Public Support to Learning Networks in Europe: Critical Needs and Policy Issues

Papaioannou, Theo and Tsekouras, G. (2001). Public Support to Learning Networks in Europe: Critical Needs and Policy Issues. European Commission, Innovation Unit, DG Enterprise, Luxembourg.



The concept of learning networks is relatively new and refers to networks where structures have
been formally established to increase participants’ innovative capability.
The second benchmarking workshop focused on three types of learning networks: the “Cooperator”;
the “Science Park and Innovation Centre”; and the “Local Regional Developer”.
Another typology was also introduced in the workshop, according to which there are two main
dimensions to classify learning networks: the degree of similarity of participants and the degree
of learning focus.
The workshop participants agreed that there are two stages in the life-time of learning networks:
the first is the set up stage in which the network defines things like its learning area and its
operational structure; the second is the operation stage in which the network delivers it services.
Learning networks appear to have eight critical needs. These needs are: developing a clear
objective and identity; support during the set up stage; attracting and committing members to the
network; leadership qualities; financial needs; information availability and communication
ability; management and access to knowledge; evaluation of learning network’s processes.
The most critical aspects of public support to learning networks were brought out by the
discussion. These aspects are: criteria of public support to learning networks; requirements for
supporting learning networks; framework conditions with emphasis on a supportive
infrastructure; mechanisms for providing financial support to learning networks; transformation
of existing networks into learning networks and the role of ‘real services’; encouraging
international networking; evaluation of public support and the learning networks impact to
economy; fading away public support and the issue of self-efficiency.
These critical aspects reveal two emerging models of public support to learning networks. The
first is the ‘hands off’ model according to which the policy takes care of the framework
conditions, leaving the ownership of the network to its participants. The second is the
‘partnership’ model that favours a bigger involvement of the public sector in supporting the
formation and development of learning networks.
The discussion concluded by pointing out that learning networks are just one innovation tool and
they should be supported by the public policy only if there are clear learning objectives and aims.

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