“The New Silk Road of Innovation: R&D networks, knowledge diffusions, and open innovation”
Co Editors Team:
Jin CHEN, Tsinghua University
Alberto Di Minin, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa
Tim Minshall, University of Cambridge
Yu-shan SU, Taiwan Normal University
Lan XUE, Tsinghua University
Yuan ZHOU, Tsinghua University
Background for the Special Issue of R&D Management:
The Silk Road connected the East and West for almost 2000 years from the B.C. 300 to the 1700s, which provided the network of trade routes as well as the knowledge interactions that roused and diffused the great innovations such as paper, printing, and even the gun powder. However, as the decay of East Asian civilization in recent centuries, the Silk Road declines and fades out eventually, and the technological knowledge links between the East and West become intermittent and unidirectional – for decades, knowledge flows in one direction only: from the Western countries that play central roles in the global knowledge networks, to the Oriental countries that are peripheral and mainly the recipients of technologies.
The context is now changing. In the rise of East Asia, some recent research has identified the new trend of international technology transfer and corporations, such as reverse knowledge flows from the East to West, as well as the South-South technology transfers, which challenges the existing models in recent centuries (Hart and Christensen, 2002; Govindarajan and Ramamurti, 2011). Also, in 2013, the Chinese Government launched the “One Belt One Road” initiative (or so-called “New Silk Road”) an impressive and ambitious program that aim to re-connect the East Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Middle East, as well as Europe in the aspects of economics, politics, as well as society. Under this new framework, in particular, innovation collaborations and transfer among these regions is becoming one of the key aims of this strategic programme. Various, questions emerge.
- What is the role of “New Silk Road” to promote innovation and knowledge transfer?
- What are the business models and organizational designs to capture value through collaborations and transfer between the regions of the New Silk Road?
- How companies are adapting their R&D Management practices to compete and collaborate along the New Silk Road?
In this context, it becomes necessary to explore the nature, the paradigms, and the possible impacts of this “New Silk Road of Innovation”. We can identify at least three bodies of literature that can help understand emerging dynamics of collaboration, new business development and R&D management.
Firstly, the New Silk Road generates opportunities to develop new R&D networks, (Rothwell and Dodgson, 1991; Macpherson, Jones, and Zhang, 2004) because it involves a large number of countries with various research institutions that start to realize they can cooperate even with the variety of degrees of industrialisation; and in reality, the knowledge interactions (especially reciprocal ones) within these regions appear to increase in a very fast pace. On the other hand, this also poses new theoretical challenges to studies on these R&D network, as the forms of these R&D networks may be different from established ones (Gassmann and Von Zedtwitz, 1999; Wright, Filatotchev, Hoskisson, and Peng, 2005), and they might require the creation of new safe nests for R&D appropriation (Di Minin and Bianchi, 2011). Given the rapid catching-up in innovation of those emerging economies along the “New Silk Road” – there might be emerging East-East R&D networks as well as East-West R&D reverse flows that are totally different from old ones (McDougall, Shane, and Oviatt, 1994; Von Zedtwitz, 2004; Di Minin, Zhang, and Gammeltoft, 2012), and generate reverse innovation dynamics (Govindarajan and Trimble, 2012; Corsi, Di Minin, and Piccaluga, 2014) .
Secondly, the “New Silk Road” may also have a far-reaching impact on how knowledge diffuses among Asia, Europe and Africa (Häussler, 2010; Tang, 2016). International knowledge diffusion has been long viewed as cross-border knowledge spillovers from innovation-leaders to technology-following countries (Wang et al. 2015; Urban et al., 2015; Zhou et al., 2016), so the latter ones may absorb overseas knowledge to develop their national innovation system (Freeman, 1986; Nelson, 1993; Huang et al. 2004). In most cases, these latecomers attempt to catch up through acquiring the production equipment, and based on which they learn manufacturing know-hows (or tacit knowledge) by doing, using, and interactions (Lundvall, 1992; Clausen et al., 2013; Parrilli et al., 2016). However, in recent years, the fast development of Eastern economies provides good “window opportunities” for traditional technology-followers to catch up or even stand a chance for leapfrogging (Tour et al., 2011; Li et al., 2015), so their demands on lead-edge science and technology help to form the basis for science-technology based innovation locally (Chen, Guo, and Zhu, 2012), which involves the new ways of cross-border knowledge diffusions within these regions – these need further investigations.
Finally, the “New Silk Road” represents a formidable opportunity to explore East-West open innovation practices. Traditionally, iconic open innovation mainly happens in advanced countries, as Westerns firms work with Western universities to develop breakthrough innovations and novel products, and then spillover over to Asian firms which would continue to improve the process for cost reduction and manufacturing efficiency so that they can produce in scale, while Asian universities barely play with their own (Enkel, Gassmann, and Chesbrough, 2009; Li et al., 2016; Xu et al., 2017). However this seems no longer the case – the growth of national innovation system of Eastern economies provides new enabling factors for Eastern firms augment inbound and outbound knowledge flows with local universities for original innovations (Gawer and Cusumano, 2014; West, et al., 2014; Cassiman and Valentini, 2016); in addition, the embracement of digital-age technologies (e.g. big data, smart manufacturing, 3D printing, etc.) also brings significant changes on how Eastern firms and universities can innovate together – the alliances, innovation ecosystems, and the triple helix along the “New Silk Road” are being significantly re-framed in these impacts.
All in all, the “New Silk Road” poses new opportunities and challenges to studies on R&D networks, knowledge diffusions and open innovation. While this has major implications for practice, there are also important research questions arising from this background. In the conference and associated special issue, we aim to explore some of these questions, which may be explored using a variety of theoretical perspectives and research designs.
Case for the special issue:
In this call for papers, our aim is to highlight the need to further our understanding about what might be new paradigms for cultivating the innovation development along the new Silk Road that connects innovation leaders and catch-uppers in Europe and Asia, and how these innovation activities along the new Silk Road can be propelled. We can identify several themes associated with research questions, which include (but are surely not limited to):
- The new nature (ways) of R&D diffusion along the new Silk Road:
- What do R&D networks and knowledge diffusion in the new Silk Road look like, and how do they complement or substitute other R&D networks or knowledge flows?
- What are new open innovation mechanisms that cultivate the R&D development of the new Silk Road?
- Do new frameworks empower R&D development along the new Silk Road?
- New R&D opportunities to catch in the context of the new Silk Road:
- How can the new Silk Road help to identify new opportunities for the development the R&D networks?
- How can the new Silk Road help to identify new opportunities in knowledge diffusion?
- What is the new role of open innovation, as leverage, the new Silk Road?
- The role of the new Silk Road policies for enabling the R&D development:
- What is the role of the new Silk Road in enabling the R&D networks and knowledge diffusion between innovation actors?
- How does the nature of R&D development in the new Silk Road differ from other types of innovation development?
- Methodological and empirical opportunities of studying the R&D development in the new Silk Road:
- How to analyse the R&D networks and knowledge diffusion and their evolution in terms of their boundaries, leverage, scope, structure and dynamics?
- What are novel ways of examining the co-evolution in the new Silk Road context (multi-method and big data-driven approaches)?
- Which actionable research designs could enable both theory building and practical development?
The special issue strongly encourages the submission of paper focused and robust from the empirical perspective. The contributions in the special issue have to enrich the literature and the debate on R&D Management issues identifying strong managerial and policy implications.
- September 15, 2019: Submission deadline for papers submitted to R&D Management.
(please clearly indicate the special issue “Framing the new Silk Road of innovation”)
- October or November 2019: (optional to be confirmed) Special Issue Workshop in Tsinghua University
- (Expected) September 15, 2020: Submission of selected and reviewed papers to the Editorial-in-Chief for publication.
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 The Silk Road refers to both the terrestrial and the maritime routes connecting Asia with the Middle East and southern Europe, and this “New Silk Road” also includes a land-based silk road and an ocean-based maritime economic belt – so it is called “One Belt One Road” in Chinese context. (wikipedia.org)