Formal Food-related Networks in Ireland: A Case Study Analysis

Maeve Henchion, Douglas Sorenson



Strategic networking is of crucial importance for innovation in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) as it enables these companies access external resources and overcome internal constraints. However, SMEs often lack the skills and competencies to engage in and benefit from networks. Consequently SMEs often fail in establishing strategic and efficient networks. To date, there is limited guidance available on the optimal design of such networks. Furthermore, limited guidance is available on the number of networks, and level of engagement therein, that companies should be involved with. Using case studies across a range of formal networks within the food sector in Ireland, insights into the success factors and barriers to network learning are presented, which provide a foundation for such guidelines. Three case studies were selected for analysis in Ireland. Up to ten in-depth interviews were scheduled with the network managers and key informants from the triple helix (i.e. policy, research and industry sectors) within each formal network. Initially, interviewees were identified as a result of a review of secondary sources and personal knowledge of the authors. The snowball sampling technique was then employed to identify additional interviewees within each network. The findings from this study revealed that some formal networks had a strong institutional influence, including significant financial inputs, whilst others had bottom-up origins. Many networks had strong levels of interaction prior to formalisation, which provided solid trust-based foundations. Innovation and/or learning were not the expressed objectives of all networks at the outset. However, interviewees across all three networks felt that positive impacts had been achieved in these areas. Whilst being involved in a broad network can provide access to a wider range of ideas, these case studies suggest that being involved in a smaller, dense network, with high levels of IP protection, may be supportive of high levels of innovation.


Case study analysis; Formal networks; Food SMEs; Innovation

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ISSN 1869-6945


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