Strategic Networking

Principal Investigator: Dr Anne ter Wal

Funder: ESRC

Duration: Oct 2012 – March 2015

The professional networks of individuals have been shown to influence creativity, innovation and career success. Varied network connections are increasingly demanded for organisations working in open innovation environments looking for ideas and opportunities beyond the immediate confines of the firm. For the individual, therefore, broad connections with colleagues and externals are considered highly advantageous in the race for new technologies and innovations.

This 2.5 year project examined the network strategies of innovators to create insights into how these can be managed and the conditions under which effective innovations are produced. This project extended existing network theory by focusing on the purpose and sequence of network ties and their strategic role in achieving defined objectives. It also disentangled network configurations for those active in innovation, identifying whether the role of contacts within the network will differ according to the task – e.g. those required for initial idea creation may differ from those used to implement an innovation. Thus, the sequence as well as the purpose of network strategies has become an important area of study.

It will address the sparsity of high-quality data by building and promoting new measures for network analysis. Using contextualised data and innovative online tools, this project will result in new longitudinal analytical methods that will  impact on existing network and innovation theories.

Key Research Questions

The project was arranged around 3 key areas of investigation:

  • How do innovators differ in terms of the network strategies they employ to pursue innovation? – Considering the ways individuals adapt their strategies depending on the outcome required (advice, technical input etc). This investigates whether those who strategise their network connections are more innovative than those who do not.
  • For R&D personnel, which network strategies are most effective for developing innovations?– Examining whether the strategies for incremental and radical innovation are different, and whether successful ideas are progressed when pitched to managers or peers.
  • How can organisations support R&D scientists in taking advantage of their networks for innovative advantage? – What incentives can firms offer for staff members to build or reconfigure their networks to realise organisational goals.

Actively working several industry partners, this project result in a comprehensive understanding of how individual’s use their networks, what effect this has on innovative abilities, and ultimately how firms can help individuals to harness ideas drawn from their networks, to deliver organisation success.


8-9 January 2015 – Networks and Formal Organizational Structure Paper Workshop: A 1.5 day workshop that brought together 10 papers contributing to an emerging stream of research in the domain of organisational networks that addresses how informal structures and formal structures (unit boundaries, hierarchies, project structures, etc.) interplay in the well-functioning of organisations. The format involved paper presentations with assigned discussants, discussion and Q&A. The event was hosted by Anne ter Wal and Bill McEvily.