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Strategizing across boundaries: revisiting knowledge brokering activities in French innovation clusters

Luciana Castro (ESIEE Paris, Paris, France)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 14 September 2015




Cooperative relationships between actors located in the same geographical area that are economically independent and culturally distinct are the heart of functioning innovation clusters. This can slow down the creation of common innovation projects, particularly in French innovation clusters where cooperation is influenced by the governmental financing devoted to this system. This research focuses on knowledge brokering activities implemented in this inter-organizational context, showing how they cross knowledge boundaries, structure cooperative dynamics and participate in common strategy-making. The mobilization of the strategy as practice theory allows for an in-depth analysis, shedding light on various practices, resources and practitioners related to the brokering activities taking place within an innovation cluster in Paris. Findings show a widespread development of brokering activities that emerges from cluster governance unit to its networks according to a reflexive relationship progressive structured over time.


This research is based on a longitudinal exploratory analysis of the Parisian cluster Advancity. To capture its organizational dynamics, two databases of the cluster (focused on innovation projects and integration of members), 24 power point files presented to negotiate strategy and 13 interviews with managers and members of the cluster were used. The whole data was triangulated and generated categories of data that can be compared with the concepts of the literature on innovation clusters (governance), brokering activities (knowledge access, learning, networking and implementation) and strategy-making (recursive process and adaptation of the strategy).


The analysis shows the effects of each type of brokering activities on strategy-making across knowledge and organizational boundaries. The practices of implementation activity initially absent from the cluster become, in its mature phase, one of the central activities. Moreover, all the brokering activities are initially handled by the managers of the cluster and progressively are extended to their members, then becoming a widespread activity within the internal networks. The maturation of these practices goes together with the maturation of its own cluster. The practice of experimentation particularly affects brokering activities and produces learning and networking effects within the cluster.

Practical implications

From a managerial point of view, considering the organization of the clusters as a constellation of communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) emphasizes that the knowledge brokerage activities can be extended and delayed within each community that makes up the organization. A top-down approach could therefore suffocate the network. It would be interesting to develop this research approach in future work and complete this research by reinforcing microscopic analysis enabled, for example, by tracking a small number of innovation projects during their lifecycle.

Social implications

The empirical foundation proposed in this research strengthens the scientific nature of the theory of the activity that is itself integrated in the perspective of the practice (Seidl et al., 2006). The multilevel approach and wealth of the mobilized and analysed empirical data allowed making more visible how a social activity builds itself, develops and creates aperture effects on the strategy driven by innovation at the intersection of different boundaries.


The results of this research provide a theoretical contribution in that they allow to revisit the classification of the activities of a knowledge broker (Hargadon 1998, 2005) in a new organizational context representative of the knowledge-based innovation (Amin and Cohendet, 2004). They are also contributing to the current emerging from the knowledge-based view of clusters (Bahlmann and Huysman, 2008; Arikan, 2009) by mobilizing the theory of the practice (Whittington, 2006; Jarzabkowski, 2005). This perspective helps to discern a particular form of strategy-making within the clusters.



Castro, L. (2015), "Strategizing across boundaries: revisiting knowledge brokering activities in French innovation clusters", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 1048-1068.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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