Public innovation intermediaries and digital co-creation. Research contribution to the OECD TIP Co-creation project (2020)

Accessible online:

Federica Rossi, Birkbeck, University of London, UK ( (corresponding author)
Annalisa Caloffi, University of Florence, Italy (
Ana Colovic, NEOMA Business School, France (
Margherita Russo, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy (

Executive summary
The emerging digital technologies pose new challenges to innovation intermediaries. In this chapter we build on a case base of evidence on selected public intermediaries in France (pôles de compétitivité) and in the UK (digital catapults), to argue that public innovation intermediar-ies, which carry public policy mandates, have a specific role to play, particularly in the context on the emerging, complex, and yet not fully commoditised set of technologies underpinning the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. In particular, we reveal that by connecting a plurality of actors on the demand and supply side, public innovation intermediaries facilitate co-creation of complex technological solutions, and that in doing so, they create both social and economic value. The goals of examined co-creation activities revolve around finding highly innovative solutions to complex problems triggered by the digital transformation. The co-creation initiatives that we study take place at the national level, but their outputs have broader impact on the activities of the parties involved.
Our evidence suggests that, when co-creating a complex technological solution, the intermediary is involved in two complementary, often intertwined, but distinct processes that bring to-gether organisations that demand technology and those that supply technological solutions. On the demand side, the intermediary helps the organisation looking for a technological solution (a large company, an SME, or a municipality) to articulate their demand, and eventually find it as well. We call this ‘demand-led’ co-creation. On the supply side, the intermediary brings together a system of technology providers (large companies, SMEs, universities and public research or-ganisations) able to devise, develop and implement a technological solution to match the needs of the organisation on the demand side. We call this ‘supply-led’ co-creation. The intermediary is present from the beginning to the end of the co-creation processes, with its activities extending beyond co-creation processes to ensure post-project continuity between the involved actors.
Among demand-led co-creation processes, we identified at least two different approaches devised by Catapults and Pôles de compétitivité – the development of an open challenge, and the development of a proof-of concept. On the supply side, we noted the creation of the so-called ‘groupement’ of SMEs by pôles de compétitivité, whereby the pôle facilitates the creation of a value-chain that is able to respond to complex demands of organisations looking for technological solutions.
Our study shows that public intermediaries are able to play their unique role in co-creation processes thanks to several factors: the legitimacy they have to act as intermediaries, as they are endowed with public mandates; the presence of long-term public funding that enables interme-diaries to be perceived as neutral agents, to gain reputation and trust over time; the networks of trusted experts on whom they can rely to successfully complete their mission; a well functioning evaluation process that spurs intermediaries to act effectively and efficiently and to be respon-sive to demands from their stakeholders.