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Building Bridges and Breaking Bonds: Aspects of social capital in a regional strategic network
Mälardalen University, School of Sustainable Development of Society and Technology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7156-5020
2011 (English)Licentiate thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Investing in cluster formation or encouraging companies to network in regional strategic networks is a common strategy used by municipalities to promote regional growth in peripheral regions. Previous research has investigated the significance of creating regional advantages by building clusters and regional networks, but researchers have not provided much insight into the problems facing the project management trying to implement such collaboration. In my thesis I describe and analyze a network project in order to shed light upon some of the complications that such a collaboration project might entail. My theoretical framework of analysis rests upon the concept of social capital, a concept that investigates the value that social contacts might incur.

I have studied a designed network situated in the Swedish municipality of Söderhamn called Firsam. After the closure of the telecommunications factory of Ericsson/Emerson and the military airbase F15 Söderhamn lost 10 % of its local employment in 2004.The need for regional growth programmes therefore became dire. The companies that prior to the closure worked in close collaboration with the Ericsson/Emerson factory were also looking for new revenue streams to compensate for their loss of business. Collaboration with the local manufacturing companies to create innovative projects and to take on joint tenders seemed to be a perfect solution to the problems facing them and the municipality. In this spirit a regional strategic network called Firsam (Företag i regional samverkan) was initiated.

I analyze the Firsam project using two different aspects of the concept social capital:”bonding” and”bridging”. The bonding form of social capital is associated with small and homogeneous groups that build prerequisites for long-term collaboration by forming close contacts and building trust. The bridging form of social capital creates an open stance towards social relations that enables new contacts to be formed outside one’s own socially established context.

The bonding form of social capital provides prerequisites for close collaboration but can also result in close-mindedness and over-embeddedness in one’s own social context. Building bridging connections outside one’s own social context might encourage innovative thinking and spur entrepreneurship. The somewhat fleeting connections that are associated with the bridging form of social capital might on the other hand make it difficult to cultivate a common sense of trust within an existing group.

These different manifestations of social capital create a paradox that might be hard to handle in the design of a regional strategic network. Is it best to support already existing network structures and impose the risk of creating a less innovative environment, or should members from outside the established social context be included in the network design to encourage innovative thinking? There are both positive and negative effects associated with either strategy. I shed light upon this paradox by analyzing the regional strategic network of Firsam.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Västerås: Mälardalen University , 2011.
Series
Mälardalen University Press Licentiate Theses, ISSN 1651-9256 ; 139
Keyword [en]
social capital, regional strategic network, cluster, network
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Industrial Economics and Organisations
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-12361ISBN: 978-91-7485-025-3OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mdh-12361DiVA: diva2:420232
Presentation
2011-06-17, Kappa, Högskoleplan 1, Västerås, 16:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2011-05-31 Created: 2011-05-31 Last updated: 2014-03-13Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Sowing seeds for innovation: The impact of social capital in regional strategic networks
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Sowing seeds for innovation: The impact of social capital in regional strategic networks
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In order to promote regional innovation and stronger social coherence the European Union has set goals to become the world’s most competitive, dynamic, and knowledge-based economy. These ambitious goals are supported by funds allocated to regional strategic networks (also called cluster initiatives). Usually, the management of regional strategic networks is left to the discretion of the project leaders. However, the industry agglomeration model which constitutes the foundation for regional development policies fails to consider the social context. It also overemphasizes the relevance of a linear approach towards innovation which is problematic, as this fails to consider the conditions for implementation in different contexts.

This thesis builds upon data from two case studies of regional strategic networks (Firsam at Söderhamn and FPX at Gävle) and serves to describe (1) how the management group of an RSN creates the prerequisite for an innovative milieu by analyzing the effects that social capital imposes on social interaction, and (2) how a policy initiated innovation process is supported by an RSN management group by analyzing resource interaction between the developing, producing and using settings.

As a conclusion it is stated that a manager of a regional strategic network should balance the bridging and bonding forces that social capital produces. Under some circumstances it might be advantageous to form tightly knit groups that can foster trust and cultural proximity. In other cases loosely knit groups might be preferable where novel information is exchanged between previously unconnected actors. Also, the innovation construct is applied in the thesis to denote the process where resources are combined in new ways within existing structures to offer new solutions in the market. The manager of a regional strategic network must consider not only the setting in which an invention is developed but also the settings where new solutions are converted into products and those where they are brought to use.

The performance of the investigated development initiatives indicates that merely funding regional strategic networks is insufficient to spur regional growth. It is not as easy as merely sowing seed for innovation; it must also fall on good soil. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Västerås: Mälardalen University, 2014
Series
Mälardalen University Press Dissertations, ISSN 1651-4238 ; 155
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Industrial Economics and Organisations
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-24635 (URN)978-91-7485-141-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-04-23, Pi, Mälardalens högskola, Västerås, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2014-03-13 Created: 2014-03-13 Last updated: 2015-02-03Bibliographically approved

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Eklinder Frick, Jens
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