Bridge-builders in the peripheral region: Institutional entrepreneurs, network brokers and innovation-based business networking

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The concept of institutional entrepreneurship offers persuasive answers to the question how institutionalized practices in a regional economy can be changed in a way that local-regional development is supported. It is through the actions of skilled, powerful and political actors who raise collective action and resources to achieve this change, as proponents of the concept argue. Institutional entrepreneurs have specific interests in changing the institutional setting, mobilize resources to achieve this change and possess political skills and power to enact institutional modifications (DiMaggio 1988, Bruton et al. 2010, Hardy and Maguire 2008). Through strategic framing of new rules, discourses or practices (Zilber 2007, Perkmann and Spicer 2007) and coalition-building (Wijen and Ansari 2007), such actors can take the lead in learning processes and enhance knowledge-based local development (Sotarauta and Pulkkinen 2011). In a similar vein, Burt (2005) argues that actors can drive networking and innovation through connecting a priori unconnected firms and thereby integrate diverse resources and knowledge for the sake of benefitting and developing a business network. Belso-Martinez et al. (2015), Fritsch and Kauffeld-Monz (2010) and Bessant and Rush (2005) show the importance of such “brokers” for regional innovation networks.

This paper takes up the idea that “change agents” (see Battilana and Casciaro 2012) and “network brokers” (Burt 2005, Belso-Martinez et al. 2015) may stimulate enterprise development and, indirectly, local development in the periphery through enhancing networking and innovativeness. As a stylized fact, peripheral regions face important limitations to innovation-based economic development (Danson and De Souza 2012), which impair the potential for firm growth, notably of small businesses (see Copus and Skuras 2008, Nauwelaers and Wintjes 2002) and entrepreneurship (see Stathoupoulou et al. 2004, Ritsäla 1999). Huggins and Johnston (2009) and Copus and Skuras (2006) suggest that business networking is a cornerstone of the firms’ innovativeness in the periphery. As McCarthy (2012) shows, the activities of such “change agents” who work with local firms are important to networks industries that are not engaged in “high technology” production or service such as tourism.

In this paper, we merge the main rationales of the two approaches (institutional entrepreneurship according to DiMaggio [1988] versus the concept of network brokers developed by Burt [2005]) into a comparative conceptual framework on innovation-based business networks in peripheral regions. We argue that agents who work for changing the firms’ behaviour towards a more collaborative stance and greater openness to innovativeness can stimulate local development through inducing new institutional practices. Derived from the idea of “network brokers” such actors may also build bridges between “non-collaborators” or “low-collaborators” among local firms in order to stimulate their attitude towards learning and innovating inside collaboration. As a conceptual paper, the present article includes ideas taken from the practice of regional management and business support in peripheral regions across Germany and Denmark to highlight how these “change agents” can look like and which local initiatives can be raised by them. Anecdotal evidence thus stresses how ideas from both concepts – that of “brokers” connecting non-collaborating firms for their mutual benefit and “entrepreneurs” who intend to change the institutional setting for businesses – can contribute to shaping enterprise development in peripheral regions.
Publication date1 Jun 2017
Number of pages12
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017
Event20th Anniversary Uddevalla Symposium - University West, Trollhättan, Sweden
Duration: 15 Jun 201717 Jun 2017
Conference number: 20


Conference20th Anniversary Uddevalla Symposium
LocationUniversity West
Internet address

Bibliographical note

In program as: Bridge-builders in the Periphery? The Concepts of Institutional Entrepreneurship and Network Brokers and
Their Role for Innovation-Based Business Networking

    Research areas

  • Institutional entrepreneurship, broker, business networks, peripheral regions, enterprise development