Innovation in Clustered Networks

network 5740705162_9447980516_b image source: 

Research to develop the Birmingham Production Space undergoes a new phase – attempting to clarify its position in the city both culturally, economically and geographically. We are also progressing the proposal with discussions alongside BCU to promote greater retention of graduates and increase number of enterprise activity.

To do this an initial desktop study has been allocated beginning with looking at relevant literature on the subject. A Nesta report, Creative Clusters and Innovation recognises that the Creative industries supports innovation and growth in other parts of the economy by increasing ‘spillovers’ in relation to the phenomenon of clustering. The report then highlights the conditions that intensifies the clustering effect and improve the regional/national economy.

The clustering agglomeration effect of related businesses, organisations and institutions was first introduced by Michael Porter in The Competitive Advantage of Nations. Spillovers occur when an industry begins to support and grow development across others. In this instance, we are concentrating on the Creative Industry and Economy.

Spillovers promote innovative activity indirectly rather than the direct production activity the industry work in – by inducing local collaborations. They occur in different formats but for the purpose of this blog post, I want to concentrate on network spillovers that occur when “the mere presence of creative businesses in a given place benefits other local firms” (Nesta report, pg.4).

Connectivity is a key part in achieving the quality and efficiency of a product, which is why we always state to students that networks and networking is a necessary skill as well as design. Here I refer to more than just creative agglomeration or clustering. The Nesta report uses an in-depth analysis of four UK case studies to suggest a 3-layered system required to provide the right density level to achieve greater productivity and strengthen the sector:

  • local connections – shared by local firms to help reduce the uncertainties of distant collaboration that may occur with international or new business in a new region.
  • External connections (outside of cluster) to “draw on sources of innovation located elsewhere, and to embed themselves in global creative value chains”.
  • External links with other local sectors “are a source of novel ideas that can be recombined for innovative. purposes”. The disciplines and boundaries become blurred – especially between the digital and creative sectors. “Collaboration across sectors can help local clusters develop the innovative and interactive forms of content” (Nesta report, pg.40).

To position this report in the context of how a cluster network may work to nurture a ‘creative city’, I want to refer some of the ideas to two separate articles by information Specialists, Bert Mulder, and Web Anthropologist Stowe Boyd.

network B Mulder

In the chapter The Creative City of Redesigning Society, Mulder states that the creative city is in itself representative of the changing city that is recognisable in most post-industrial regions that has undergone a process of gentrification and renewal. However, he notes caution that creative facilities should not overtake our cities towards a saturation point. Mulder attributes population growth and infrastructural transformation as key drivers for this change.

Patterns of disintegration and reintegration occur as we try to accommodate new situations in our cities and organise ourselves more effectively to function better (Mulder, pg.63). Focusing on information systems, we begin to look at networks and how their connectivity illustrate better models to promote collaboration and innovation. Mulder indicates autonomous and individual nodes (as part of a wider network) weakens the overall strength of a whole system due to the lack of lateral links, whereas interdependency and diverse connections can integrate other area nodes and become more stable. But stability tends to develop a hierarchical structure according to specialisations. These specialisations are subsequently compartmentalised in the layers of the structure limiting the transferal of information down towards the larger mass, and concentrating power to the upper tiers.

Heterarchial networks on the other hand, have a more flexible structure with connections that are more equally distributed and therefore share information that can amend their configuration to “adjust to new needs”. In order to generate innovation, collaboration plays into a heterarchic structure by its use of dialogue and the passing of information across multiple levels of stakeholder activity to change, adapt and create new solutions in design and artistic development. The proximity of the nodes imply that the information is passed relatively quickly across industry, academia and citizens.

How does this apply though when it comes to producing something creative? The hierarchy vs heterarchy comparison is illustrated in Stowe Boyd’s web post on What Makes the Most Creative Teams. Creativity in business “has to be a distributed characteristic: a sort of emergent property” Boyd states. He refers to a study by Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern University on all the Broadway musicals between 1945 and 1989. The study recorded the connections between all the actors, playwrights and producers over this period and found a methodology to quantify the density of these connections – a Q coefficient. The higher the Q, the more the team had known and worked with each other from previous productions.

What the study found a correlation between the critical and popular success of a musical and a Q coefficient that was too high or too low. In other words, working together with a new team or working with the same team for too many productions meant that the quality of the product was not matched to those with a well balanced team where the members had worked previously but still had some new input form others.

A useful point the study makes is how success (musicals in this case) is a result of a better balance between cliques and collectives, the links are cross-overs and collaborations from one to another “so creative ideas will spread rapidly and broadly”.

And so it is here where our research needs to go now. Making a case to illustrate how a national centre for the production of art & design can be flexible enough to generate stronger links between different tiered levels from those already established – in addition to creating new ones. It continues…


Mulder, B (1999) The Creative City of Redesigning Society; chapter in eds. Verwijnen, J & Lehtovouri, P (1999) Creative Cities, University of Art & Design Helsinki

Creative Clusters and Innovation report, Nesta (2010) [last accessed 29 March 2015]

Boyd, S What Makes the Most Creative Teams available from [last accessed 29 March 2015]

Endnote – since posting this blog (all of 7 hours ago!) I have been referred to this report that attempts to highlight the growth of an advanced manufacturing cluster in Sheffield by following the organisational principles of a high-tech innovation district model. Apparently, the Sheffield case study has worked with some success, so I shall investigate further and assume this will feature in my next blog post.

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