Diversity and co-creation as key ingredients to thriving innovation ecosystems

Pauliina Mattila
Swinburne University

Innovation ecosystems, often being region specific, have increasingly gained ground in the literature on innovation, strategy and university-industry collaboration. They have drawn interest specifically due to the opportunity to gain competitive advantage on a firm level but also to drive sustainable growth on a regional and even national level.
Generally, innovation ecosystems consist of a number of symbiotic economic and sociological interactions between actors or entities [1-2]. A well-established combination of these entities involves private sector, academia, including universities and research organisations, as well as public sector (like governmental bodies) and citizens living in interdependent relationships and creating mutually beneficial value to the society [1]. Furthermore, innovation is said to lie in the intersection of different bodies of knowledge and diversity has a tendency to increase the likelihood of innovations to emerge [3]. Despite the extensive literature to date, research calls for a further understanding of successful implementation of innovation ecosystems specifically through a people-centric lens [4]. Moving beyond transactional collaboration and with the thought of mutual value creation and interdependent relationships among a diverse group of actors, a more holistic perspective on ecosystems [5,6] and opportunities to draw inspiration from co-creation needs to be taken [7].
The work presented in this paper seeks to help building a better understanding of the particular way diversity – at multiple levels of participation – as well as the adoption of co-creation activities and mindsets can help innovation ecosystems to prosper. We find that diversity is vital in furthering creative, novel ideas to be generated in ecosystems as it allows alternative viewpoints and expertise to be explored, providing opportunities for novel combinations of knowledge to emerge, be varied and (re-) combined in new ways between all stakeholders involved. In fact, a higher level of diversity in an ecosystem, i.e. the mix of stakeholders and their expertise, the higher the chances for innovative solutions to be generated. Equally, however, such ecosystems require more careful management to mitigate different interests, aims and ways of working.
Therefore, the aim of this paper is to further advance our understanding on the practical implications in navigating through the complexities of diversity in innovation advancement efforts. This study draws on a diversity framework to examine the diversity manifested on multiple levels in the innovation ecosystem. Three selected case studies are used to contextualise and describe the interdependent connection between the added benefits of diversity and resulting challenges.
Research question: how do added complexities are navigated in innovation ecosystem context.
With our research goal in mind, which is deepening our knowledge on how diversity can be embodied in ecosystem context and what are possible co-creation processes enhancing innovation ecosystem success. We use multiple case study approach as it allows following an open approach in order to understand a complex phenomenon such as activities in innovation ecosystems. We have selectively chosen 3 diverse cases and in all case studies data was collected through interviews. Overall 12 interviews were conducted with actors involved in the innovation projects. Additional data for all cases was also gathered from project documents.

Results of the study indicate a number of areas in managing the added complexities of multi-actor projects. There is a clear tension between exploring untapped field and unexpected connections as it may lead to highly innovative outcomes and the need for pragmatic approach in adhering to status quo business realities. We draw some practical implications on managing such diverse portfolio of projects as it tends to be more resource intensive, yet may lead to innovative discoveries. In addition, further research directions are proposed.