Knowledge Entrepreneurship in Universities – Practice and Strategy in the Case of Internet Based Innovation Appropriation
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
PhD programme on the Information and Knowledge Society
Dr. der Philosophie
Erstbetreuung: Dr. Josep M. Duart, Profesor de la UOC
Zweitbetreuung: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter Baumgartner
Eingereicht: September, 21. 2007
Verteidigt: Dezember 2007
The thesis argues that knowledge entrepreneurship is a cogent and apt argument to frame the idea of the university in the 21st century. This is true because it combines the positive creative destruction of entrepreneurship but also acknowledges the socio-transformational mandate of universities (and education as a whole). Knowledge entrepreneurship is found to consist of an entrepreneurial mindset coupled with gestell (infra-structure). These are the necessary components to develop the capacity to constantly exploit the strategic opportunities for innovation (as has been described in the case of internet based innovation appropriation). The work finds the assessment that “less than 15 per cent of universities had a long-term strategy on how to integrate new technology” (Warden, 2004) made in 2004 by the chairman of the Spanish Rectors’
Information Technology Working Group still to be true for Europe in 2007.
The work elaborates on the physical and meta-physical conditions that can help universities to address this deficiency.
The debate about the entrepreneurial university “is strongly polarized” and one of the original contributions of this research is that it develops a novel – potentially consensual – normative position: Traditional (economic) entrepreneurship (technology transfer, spin-off and company creation, etc.) is not criticized, but rather set in perspective against the core mandate of the university, which is to deliver knowledge products and services. Hence, it is argued that knowledge entrepreneurship allows universities to reap the positive effects of the vitalizing qualities of the entrepreneurial spirit, while not falling into the neo-liberal ‘education as business’ trap. As such, it is a constructive contribution because rather than arguing against, or for ‘entrepreneurial universities,’ it attempts to reframe ‘entrepreneurial’ to become more adequate in the academic context.
According to the findings, two interdependent conditions are needed to enable knowledge entrepreneurship in universities.
First the university needs to develop a knowledge entrepreneurial mindset. A philosophical model of a knowledge entrepreneurial mindset has been developed and illustrated using the cases investigated. It contains the following four attractors: (1) an internal locus of control, (2) a set of values that construct the entity’s teleology, (3) pragmatism ensuring a
focus on realization and learning by doing (cybernetic) optimisation, and (4) ethics and sustainability have to make up a central attractor to ensure long-term feasibility, (this fosters social acceptance as well as triggers self-reflection and subsequent differentiation).
The second aspect that needs to be present to enable knowledge entrepreneurship in universities is a supporting infrastructure embodying and therefore enabling the implementation of the mindset. The key elements of what Heidegger called the gestell are: (a) a governance structure that allows for distributed leadership and spielraum (leverage) for actors to be opportunistic; (b) a wide variety of space for knowledge activities and informal spaces are also singled out as providing fertile ground for opportunities to emerge; (c) the definition and institutionalisation of entrepreneurship support functions as observed at the UPCnet innovation team; and finally, the traditionally prioritized subjects of investigation (d) resources in the form of human-, political- and financial-capital. Naming them last does not neglect their importance, but acknowledges that entrepreneurial thinking is not primarily bounded by resources, but rather by challenges.
The question how universities integrate internet based innovations was the leitmotiv of the case studies: Three approaches are described . None of which seemed naturally superior. Rather, each approach was a historic result embedded in the organisational context. It is assessed that the lack of an established theoretic paradigm and the heterogeneity of approaches resulted in findings suggestive of the conclusion that optimal practice depends, above all, upon the specific internal and external context of the specific organisation.
The following phenomena have been found across the cases and are hence suitable for generalization:
- Strategy: While two universities did have IT strategies and two did not, in none of the cases was innovation a defined activity. What was treated was always the instance and not the constant phenomenon.
- Practice: While there is an extensive heterogeneity amongst user propensity and freedom to engage in knowledge entrepreneurship, nowhere is internet based innovation appropriation supported for individuals. All universities have created a specialized institution with the exclusive mandate to promote e-learning.
- The benefits of e-learning are used complementarily to traditional educational practices.
- The potential for e-research is not yet adequately identified.
Overall the research represents a truly trans-disciplinary approach encompassing hands-on results for the practitioner that are in harmony with the meta-physical and phenomenological positions developed. As a whole the text represents a well rounded proposition for the idea of the university in the knowledge society particularly regarding the challenge to exploit the constantly emerging opportunities to improve practices.