New Roles for Supporting Organizations in Clusters: Enhancing Connectedness in Knowledge Networks

  • Jose Antonio Belso-MartinezEmail author
  • Maria Jose Lopez-Sanchez
  • Rosario Mateu-Garcia
Part of the Advances in Spatial Science book series (ADVSPATIAL)


In today’s context of economic crisis, certain structures such as industrial clusters have been forced to change in order to remain competitive. For years, local supporting organizations have been focused on strengthening cluster networks, providing specialized services, and fostering innovation practices. Nowadays, thanks to their increasing connectivity, supporting organizations have become hybridizers and catalyzers of knowledge that spreads among local firms after an intense process of refinement. Acting as mediators between local firms and gatekeepers of extra-cluster knowledge, they smooth firms’ access to fresh knowledge and nourish the innovativeness of the system. Using data collected in the Toy Valley cluster during 2014, this chapter looks at the mechanisms allowing supporting organizations to successfully diffuse knowledge and pays attention to these two in-between positions. In line with previous research, findings corroborate the particular relevance of facilitators of knowledge. However, important differences emerge when considering the profile of the local organization and the type of knowledge shared.


Clusters SME’s Supporting organizations Networks Gatekeepers 


  1. Ahuja, G. (2000). Collaboration networks, structural holes, and innovation: A longitudinal study. Administrative Science Quarterly, 45(3), 425–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alberti, F. G., & Pizzurno, E. (2015). Knowledge exchanges in innovation networks: Evidences from an Italian aerospace cluster. Competitiveness Review, 25(3), 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Audretsch, D. B., & Feldman, M. P. (1996). R&D spillovers and the geography of innovation and production. American Economic Review, 86, 630–640.Google Scholar
  4. Balland, P. A., Belso-Martínez, J. A., & Morrison, A. (2016). The dynamics of technical and business knowledge networks in industrial clusters: Embeddedness, status or proximity? Economic Geography, 92(1), 35–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bathelt, H., Malmberg, A., & Maskell, P. (2004). Clusters and knowledge: Local buzz, global pipelines and the process of knowledge creation. Progress in Human Geography, 28(1), 31–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belso Martínez, J. A., & Escolano Asensi, C. V. (2009). La externalización de actividades como estrategia competitiva en el sector juguetero español. Consideraciones desde la perspectiva espacial. Economía Industrial, (372), 115–127.Google Scholar
  7. Belso-Martínez, J. A., Molina-Morales, F. X., & Martínez-Cháfer, L. (2015). Contributions of brokerage roles to firms’ innovation in a confectionery cluster. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 27(9), 1014–1030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boari, C., & Lipparini, A. (1999). Networks within industrial districts - organising knowledge creation and transfer by means of moderate hierarchies. Journal of Management & Governance, 3(4), 339–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boari, C., Molina-Morales, F. X., & Martínez-Cháfer, L. (2016). Direct and interactive effects of brokerage roles on innovation in clustered firms. Growth and Change, 48(3), 336–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boix, R., & Galletto, V. (2006). Sistemas industriales de trabajo y distritos industriales marshallianos en España. Economía Industrial, 165–184.Google Scholar
  11. Boschma, R. A., & ter Wal, A. L. J. (2007). Knowledge networks and innovative performance in an industrial district: The case of a Footwear District in the south of Italy. Industry and Innovation, 14, 177–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Buckley, P. J., et al. (2009). Knowledge accession and knowledge acquisition in strategic alliances: The impact of supplementary and complementary dimensions. British Journal of Management, 20(4), 598–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burt, R. S. (1992). Structural holes: The social structure of competition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Burt, R. S. (1997). The contingent value of social capital. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42(2), 339–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Butts, C. T. (2007). Permutation models for relational data. Sociological Methodology, 37(1), 257–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Casanueva, C., Castro, I., & Galán, J. L. (2013). Informational networks and innovation in mature industrial clusters. Journal of Business Research, 66(5), 603–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Clarke, I., & Ramirez, M. (2014). Intermediaries and capability building in “emerging” clusters. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 32(4), 714–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dahl, M. S., & Pedersen, C. Ø. R. (2004). Knowledge flows through informal contacts in industrial clusters: Myth or reality? Research Policy, 33(10), 1673–1686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). The Academy of Management Review, 14, 532–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gagné, M., et al. (2010). Technology cluster evaluation and growth factors: Literature review. Research Evaluation, 19(2), 82–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Giuliani, E. (2007). The selective nature of knowledge networks in clusters: Evidence from the wine industry. Journal of Economic Geography, 7(2), 139–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Giuliani, E. (2011). Role of technological gatekeepers in the growth of industrial clusters: Evidence from Chile. Regional Studies, 45, 1329–1348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Giuliani, E., & Bell, M. (2005). The micro-determinants of meso-level learning and innovation: Evidence from a Chilean wine cluster. Research Policy, 34(1), 47–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gould, R. V., & Fernandez, R. M. (1989). Structures of mediation: A formal approach to brokerage in transaction networks. Sociological Methodology, 19, 89–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Graf, H. (2011). Gatekeepers in regional networks of innovators. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 35, 173–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Graf, H., & Krüger, J. J. (2011). The performance of gatekeepers in innovator networks. Industry & Innovation, 18, 69–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hargadon, A. B. (1998). Firms as knowledge brokers : Lessons in pursuing continuous innovation. California Management Review, 40(3), 209–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hargadon, A.B., 2002. Brokering knowledge: Linking learning and innovation,Google Scholar
  29. Hargadon, A., & Sutton, R. I. (1997). Technology brokering and innovation in a product development firm. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42(4), 716–749.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hernández Sancho, F. (2004). El sector del juguete: caracterización sectorial y dinámica productiva. Economía Industrial, 345–354.Google Scholar
  31. Hervás Oliver, J. L., et al. (2015). La necesidad de las cadenas de valor globales para evitar inercias cognitivas en clusters: el caso del Valle del Juguete-Plástico en Alicante. Economía Industrial, (397), 37–46.Google Scholar
  32. Hervas-Oliver, J.-L., & Albors-Garrigos, J. (2014). Are technology gatekeepers renewing clusters? Understanding gatekeepers and their dynamics across cluster life cycles. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 26(5–6), 431–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Holmström, M. (2006). Globalisation and good work: Impiva, a Spanish project to regenerate industrial districts. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 97, 491–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Howells, J. (2006). Intermediation and the role of intermediaries in innovation. Research Policy, 35(5), 715–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Inkpen, A. C., & Tsang, E. W. K. (2005). Social capital, networks, and knowledge transfer. The Academy of Management Review, 30(1), 146–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kauffeld-Monz, M., & Fritsch, M. (2013). Who are the knowledge brokers in regional systems of innovation? A multi-actor network analysis. Regional Studies, 47(5), 669–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kirkels, Y., & Duysters, G. (2010). Brokerage in SME networks. Research Policy, 39, 375–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lazerson, M. H., & Lorenzoni, G. (1999). The firms that feed industrial districts: A return to the Italian source. Industrial and Corporate Change, 8(2), 235–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lee, S., et al. (2010). Open innovation in SMEs-an intermediated network model. Research Policy, 39(2), 290–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lissoni, F. (2010). Academic inventors as brokers. Research Policy, 39, 843–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Maskell, P. (2001). Towards a knowledge-based theory of the geographical cluster. Industrial and Corporate Change, 10(4), 921–943.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Maskell, P., & Malmberg, A. (1999). Localised learning and industrial competitiveness. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 23, 167–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. McDermott, G. a., Corredoira, R. a., & Kruse, G. (2009). Public-private institutions as catalysts of upgrading in emerging market societies. Academy of Management Journal, 52(6), 1270–1296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McEvily, B., & Zaheer, A. (1999). Bridging ties: A source of firm heterogeneity in competitive capabilities. Strategic Management Journal, 20, 1133–1156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mesquita, L. F. (2007). Starting over when the bickering never ends: Rebuilding aggregate trust among clustered firms through trust facilitators. Academy of Management Review, 32(1), 72–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Miller, C. C., Cardinal, L. B., & Glick, W. H. (1997). Retrospective reports in organizational research: A reexamination of recent evidence. Academy of Management Journal, 40(1), 189–204.Google Scholar
  47. Molina-Morales, F. X. (2005). The territorial agglomerations of firms: A social capital perspective from the Spanish tile industry. Growth and Change, 36(1), 74–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Molina-Morales, F. X., Belso-Martinez, J. A., & Mas-Verdú, F. (2016). Interactive effects of internal brokerage activities in clusters: The case of the Spanish Toy Valley. Journal of Business Research, 69(5), 1785–1790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Molina-Morales, F. X., & Expósito-Langa, M. (2013). Overcoming undesirable knowledge redundancy in territorial clusters. Industry & Innovation, 20(8), 739–758.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Molina-Morales, F. X., & Martínez-Cháfer, L. (2016). Cluster firms: You’ll never walk alone. Regional Studies, 50(5), 877–893.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Montoro Sánchez, Á., & Díez Vial, I. (2016). Redes de conocimiento local e internacionalización: el papel de los gatekeepers en los parques cienticos. Economia Industrial, 397, 73–81.Google Scholar
  52. Morrison, A. (2008). Gatekeepers of knowledge within industrial districts: Who are they, how do they interact. Regional Studies, 42, 817–835.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Morrison, A., & Rabellotti, R. (2009). Knowledge and information networks in an Italian wine cluster. European Planning Studies, 17, 983–1006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Munari, F., Sobrero, M., & Malipiero, A. (2012). Absorptive capacity and localized spillovers: Focal firms as technological gatekeepers in industrial districts. Industrial and Corporate Change, 21(2), 429–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Nooteboom, B. (2003). Problemas and solutions in knowledge transfer. In D. Fornahl & T. Brenner (Eds.), Cooperation, networks and institutions in regional innovation systems (pp. 105–127). Northampton: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  56. Nooteboom, B. (2008). Learning and innovation in interorganizational relationships. In S. Cropper, M. Ebers, C. Huxham, & P. S. Ring (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of inter-organizational relations (pp. 1–43). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Owen-Smith, J., & Powell, W. W. (2004). Knowledge networks as channels and conduits: The effects of spillovers in the Boston biotechnology community. Organization Science, 15(1), 5–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Phelps, C., Heidl, R., & Wadhwa, A. (2012). Knowledge, networks, and knowledge networks: A review and research agenda. Journal of Management, 38(4), 1115–1166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Randelli, F., & Lombardi, M. (2014). The role of leading firms in the evolution of SME clusters: Evidence from the leather products cluster in Florence. European Planning Studies, 22(6), 1199–1211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sammarra, A., & Biggiero, L. (2008). Heterogeneity and specificity of inter-firm knowledge flows in innovation networks. Journal of Management Studies, 45(4), 800–829.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Schamp, E. W., Rentmeister, B., & Lo, V. (2004). Dimensions of proximity in knowledge-based networks: The cases of investment banking and automobile design. European Planning Studies, 12(5), 607–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schoenmakers, W., & Duysters, G. (2006). Learning in strategic technology alliances. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 18(2), 245–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shipilov, A. V. (2006). Network strategies and performance of Canadian investment banks. Academy of Management Journal, 49, 590–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shipilov, A. V., & Li, S. X. (2008). Can you have your cake and eat it too? Structural holes’ influence on status accumulation and market performance in collaborative networks. Administrative Science Quarterly, 53(1), 73–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Smith-doerr, L., & Powell, W. W. (2005). Networks and economic life. In N. Smelser & R. Sweberg (Eds.), Handbook of economic sociology (pp. 379–402). Princeton University Press: Princeton.Google Scholar
  66. Stam, W. (2010). Industry event participation and network brokerage among entrepreneurial ventures. Journal of Management Studies, 47(June), 625–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Verona, G. (2006). Innovation and virtual environments: Towards virtual knowledge brokers. Organization Studies, 27(6), 765–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Vicente, J., Balland, P. a., & Brossard, O. (2011). Getting into networks and clusters: Evidence from the midi-Pyrenean global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) collaboration network. Regional Studies, 45(8), 1059–1078.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wolfe, D., & Gertler, M. (2004). Clusters from the inside and out: Local dynamics and global linkages. Urban Studies, 41, 1071–1093.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Ybarra Pérez, J. A., & Santa María Beneyto, M. J. (2006). El sector del juguete en España: dinámica y estrategias productivas ante el proceso de globalización. Boletín Económico de ICE, 21–33.Google Scholar
  71. Zaheer, A., & Bell, G. G. (2005). Benefiting from network position: Firm capabilities, structural holes, and performance. Strategic Management Journal, 26(9), 809–825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jose Antonio Belso-Martinez
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maria Jose Lopez-Sanchez
    • 1
  • Rosario Mateu-Garcia
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Economic and Financial StudiesUniversity Miguel HernandezElcheSpain

Personalised recommendations