could be encouraged to fund and engage with public sector and joint funding initiatives. The majority of firms will not make use of formal R&D activities and may not identify as innovating companies. The type of engagement and activity will also vary across sectors. However, there will be aspects of research that may have relevance and use and although actual private sector spend[ing] may remain limited, greater involvement will lay the basis for sustained and growing collaboration.