Four Principles for Orchestrating Innovation Ecosystems

Written by , Senior Researcher on 11 January 2022

Insights from OPSI’s new learning network for innovation ecosystem practitioners

Join OPSI and international practitioners 13:00 CET on 21 January for a second peer exchange on Orchestrating Innovation Ecosystems. 

Last year marked the launch of OPSI’s collaboration with the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA) to explore how innovation ecosystems can be steered and enhanced through the application of anticipatory innovation governance approaches. Towards the end of 2021, we hosted an online event as part of OPSI’s H2020 work which brought experts from Latvia, Finland and the UK together with global practitioners to discuss the challenges and opportunities of establishing anticipatory innovation ecosystems.

The event revealed four principles for ecosystem orchestration, summarised below, and uncovered an appetite from practitioners to continue learning from one another’s experience. This subsequently led to our commitment to establish a learning network, which next meets on 21st January 2022.  If you work with innovation ecosystems or are curious to learn what is happening around the world on this topic, please sign up to join us using this link.

What are innovation ecosystems, and how can they be enhanced through anticipation?

Innovation ecosystems are diverse networks of actors who work together to develop new ideas, products or services which address shared goals. These “ecosystem partners”, who often come from across the private sector, the public sector, research institutions and civil society (known as the ‘quadruple helix), commit to work together and share resources to identify, understand and act upon opportunities and threats. Anticipatory approaches – which inform decision-making through the exploration of possible and plausible futures – can enable such ecosystems to consciously shape socially and environmentally beneficial futures through innovation, rather than limiting their scope to adapting to present concerns and pressures.

How to facilitate creative harmony among diverse actors in innovation ecosystems

Developing and maintaining productive relationships between ecosystem partners with different priorities and perspectives is a persistent challenge.

To understand how to facilitate creative harmony between diverse stakeholders, we invited three expert practitioners – Dr. Lauma Muižniece, Charles Leadbeater and Kari Herlevi – to discuss the skills and approaches needed for the development and management of innovation ecosystems. Their insights are summarised under the subsequent four principles.

Principle 1: Coordination in innovation ecosystems must be orchestrated, not imposed

Coordination of ecosystem partners cannot be achieved through top-down direction. Instead, governments and agencies must focus on cultivating relationships between ecosystem partners, supporting them to identify shared goals and facilitating greater cooperation. This role is referred to as ‘orchestration’.

Principle 2: Potential ecosystem partners must be met on their terms

“The role is to engage stakeholders and lead them at the right moment” – Lauma Muižniece

Persuading relevant stakeholders to engage with an ecosystem approach is a key challenge of orchestration. Prospective ecosystem partners often focus on their immediate priorities, meaning they fail to recognise that ecosystem participation can enable them to address more systemic barriers to innovation. In these situations, the enthusiasm and commitment of the orchestrating team is vital to convince stakeholders to engage with the project. It is also important to understand the motivational factors of potential ecosystem partners and to work with key decision-makers who can adjust and align the organisations’ objectives with those of the ecosystem as a whole.

Principle 3: Trust is the cornerstone of successful innovation ecosystems

“We should start with relationships” – Charles Leadbeater

Trust is central to the success of innovation ecosystems. By establishing trusted relationships between stakeholders and a “safe space” in which the tensions between differing values and priorities can be explored (but not necessarily resolved), new futures and innovations are more likely to be imagined.

Trust is also a vital element of ecosystem orchestration. While stakeholders must be persuaded of the benefits of participating in ecosystems, the exploratory nature of ecosystem approaches means that the outcomes are uncertain. Orchestrators must therefore maintain trust by identifying realistic gains and carefully articulating likely paths to impact without overpromising.

Principle 4: Evidence-based adaptation is key to maintaining direction

“Situations change a lot. The operational model has to be flexible” – Kari Herlevi

Successful innovation ecosystems must continuously adapt to internal and external changes to ensure they maintain direction and produce viable innovations. Ecosystem partners and orchestrators need to systematically observe and reflect on the evolution of the ecosystem and the conditions in which it is operating. By agreeing on outcomes, partners can track their progress and adjust their activities in order to keep moving towards a shared vision.

We look forward to building on these insights and learning more through our next peer exchange session on 21 January 2022 at 13:00 CET. This time, participants will lead the agenda and we are eager to hear about your suggested case studies and topics of interest!

Read more about our work on anticipatory innovation or get in touch with us at [email protected].

Dr. Lauma Muižniece, Director of the Technology Department of LIAA, the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia, has been working closely with OPSI to explore how anticipatory innovation ecosystems can be developed in Latvia.

Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation, has been working with Jennie Winhall to analyse systems innovation for the Rockwool Foundation and seeks to uncover the role of purpose, power, relationships and resources in unlocking system change.

Kari Herlevi, Project Director of the circular economy at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, brings expertise in the transition to a fair and competitive economy that tackles the root causes of negative environmental change by stimulating and scaling up new innovations.

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