DESIGN MATTERS FOR THE ROLE OF THE UNIVERSITY IN A REGIONAL INNOVATION SYSTEM

Thorbjörn Swenberg
Dalarna University

Johan Kostela
Dalarna University

Sigrid Saveljeff
Dalarna University

Abstract
The role of a university in an innovation system can take on various forms. The design of that role de-pends on how the university enters into collaboration with other parties in the innovation system, and how they all contribute to this design. Here, we apply a social system’s design perspective, and point out some key issues and aspects that should be considered if the role of universities is to be purposefully designed, rather than formed ad hoc.
The purpose of such a design would be to support a wide scope of mutual benefits for the university and its collaborators – a “maximum output” from the engagement. The aim here is to point out concrete matters for the system’s designer(s) to consider, in order to create a role for the university in the inno-vation system that embraces a range of the university’s assets and capacities. Therefore, we address a number of critical issues and aspects affecting the functioning of the university in regard to an associat-ed regional innovation system. Why these factors are critical will also be discussed.
The paper stems from a pilot-project, where 16 semi-structured interviews from four (4) different Swe-dish regions were analysed, including regional innovation system executives, university innovation officers and leaders, as well as university research group leaders. We have analysed the reason why certain issues are critical for success when designing a university’s role in a regional innovation system:
First, a university's contribution to the support of an innovation system through expertise consultancy and resources require other factors than participation in the innovation process by knowledge involve-ment does. Second, within the university there is a tendency to make a distinction between the ideation part and the utilisation part of the innovation process: different units at the university tend to show more engagement in different aspects of the process. Third, research commission is at heart for both universi-ty researchers and external parties. Fourth, the university comprises multifaceted capacities and poten-tials to sustain core functions in the innovation processes: as a meeting place; as a strategic knowledge broker; or as a driving force. Fifth, a university’s various networks is a resource that might be underes-timated by external parties. Sixth, much of collaborative innovation is accomplished in smaller units within the university, far from centralised university administration. Centralisation supports the univer-sity’s relations to external parties, whereas de-centralised and independent involvement of university units supports direct and efficient collaboration.
To maximise the output from the university’s engagement in the innovation system, the university’s role must be designed to distinguish between involvement in, or support of, innovation processes, be-tween internal and external context requirements, and between what functions are suitable for innova-tion collaboration for different units of the university.