Science and Technology Parks in Italy

Science and Technology Parks in Italy

This contribution is aimed at summarizing a few theoretical considerations concerning the Italian Science and Technology Parks, drawing from my post-doctoral research (April, 1 2011-March 31, 2013). I have discussed these insights on the occasion of the 4S-EASST 2012 Conference (Copenhagen, Denmark, October 17-20 2012), in the stream “Design challenges of working and organizing in technologically dense environments”.

My project was aimed at inquiring – from a Science and Technology Studies (STS) perspective – into the role of Science and Technology Parks in the ecology of innovation at the national level.

The IASP (International Association of Science Parks) defines them as follow: “A Science Park is an organisation managed by specialised professionals, whose main aim is to increase the wealth of its community by promoting the culture of innovation and the competitiveness of its associated businesses and knowledge-based institutions. To meet these goals, a Science Park stimulates and manages the flow of knowledge and technology amongst universities, R&D institutions, companies, and markets; it facilitates the creation and growth of innovation-based companies through incubation and spin-off processes. Furthermore, it provides other value-added services together with high quality space and facilities” (IASP website, retrieved: 6 February 2012).

Specifically, my research was focused on Italian Science and Technology Parks (STPs), thinking of them in terms of innovation intermediaries or innomediaries (Sawhney at al. 2003), and information infrastructures (Star 1999). This perspective has opened to an ecological understanding of these complex organizations. In this sense, the object of my research was to do a sort of “infrastructural inversion” (Bowker & Star 1999) recognizing the sociomaterial texture of organizing (Cooper & Fox 1990) and knowing (Brown & Duguid 2001) into the STPs.

I have considered six Italian Parks that embody six successful stories: the Science and Technology Parks Kilomentro Rosso (Bergamo), the AREA Science Park (Trieste), The VEGA-Venice Gateway for Science and Technology (Venezia), the Toscana Life Sciences (Siena), the Technology Park of Lodi Cluster (Lodi), and the Technology Park of Navacchio (Pisa). I have interviewed 34 actors (8 exploratory interviews with experts on this topic; 5 interviews with managers of academic Industrial Liaison Offices; 6 interviews with the CEOs of the case-studies; 5 interviews with each Incubator manager – taking into account that one Park doesn’t have an Incubator; 10 interviews with the founders of the academic spin-offs localised into the Parks). This selection is based on the typology of STPs. Generally, an STP may be cross-thematic or thematic: in this research I have selected three cross-thematic parks and three thematic parks. I have selected the case-studies also in relation to the shareholding: a park may have a public character (in this research I have considered one public case), a private character (in this research I have considered one private case) or mixed character (in this research I have considered four mixed cases). Selecting these case studies, I have paid attention to the internal presence of different academic spin-offs. As a matter of fact, looking at the heterogeneity of academic tenants (Mustar et al. 2006) is one possible way to see the STPs as innovation intermediaries that work across boundaries (Carlile 2004).

Generally speaking, parks routinely deal with (human and non-human) actors that arise from different social worlds (Becker 1982). In relation to this situated origin, the actors pose multiple, often conflicting demands (Suchman 2000), giving rise to important controversies for instance about how to manage knowledge across boundaries, that is how to convert academic research into commercial innovation. This specific type of controversy is typical of the spin-offs’ stories arising from my interviews. Typically, in these stories you have on one side a professor or a researcher who wants to create a spin-off company, mainly to support or improve his/her academic research activities, and on the other side you have different antagonistic voices that stress the relevance of a non-academic management for the spin-off because it is a private company needing such entrepreneurial guidance.

The aim of the parks is that of bridging a gap among heterogeneous actors: mainly, the universities and researchers, the industrial liaison offices of the universities, the industry and private property owners, the public interest agencies, the other tenants localised into the park. Then, the innovation intermediaries should reconcile multiple viewpoints and social worlds (Gerson & Star 1986), articulating different levels of work organization in order to construct a “doable” problem (Fujimura 1987). For instance looking at the academic spin-offs as tenants, a “doable problem” may be generated by a successful process of translation (Callon 1991) that aligns the academic research with market via the incubator of the park. In this case the incubator is the intermediary and the specific park is the sociomaterial network where the incubator acts. According to Callon (1991) “quite minimal changes may transform intermediaries into actors, or actors back into intermediaries (…) Either you focus on the group itself, and go on further, in which case you have an actor. Or you pass through it into the networks that lie beyond, and you have a simple intermediary” (p.142).

In this sense you begin to see the relational nature of the park, which is the park as an infrastructure. According to Star (1999), infrastructure is “a fundamentally relational concept, becoming real infrastructure in relation to organized practices” (p.380). A helpful trick for “reading” infrastructure lies in identifying the master narrative: “this voice speaks unconsciously from the presumed centre of things” (Star 1999, p. 384). In the case of Italian STPs, the master narrative may be identified with the APSTI-Association of Italian Scientific and Technological Parks. Applying an ecological approach (Star & Griesemer 1989), this particular vision does not have an ontological priority, but taking it into account allows us to understand the political and cultural background where the Italian STPs act or should act as actors and/or innovation intermediaries.

Even if this research is formally expired, I am considering it as an ongoing project because the analysis of documents and interviews may be deepened in different respects.

The arising knowledge is promising as the STS perspective offers a further understanding of the role of Science and Technology Parks in the ecology of innovation. The findings in the studies of Science and Technology Parks point to the need for further study and consider mediating, articulating or moderating factors. Other important avenues for future research should problematize the science park as a crucial actor for innovation system. A few pioneering studies have moved further in their attempt to reveal what resides inside the black box. Then, I maintain that the infrastructural inversion is a way to open a black box such as a Science and Technology Park but it could be a promising methodology also for other technological dense environments.

Becker, H. S. (1982) Art Worlds, University of California Press, Berkeley.
Bowker G. C. & Star S. L. (1999) Sorting things out. Classification and its consequences, Cambridge, MIT Press.
Brown J.S. & Duguid P. (2001) “Knowledge and Organization: A Social-Practice Perspective”, Organization Science, 12(2), pp. 198-213.
Callon M. (1991) “Techno-economic Networks and Irreversibility”, in J. Law (ed.) A Sociology of Monsters? Essays on Power, Technology and Domination, pp. 132-161.
Carlile P.R. (2004) “Transferring, Translating, and Transforming: An Integrative Framework for Managing”, Organization Science, 15(5), pp. 555-568.
Cooper, R. & Fox, S. (1990) “The «Texture» of Organizing”, Journal of Management Studies, 27:6, pp. 575- 582.
Fujimura J.H. (1987) “ ‘Do-Able’ Problems in Cancer Research: Articulating Alignement”, Social Studies of Science, 17(2), pp. 257-293.
Gerson E. M. & Star S. L. (1986) “Analysing Due Process in the Workplace”, ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems, 4(3), pp. 257-270.
Mustar, P.; Renault, M.; Colombo, M.; Piva; E., Fontes, M.; Lockett, A.; Wright, M.; Clarysse, B. & Moray, N. (2006) “Conceptualising the heterogeneity of research-based spin-offs: A multi-dimensional taxonomy”, Research Policy, 35, pp. 289-308.
Sawhney M., Prandelli E. & Verona G. (2003) “The Power of Innomediation”, MIT Sloan Management Review, winter, pp. 77-82.
Star S.L. (1999) “The Ethnography of Infrastructure”, American Behavioural Scientist, 43(3), pp. 377-391.
Star S. L. & Griesemer J. R. (1989), “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39”, Social Studies of Science, 19, pp. 387-420.
Suchman L. (2000) “Organizing Alignment: A case of Bridge-Building”, Organization, 7(2), pp. 311-327.

Web Sites: IASP- International Association of Science Parks

Contact address:
Michela Cozza, Phd
Department of Sociology and Social Research
University of Trento-ITALY
Via Verdi 26, 38122