blog_Innovation intermediaries and emerging digital technologies: what have we learned



The online workshop “Innovation intermediaries and emerging digital technologies: policy and practice”, held on July 7th, aimed to foster debate about the challenges that companies encounter in navigating the digital transition, and how governments can support them, focusing in particular on the role of innovation intermediaries. The workshop gathered academics and policy experts working on the digital transition, from several countries, and concluded with several ‘take aways’ as well as with a list of open questions and challenges for future research.

The first session included three presentations that focused on the challenges of implementing complex digital platforms, from different perspectives. Ana Colovic (Neoma Business School, France) presented a paper on the evolving role of public innovation intermediaries, and in particular how they are expanding their activities – from networking and brokering existing technological solutions, to coordinating complex innovation ecosystems able to deliver new technological solutions. The paper also discussed what resources these intermediaries need to be able to play this more complex role. Anja Leckel (Aachen University, Germany) focused on the relationship between participants in open innovation platforms and the creation of social capital, showing that a high level of decentralized control among seekers, solvers and the intermediary (platform), is positively related to social capital, and that this effect is mediated by securing value capture for the crowd. Chris Williams (Durham University, UK) used a case study from the ad-tech industry to expose weaknesses to discuss evolving models of e-business value creation, and how in recent times, value creation in e-business has seen a sharpened focus on the role of data science, collapsed boundaries between research and marketing, and internationally dispersed talent.

The second session included three presentations that focused on the role of government in the digital transition. Riccardo Zecchinelli (The Cabinet Office, UK) illustrated what the UK government is doing on technological transformation and in particular on AI and automation implementation in the public sector, highlighting key enablers and potential next steps. Stefania Paladini (Birmingham City University, UK) discussed the many promising applications of blockchain in the public administration and public utilities, and how the role of governments and the institutional framework is paramount at this moment to make sure the technology can fulfil its promises. Muthu de Silva (Birkbeck, UK) presented a paper on the different roles of innovation intermediaries in collaborative projects, namely knowledge and network roles, and how these have a differential impact on the generation of distinct types of in-house innovation by intermediaries, since they allow them to develop different types of internal capabilities. The knowledge role of innovation intermediaries is conducive to exploratory innovation, whereas their network role contributes to exploitative innovation, although the impact of such capabilities varied depending on the nature of the innovation intermediary’s role and innovation profile.

In the final panel, Margherita Russo (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy), Dirk Meissner (HSE, Russia) and Lennart Stenberg (Vinnova, Sweden) presented some concluding reflections. The main issues highlighted by the panel were, first, that intermediaries and digitalization are both very broad categories, and that one (or more) new taxonomies might be needed in order to understand them better. Second, and relatedly, from the various presentations it emerged that different intermediaries are impacted differently from digitalization and have different roles to play. Digitalization might make certain types of intermediaries redundant (e.g. blockchain reducing the need for intermediation, or open innovation digital platform where intermediation can be automated) while other types of intermediaries play more complex roles (innovation intermediaries). Moreover, there may be value in distinguishing between plaforms for ”purely digital spaces” such as finance, media, ad-tech, and those that connects strongly to the physical world, e.g. manufacturing. Finally, the role of government appears to be important; though none of the presentations focused strongly on the justifications for public interventions, there is much to learn from cross-country comparison of what is being done to support digitalization.

The workshop has opened up a dialogue which we hope will continue in future events and through emerging research collaborations.

For more information please contact the workshop organizers:

Annalisa Caloffi (, Ana Colovic ( Federica Rossi (, and Margherita Russo (

Presentations available to download:

Annalisa Caloffi (University of Firenze), Ana Colovic (NEOMA), Federica Rossi (Birkbeck), Margherita Russo (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia) – Innovation intermediaries in the context of emerging digital technologies

Anja Leckel (Aachen University) – The mediating role of value capture – a quantitative study on the determinants of social capital on open innovation platforms

Chris Williams (Durham University) – New directions in e-value creation: the case of and the ad-tech industry

Riccardo Zecchinelli (The Cabinet Office) – AI and Automation in the public administration and public sector

Stefania Paladini (Birmingham City Business School) – Blockchain and its use in the public administration and public utilities

Muthu de Silva (Birkbeck) and Jeremy Howells (University of Kent) – Flexing capabilities: innovation ambidexterity and innovation intermediaries

Lennart Stenberg (Vinnova, Sweden) – Final comments: the role of innovation intermediaries in the digital transformation

Link to workshop recording