Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Architecture #3: Function

As I continue my series on structure concepts, the second characteristic of architure is 'functionality'.
But what could function mean in a social setting?
Given that we are here thinking of the more limited organising princple of 'innovation systems' then the first type of function which comes easily to mind is that it is to produce innovations. Sounds simple enough and there is plenty of literature related to measuring that. However, an interesting paper by Edquist and Zabala (2009) provides some valuable insights.

Edquist, C. and Zabala, J. (2009) 'Outputs of innovation systems: a European perspective' Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy (CIRCLE) Lund University. WP 2009/14

So we could understand the functioning of an innovation system on the basis of the success it has in producing outputs as measured against these dimensions. The paper makes an early attempt at conducting a comparison across these categories for European countries.
A paper that more directly addresses the idea of functions was published by Hekkert et.al. back in 2007. These authors compared different approaches that had been taked to the question of 'function'. They concluded with a list of seven:

  • entrepreneurial activities
  • knowledge development
  • knowledge diffusion through networks
  • guidance of the search
  • market formation
  • resources mobilization
  • creation of legitimacy/counteract resistance to change
from: Hekkert et.al. (2007) 'Functions of innovation systems: A new approach for analysing technological change' Technological Forecasting & Social Change 74 (2007) 413–432.

This list clearly represents a higher order of  'system' activity than the economic outputs measured in the Edquist paper - perhaps all of which are measures of the first function - entrepreneurial activities.

Finally, we might come up with a definition of function in terms of what occurs in a particular place. In this sense function might be narrowed to a single value structure (I avoid the word chain because as I may have already said in this blog a chain is far to linear a concept for use in today's economy). Within such a structure what role does each region play? To know this we would need to know not just what a region makes in a general sense but what it does in very particular sense.

A paper in this vein that I haven't seen referred to that much is by Feser (2003) who that the idea that occupational data can tell us much about what regions do. As Feser states 'Industry cluster analysis has long focused on value chain relationships and innovation flows to characterise groups of linked industries. A neglected dimension of interindustry linkage is the utilisation of joint labour pools' (p1953).

Feser, E. (2003) 'What Regions Do Rather than Make: A Proposed Set of Knowledge-based Occupation Clusters' Urban Studies, Vol. 40, No. 10, 1937–1958, September 2003.

One challenge is that while such macro studies are useful we still need to know what a particular innovation system makes - what is the strategy for a particular place. For example in piece of work I am just finishing with Adam Holbrook on the Vancouver economy it is again clear that while is on the semi-periphery, Vancouver's cost structures are too high for manufacturing but seeming the geographic dynamics place it too far away for large corporations to really develop a base. The strategic response is for the clusters to consist of small and very small businesses which engage in rent seeking IP selling behaviours.

Perhaps what would be really uiseful at this stage is for an organisation like the OECD to establish an innovation studies wiki. Authors could up load citations to their work and a few findings with a suitably structured matrix. Each region specific case study could then be geocoded on a map. If for no other reason such a tool would be valuable to understand which places are heavily studied and which places are understudied.

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