Technology Transfer through High Technology Corridors : A Study of Multi-agency Partnership Learning.

Brown, Helen (2005) Technology Transfer through High Technology Corridors : A Study of Multi-agency Partnership Learning. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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The research explores the implementation of a 'technology transfer' policy in High Technology Corridors (HTCs), which responded to a critical incident in the West Midlands. The policy was a direct result of the crisis at the Rover Automotive Plant in 1999, when it was threatened by possible closure with the potential loss of 27,000 jobs. This was a catalyst for the region to change from dependence on traditional manufacturing by developing a regional 'knowledge economy'. HTC policy was based on the premise that change would happen by bringing together communities of business 'users' and research 'developers' with no prior history of working together. My research challenges current theories and tacit assumptions about how complex business and university multi-agency partnerships 'work in practice'. Expansive learning theory is an evocative heuristic device that has been used in recent studies of innovation in complex organisations. It is applied in this study of multi agency learning because it frames the relationships between individual and collective subject perspectives. Human relationships are mediated by tools, social rules and divisions of labour orientated towards an object of activity and collaborative outcomes. Three hierarchical levels of policy enactment evolved during the implementation process, but because this happened in an ad hoc way, mechanisms to link the levels were not fully considered. My research reconstructed HTC as meta-activity systems, or networks in which sub activity systems collide and interact in two dimensions. Collaboration between experts involves crossing horizontal boundaries between activity systems. Special tools called boundary objects can link communities with no previous experience of working together. They act as bridges across the horizontal boundaries between activity systems, separating different cultural practices. They enable people operating at the same level to learn from one another by expanding the 'object of their activity' towards collaborative activities. In the HTCs, boundary objects such as web sites, act as tools or bridges across cultures to mediate between individuals and groups from different 'communities' or activity systems. However there is a gap in theory because collaboration does not adequately describe learning between levels. The vertical communication between activity systems is impeded by boundaries defined by political power and agency. Vertical boundaries between activity systems separate three levels of HTC policy enactment and these resist movement between levels. These boundaries restrict the upward flow of communication from the operational to strategic levels so feedback from the micro HTC project level cannot percolate to the more powerful upper levels. To overcome barriers special people act as boundary mediators or human bridges spanning the vertical boundaries between levels. Yet mediation and the capacity to travel freely between levels is successful only if the individual acting as a boundary mediator is recognised as a member of the strategic macro level of HTC policy enactment. My research suggests that multi-agency learning has horizontal and vertical dynamics that are not yet fully conceptualised in expansive learning theory. An appreciation of the impact of power as a structural constraint to multi-agency learning is relevant to the enactment of similar policy initiatives elsewhere.

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Thesis (PhD)
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02 May 2019 16:29
Last Modified:
31 Mar 2024 01:32