An Investigation of Social and Economic Aspects of Structural Embeddedness in an ICT Research Network Based in the European Union

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The objective of this research is to investigate social and economic aspects of structural embeddedness in an ICT research network based in the European Union. This research adopts a case study approach examining an EU funded research network, called AquaSmart1 (Aquaculture Smart and Open Data Analytics as a Service). It is a high-tech2 information communication technology (ICT) network funded by the EU Horizon 2020 research programme over the period 2016-2018. AquaSmart is using ICT to improve its data utilization and operations. The collaborative European funded research and development landscape has changed in recent years. Funding competitiveness and compulsory public private partnership (PPP) has significantly altered the dynamics of research networks, how they operate, collaborate, and acquire new knowledge and products. The emergence of the academic entrepreneur has also changed the focus of educational institutions to that of quasi-businesses (Etzkowitz, 2003; Perkmann et al., 2013; Bolzani et al., 2014). Consequently, there is an emerging gap between research and market adoption, and university-industry relations and commercialization (Maughan et al., 2013; Perkmann et al., 2013; Bozeman et al., 2013). Thus, these, research networks provide a rich setting to analyse structural embeddedness. Structural embeddedness refers to the nature of relationships, links and nodes within a network, specifically their structure, configuration and quality. The effects of network embeddedness are recognized in the literature as pertinent to innovation and the economy (Gilsing et al., 2008; Owen-Smith and Powell, 2004; Rowley et al., 2000). Central to this research are the theories of Granovetter (1973), Burt (2009), Coleman (1988) and Bourdieu (2011), who present dyadic arguments for structural and relational embeddedness. Thus, there is an opportunity to investigate the core research network within a research project to further our understanding of the social and economic aspects of structural embeddedness. An initial paper (Paper 1) presented in this series presented a conceptualisation of structural network embeddedness. A methodological design paper (Paper 2) and an initial findings paper (Paper 3) followed. The final paper (Paper 4) in the paper series details the full research findings through the phases of description, analysis and synthesis offering insights for this context. The research presents significant findings divided into three major themes; Structural Embeddedness Composition; Economic Aspects and Social Aspects. The significance of the findings are presented within the thesis and briefly stated here. The identification of a positive role for weak ties and structural holes in the AquaSmart network. It is evident that diversity of the industry focus initially created tensions in the AquaSmart network but also contributed significantly to the network output. The results show that the depth of interpersonal relationships and cultivation of friendships had a positive impact on research output and network satisfaction. Competition in the network configuration had a negative impact on research output. Industry jargon and trust during network incubation illustrated a lag in network cohesion and increased network tensions. Openness and trust were explicitly boosted at events where network individuals had an opportunity for informal dinners, breaks and exercise. The challenges encountered in the network were impacted by the quality and configuration of inter-relationships. The effect of network formation and prior relationships was significant. Trust within the network emerged as both an enabler and a barrier. The research contributes to theory in three ways, it provides rich qualitative insights and guidelines in relation to structural embeddedness and network member roles in research networks. It provides evidence to highlight the challenges encountered by the network in relation to language and jargon. It suggests measures toward resolution of language ambiguity. The research gives insight to Competitive nodes within the network and proposes actions to recognise and manage the challenges of EU Open Data Policy. The contribution to practice highlights the importance of network formation with guidelines for network structure, configuration and composition, assessment of implementation challenges post grant award, and longitudinal nature of research networks. It also provides recommendations for intra-network challenges in relation to open data, competition, friendships and competency enhancement. The limitations of study include resource constraints, timeframes for scheduling data collection, opportunity for generalising findings and the use of a single network as the research dataset. This study presents recommendations for future studies to include monitoring research impact beyond the formal network funding period, exploration of network reuse (appropriability) and network hopping. Additionally, it suggests future work to consider research policy for research networks, friendships and personal relationships in research networks and research entrepreneurs.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Duane, Aidan, Supervisor
  • O'Driscoll, Aiden, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Structural embeddedness, Social aspects, Economic aspects


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