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Networks: a best practice guide


The role of networking is viewed as a useful tool in allowing businesses to explore new ideas, find new customers and suppliers and share knowledge and collaborate. Networks can cover a range of activities, including sectoral groups, trade associations, clusters or geographic networks. This report aimed to highlight some key elements to consider when working with, and supporting business networks. The review looked in particular at the topics of: strong purpose; leadership and ownership; and the measurement of networks.


The methodology consisted of a review of good practice from previous case studies and past experiences in working with innovation networks to stimulate growth.


The report finds that the more specific the objectives of a network, the more clearly it can be shown to have made progress, to attract new companies to engage and to maintain a strong network, which delivers benefits for its participants. However, once public sector support is withdrawn, and unless there is ownership from industry to drive the network, it is unlikely that the network will survive in the longer term. As a network matures, the role of the public sector may change to support specific projects or activities. A network facilitator can: be proactive in identifying areas of interest for the participants; bring together relevant parties for potential collaboration; and act as a neutral figure acting on the collective behalf of the network, especially when normally competing companies are engaged. Over a period of time, there is a danger that a network becomes too 'comfortable', and therefore no longer innovative. For a network to thrive, there needs to be a balance between co-operation and competition. There are a number of ways to measure the impact of a network, and a combination of methods can be used to gather a wide range of evidence.


The report suggests that, when working with networking programmes, it is important: to establish a strong purpose for the network with which all participants can engage; that companies have to see a good return on their investment to continue to be involved; to ensure a strong industry ownership for the network, to help drive the agenda and build credibility; that the facilitator has an important role in brokering new relationships and helping to build trust; to continually refresh the members of a network to make sure it keeps an innovative edge; and to measure success (whether the achievement of objectives, tangible business benefits or the progress on the collaborative journey) in order to help to show the benefit of networks.

Author EKOS Limited
Published Year 2011
Report Type Research
  • Enterprise
    Support to existing/growth businesses