Developing capability through learning networks

Bessant, John; Kaplinsky, Raphael and Morris, Mike (2003). Developing capability through learning networks. International Journal of Technology Management and Sustainable Development, 2(1) pp. 19–38.



There is widespread recognition that firms need continuous upgrading of their operations and capabilities to be able to retain a competitive edge in a highly uncertain market environment. This raises questions about the mechanisms available for them to learn and develop capability. One area of topical enquiry is that of inter-firm learning. For individual firms, the advantages of learning in a network context include access to the experiences of others and peer-group support, reduction of risks in R&D experimentation, and the potential for creativity and innovation arising as a response to competitive challenges. Examples of such network configurations can be found in regional clusters, sector groupings, heterogeneous groups sharing a common topic of interest, user groups concerned with learning around a particular technology or its application and in supply-chain learning. Learning in such configurations does not, however, take place automatically. This paper addresses some of the management challenges involved in setting up and nurturing learning networks. It draws particularly on a case of a learning network in the timber products industry in South Africa.

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