Actors’ heterogeneity and the context of interaction in affecting innovation networks

Daniela Corsaro (Cattolica University, Milan, Italy)
Chiara Cantù (Cattolica University, Milan, Italy)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Publication date: 1 May 2015



The aim of this paper is to explore the role of actors’ heterogeneity and the context of interaction on collective innovation.


By using the six sources of heterogeneity identified by Corsaro et al. (2012) – goals, competences and skills, knowledge bases, power/position, perceptions and cultures – the authors describe the cases of two consecutive projects – ESASIM and NeWTeC – developed within Kilometro Rosso Science Park. The collaborative innovative outcome (simulation software) developed in the first phase was subsequently applied by each actor in its specific context. At the macro level, the authors define the processes that describe the role of actors’ heterogeneity in both the contexts of innovation development and application; at the micro level, the authors shed some light on the role of the single actor acting simultaneously as a provider and as a user with respect to different contexts.


In this paper, the processes through which actors’ heterogeneity and the context of interaction influence the development of innovation (collective/macro-network level) and contribute a better understanding of collective innovation from a perspective that involves each individual actor (single-actor/micro level) are determined. These two phases are labeled in terms of “decontextualizing” and “recontextualizing”, through which it will be recognized how the process of innovation depends on the social context and by the business activities that take place between the organizations. In the paper, term actor is used to refer to organizations taking part in the innovation networks as represented by their key referents.

Research limitations/implications

Further research on this topic could explore not only the single sources of actors’ heterogeneity but also patterns of them and their effects in the different contexts. In addition, looking at the micro level, it would be interesting to understand if, in certain specific phases of innovation development and implementation, one of the roles – provider or user – prevails over the other and which effects it generates.

Practical implications

This case study has important managerial implications. First, by better understanding the role of actors in innovation networks, companies could improve their networking strategies and, consequently, increase the likelihood of their solutions satisfying the needs of the different stakeholders. Second, the management of actors’ heterogeneity seems strictly related to communication practices. As a result, it would be interesting to develop communication training programs addressing companies located in science parks, built around the profiles of the actors’ features, characterizing a certain project and envisioning potential contexts for the development and application of the project outcome. Due to the variety of actors involved and the changing nature of the contexts in which they operate, standardizing communication practices could, in fact, be less effective. Finally, we also see implications for the management company of the science and technology park, which should think in a more comprehensive way about the different sources of actors’ heterogeneity and their potential consequences once they build interorganizational collaborations and thus interdisciplinary teams.

Social implications

Using the Intellimech case, the role of actors’ heterogeneity and the context interaction in innovation networks, with respect to two different levels of analysis, is explored. On the collective-macro level, the set of actors in the network was considered; on the micro level, each single business actor as part of the wider network is concentrated upon.


This paper positions in this debate and, in particular, attempts to understand if and how actors’ heterogeneity and the context of interaction influence innovation networks. In effect, while the literature includes sporadic references to the role of the two elements, they have not yet been jointly considered. To reach this goal, two levels of analysis were adopted: a macro network level considering the set of business actors collectively and a micro level looking at the single actor as part of the wider network. Empirically, this paper will describe the case of two projects developed within Intellimech, an innovation network located at Kilometro Rosso Science Park, an aggregation node of relationships and connections around innovation purposes.



Corsaro, D. and Cantù, C. (2015), "Actors’ heterogeneity and the context of interaction in affecting innovation networks", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 30 No. 3/4, pp. 246-258.

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