3. Innovation networks in the ocean economy

The objective of Chapter 3 is to gain an initial understanding of the role that collaboration plays in fostering innovation for the ocean economy. In particular, the OECD has assembled a set of case studies to explore how innovation network centres – in various marine/maritime sectors and diverse countries – organise collaboration among organisations of different types and the benefits achieved in doing so. This chapter presents the results of a survey of ten selected innovation networks in the ocean economy. Taking into account context-specific situations, some preliminary lessons learned on innovation networks for the ocean economy are drawn out for policy makers and practitioners. Further mapping of innovation networks will continue in 2019-20.


3.1. What are ocean economy innovation networks?

The growing pressure to balance growth in the ocean economy with improvements in the health of the marine environment is driving rapid changes in the structure of the ocean economy and its innovation landscape. The broad objective of this chapter is to examine the role that collaboration plays in fostering innovation for the ocean economy. Ocean economy innovation networks are but one construction through which such objectives are being realised and are the focus of this exploratory exercise.

3.1.1. Introducing the concept of innovation networks

The literature has long recognised that organisations do not innovate in isolation but co-operate with external partners throughout the innovation process. Collaborations for innovation may take multiple forms and the term “innovation network” has not been defined precisely as a result. Instead, a range of terminologies and definitions are used frequently and interchangeably depending on the context and specific arrangement under scrutiny. Box 3.1, for example, details the rise of global innovation networks among multinational enterprises.

Box 3.1. Multinational enterprises and their global innovation networks

Firms are at the core of many innovation processes (OECD, 2015[1]). The concept of the global innovation network emerged in the business management literature in the 1990s, as a growing number of multinational enterprises from diverse sectors began to internationalise their research and development (R&D) as a result of the globalisation of their operations. One reason for multinational enterprises to locate their R&D facilities abroad is to gain proximity to large and growing markets. Another important factor is access to new pools of engineers and researchers (OECD, 2008[2]). Furthermore, multinational firms have developed strategies to incentivise innovation by shifting away from firm-centric innovation models. New external networks have created links beyond subsidiaries and traditional partners to reach public research institutes, universities and business schools (Nambisan and Sawhney, 2011[3]). Recent OECD evidence points to the growing importance of these networks for innovative activities. Almost two-thirds of international co-inventions during the period 1995 to 2013 were directly linked to the R&D efforts of multinational enterprises, for example (OECD, 2017[4]).

An influential concept related to business innovation is “open innovation” (Chesbrough, 2003[5]). The term describes collaboration that goes beyond traditional supplier-client relationships and introduces firms to broader knowledge bases and new opportunities with less risk. Open innovation contrasts with innovation that is kept internally to a single organisation for the purpose of maintaining a competitive advantage over rivals – i.e. a “closed innovation” process.

One of the more general observations resulting from open innovation frameworks is that innovation can create significant value for actors beyond the innovating organisation. The core concept, again focusing on business communities, is captured by the term “shared-value creation” (Porter and Kramer, 2011[6]). The idea is that business functions best when business practice creates value for all stakeholders, through the satisfaction of immediate business interests but also broader societal and the environmental objectives. This increases the scope of open innovation to include a far broader set of actors, bringing together professionals from various sectors that share common interests and are guided primarily by the ethos of research and development. One driver for such multi-faceted collaboration, between public and private actors and within and between disciplines, could be that much applied research is necessary before the shared economic potential of many innovations is realised (OECD, 2015[1]).

The role that public organisations and policy have to play in nurturing collaboration within the innovation system is a key consideration to many and is, broadly speaking, the subject of this chapter. The OECD, for example, has considered the impact of public policy on innovation collaboration since at least the 1980s (Freeman, 1991[7]) and has investigated collaborations in many forms. Examples of the types of innovation collaborations studied include knowledge networks and markets (OECD, 2012[8]; OECD, 2013[9]), strategic public/private partnerships (OECD, 2008[2]; OECD, 2016[10]) and geographic clusters (OECD, 2009[11]; OECD, 2010[12]; OECD, 2014[13]). Most recently, the fourth edition of the Oslo Manual, the international reference for collecting and using data on innovation, includes guidelines on how to measure knowledge flows and their impacts in systems of innovation (OECD/Eurostat, 2018[14]).

In each incarnation of innovation network studied, different types of organisations collaborate by pooling knowledge and resources with the aim of achieving particular innovative outcomes. Universities and public research institutes, for example, play an increasingly important role in the open innovation strategies of firms both as a source of basic knowledge and as potential collaborators (OECD, 2008[15]). Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are typically involved as both beneficiaries of spill-overs from larger firms and sources of new ideas (Karlsson and Warda, 2014[16]).

There is therefore precedent to the study of innovation networks in the overall economy and a small number of previous studies have focused on innovation networks in the ocean economy in particular. The European Commission has, for example, considered the role of maritime clusters in supporting a productive ocean economy (EC DGMARE, 2008[17]). In North America, Doloreux and Melançon (2009[18]) look at innovation-support organisations in regional systems of marine science and technology in Canada. A review of maritime innovation networks in Denmark outlines several models of networks utilised by maritime industries, including informal, expert forum, publicly funded and horizontal structures (Perunovic´, Christoffersen and Fürstenberg, 2015[19]).

This chapter is focused, however, on ocean economy innovation networks with publicly (at least partially) funded organisations at their core. The roles and responsibilities of publicly funded organisations in innovation networks vary greatly but, in general, they often play a crucial role in designing networks and orchestrating their activities. There is evidence to suggest that public organisations perform this role more so than private firms, at least at regional levels (Kauffeld-Monz and Fritsch, 2013[20]). A useful framework for considering the role of such an organisation is provided by Dhanaraj and Parkhe (2006[21]). A network “orchestrator” conducts a set of actions on behalf of the rest of the innovation network including designing the network membership, structure and position, and managing various aspects of the network’s activities (Figure 3.1). The publicly (at least partially) funded network orchestrator in the networks studied in this chapter will be labelled “innovation network centres” herein.

Figure 3.1. A framework for orchestration in innovation networks

Source: Adapted from Dhanaraj and Parkhe (2006[21]) Orchestrating Innovation Networks.

Organisations forming partnerships through innovation networks tend to share risks and gains while leveraging others R&D budgets and extending business reach. Such factors represent some of the advantages of innovation networks, but there are also disadvantages to be considered. They include the extra costs of managing relationships with external partners and the potential leakage of knowledge to competitors. The concentration of knowledge and contacts in closed networks may also prevent new players from entering the innovation field. Another inherent issue concerns the possible growing dependence of smaller players on a given network for access to technology and funds.

An important factor therefore, particularly where public funding is at stake, is the requirement for effective oversight and regular assessment of how innovation networks contribute to innovation outcomes. This aspect is discussed in Section 3.3.

3.1.2. Collaboration in the ocean economy via innovation networks

The objective of this chapter is to gain an initial understanding of the role that collaboration plays in fostering innovation for the ocean economy. In particular, the OECD has assembled a set of case studies to explore how innovation network centres – in various marine/maritime sectors and diverse countries – organise collaboration among organisations of different types and the types of benefits and challenges achieved and faced by doing so.

Ocean economy innovation networks take numerous forms, from loose relationships between various independent actors to relatively formalised associations or consortia pursuing common goals and/or projects. There is no standard model for collaboration and arrangements between partners take many forms. However, while industry clusters tend to be founded upon sector-specific supply linkages in geographical proximity, innovation networks often transcend sectoral boundaries. Cross-sectoral interactions may be pursued through the sharing of facilities, the dissemination of knowledge and expertise, and/or the utilisation of new technologies. Although innovation dynamics cannot be reduced only to the action of one or a few agents, publicly funded organisations often play an important role in federating interested parties and facilitating common projects. For this reason and due to its interest in science and technology policy, the OECD focus is on innovation networks with publicly funded organisations at their core.

It is not the purpose of this chapter to directly assess the impact ocean economy innovation networks have on innovation outcomes, or to evaluate the performance of the centres surveyed. Rather, qualitative benefits associated with this particular form of ocean economy collaboration are discussed.

Central to this research is an OECD exploratory survey of selected publicly funded (at least partially) innovation network centres. A questionnaire requested information regarding basic characteristics (name, location, budget etc.), a broad overview of the network’s activities (number of partners, key areas of innovation, types of work carried out etc.), and, finally, specific details concerning particular projects undertaken by the network. The results of this research are summarised in this chapter. The networks surveyed are introduced and the types of benefits thought to be generated by them are described. In addition, a number of challenges are reported. Finally, taking into account context-specific situations, some preliminary lessons learned unique to innovation networks for the ocean economy are drawn out for policy makers and practitioners. This represents a first step in further OECD mapping of ocean economy innovation networks in 2019 to 2020.

The study focuses on innovation networks with publicly funded organisations at their core. The network centres were identified and contacted by the OECD Secretariat directly or following the advice of the Steering Board members of the OECD’s Ocean Economy Group. The present study is therefore limited to a small number of countries and entities. Given the exploratory nature of this work and relatively small sample of networks, the results should be considered indicative of a certain type of innovation activity, rather than an exhaustive summary of networked innovation in the ocean economy, and provide the basis for further study.

3.2. Presenting the ten selected innovation networks

Collaboration for innovation occurs in many settings and in many different ways. In order to survey networks of organisations collaborating to produce innovation in the ocean economy, the OECD – in partnership with Marine Scotland – developed a questionnaire to be completed by innovation network centres. The survey aimed to discover the reasons innovation collaboration occurs in the ocean economy, the types of organisations that are drawn to work together and their motivations for sharing innovation outcomes. The results presented below therefore indicate activity among the surveyed innovation network centres only and may not be representative of all innovation networks in the ocean economy. The questionnaire responses are qualitative in nature and yield results that lay the foundations for a deeper exploration of ocean innovation in subsequent studies.

In total, ten innovation network centres based in nine different countries responded to the OECD questionnaire. The vast majority of the selected innovation networks are situated in Europe, with one in Canada (Table 3.1).

Table 3.1. Selected innovation networks responding to OECD questionnaire
Innovation network centre name and country of origin

Name of innovation network


Ocean Frontier Institute




Innovative Business Network (IBN) – Offshore Energy

Belgium (Flanders)

Campus mondial de la mer


Marine Renewable Energy (MaREI)


EXPOSED Aquaculture


MARE StartUp


Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre

United Kingdom (Scotland)

Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands (PLOCAN)


Marine Autonomous & Robotic Systems Innovation Centre

United Kingdom

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

The surveyed network centres differ in the type of public organisation they originate in (Figure 3.2). Labelling the organisation of origin is complicated by the many different types, and definitions, of fully or partially public organisations operating within the innovation system. Broadly speaking, the survey results suggest that there are three types of public organisations from which the innovation network centres originate.

  • Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) are centres of education and research where students are taught by academics in specialist fields. They can be public or private.

  • Public Research Institutes (PRIs) are institutions or organisations that meet two important criteria: a) they perform R&D as a primary economic activity (research); and b) are controlled by government (i.e. the formal definition of public sector). PRIs in the government sector may have varying degrees of connection with government departments and agencies.

  • A third type of organisation does not fit into either previous category because it may not carry out basic research or teach students. Technology or innovation hubs are public organisations tasked with facilitating the transfer of knowledge to practical and commercial uses, or to incubate small technology companies as they seek to grow their markets. Technology/innovation accelerators may be situated at universities and public research institutes, or they could be an institution in their own right

Figure 3.2. Type of public organisation at centre of the selected innovation networks
Number of innovation networks according to type of publicly funded centre, as a percentage of total

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

The exact date of the start of an innovation network is not always clear as often collaboration between organisations begins far before an official network is created.1 However, the surveyed innovation network centres were all recently established or officially recognised. Two thirds of the centres were officially opened within the last three years (Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3. The surveyed innovation network centres were established or recognised as innovation networks recently
Number of innovation network centres according to the year in which they were established

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

The majority of the centres are small in terms of direct staffing. The smallest centre has three staff members who dedicate half of their time to its operation, for a total of 1.5 full time equivalent (FTE) employees. The largest centre has over 200 FTE employees (Table 3.2).

Table 3.2. Number of staff employed by innovation network centres
Number of innovation network centres according to staffing level, full time equivalents

Number of staff




Number of centres




Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

In summary, the OECD survey reveals that the selected networks with (at least partially) publicly funded organisations at their core tend to have originated in universities, public research institutes and technology/innovation accelerators, or in any combination of two or more. All of the centres responding to the questionnaire were established or recognised as such less than six years ago, with two-thirds of the total having been established since 2015. Finally, the majority of the network centres have less than 10 FTE employees, with a third employing less than five directly.

3.2.1. Structural characteristics of the surveyed innovation network centres and their operations

While the surveyed network centres originate in a range of different organisations, the funding for the centres’ operations comes from several sources. All of the centres’ governance structures resemble each other and they tend to play similar roles on behalf of their networks. This suggests that the innovation network centres have similar structural characteristics, no matter where they are situated or what area of the ocean economy they focus on. The three structural similarities are described below in more detail.

Sources of funding

There are five categories of funding source contributing to the operations of the surveyed innovation network centres by, for example, paying the salaries of the centre’s staff (Figure 3.4). The main sources of funding are national innovation funds, industry contributions and national research funds. All of the network centres receive funding from national level innovation funds, eight of the ten network centres receive contributions from industry and six from national research funds. Less common however are international and philanthropic funding sources, which may represent potential development opportunities for the future.

Figure 3.4. Several sources of funding are common among surveyed innovation network centres
Number of innovation network centres mentioning a source of funding in questionnaire responses

Note: Each ring represents one innovation network centre.

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

Governance structure

The surveyed innovation network centres tend to have similar governance structures, no matter their size, the organisations in which they originate or their sources of funding (Figure 3.5). Every centre has a management and operations layer made up of directors and managerial staff working day-to-day on running the centres’ activities. Providing strategic direction to the management team are often a set of committees. At the top of the structure is an executive committee consisting of people from a range of disciplines, ensuring financial accountability and providing general direction on management affairs. Underneath the executive committee can be any number of sub-committees. The role of the sub-committees is more specialised than the executive committee and their membership is normally made up of sectoral experts from diverse marine, scientific and technology domains. A scientific advisory committee provides guidance on research proposals and the general research environment. Industry advisory committees represent relevant industry concerns. An intellectual property and commercialisation committee may also be present to provide guidance on matters concerning the protection of the proceeds of innovation. The members of each committee can either be appointed based on their experience or voted into position by the network through a consortium-type agreement.

An individual network centre may receive oversight from any combination of the types of committees, and the committees overseeing activities in one centre may not necessarily be present in another (Figure 3.6). Most of the surveyed centres have an executive committee (80%) and/or a scientific advisory committee (80%). Slightly less have some form of industry advisory committee (70%) and fewer still have a committee specialising in issues concerning intellectual property and commercialisation (20%). Rather than a separate industry advisory arm, some innovation network centres have industry members sitting directly in their executive committee. Five of the nine members of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre’s Board, for example, are from industry and the centre’s ability to align its activities with the needs of its industry partners has been attributed to this setup.

Figure 3.5. Typical innovation network centre governance structure

Note: Although the types of committees present differ by individual network centres, the diagram illustrates a typical governance structure.

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

Figure 3.6. Governance by committee
Number of surveyed innovation network centres governed by particular types of committee, as a percentage of total

Note: The number of centres with an executive committee plus some form of panel advising on scientific and/or industry and/or intellectual property and commercialisation issues are counted.

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

In summary, it is clear from the responses to the survey that governance by committee is a common trait among the surveyed innovation network centres and is likely to produce benefits in the form of effective oversight. Further study would be required to understand the impact of different governance structures on the innovation performance of network centres more precisely, however.

Roles of the innovation network centre

The OECD survey restricted participation to innovation networks with at least partially publicly funded organisations at their core. Beyond this, the network centre could take any form and perform any service on behalf of the network. Perhaps surprisingly then, the questionnaire responses reveal that many of the surveyed innovation network centres perform similar activities (Figure 3.7). All of the network centres engage industry in academic research, engage academia in industry activities, and keep their communities informed of relevant events and meetings. Most of the centres facilitate access to research facilities under control of both the centre and third parties, and provide specific support for start-ups and SMEs. Many assist their partners in pursuing funding opportunities. Other activities include educating the general public on ocean issues, informing network participants of developments in relevant national policy, and delivering training in good management practices.

Figure 3.7. Activities carried out by surveyed innovation network centres
Number of innovation network centres that carry out particular duties on behalf of their networks

Source: Analysis of OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Network Survey results.

The results also suggest that each partner within a surveyed innovation network contributes a specific specialisation that is not present in the expertise of the other collaborators. The organisation type of each partner reflects the expertise brought to the network and suggests why different entities may choose to collaborate. For SMEs, for example, entering a network with collaborators from other sectors may speed up the realisation of a marketable product. For academic institutions, the transfer of knowledge into a new, real-world setting (“technology transfers”) may be the desired outcome. The largest share of network partners are from private businesses, with SMEs making up the greatest number of collaborating organisations (Figure 3.8). Additional categories include academia, government and NGOs, while the “other” category consists of a mix of other public or private research institutes and laboratories, or other types of research organisation.

Figure 3.8. Types of organisations entering innovation networks
Total number of partners from each category reported by all innovation network centres

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

3.2.2. Innovation focus areas

The ocean economy is a broad concept, capturing a wide range of industries, scientific disciplines and technologies. The ten surveyed network centres focus their innovation efforts on varied areas, but the five industries mentioned in the questionnaire responses are aquaculture, wild capture fisheries, ocean monitoring, renewable energy and offshore oil and gas.

  • The aquaculture focus concerns the farmed production of seafood and algae in the ocean.

  • Wild capture fisheries relates to any innovation concerning commercially harvested fish stocks, including looking at gear technologies to reduce bycatch and protecting endangered species.

  • The ocean monitoring focus is concerned with observing the ocean for any purpose, including through the use of technologies such as marine robotics and autonomous systems.

  • The renewable energy focus includes offshore wind, tidal, wave and marine thermal energy.

  • The offshore oil and gas industry relates to all activities associated with the extraction of fossil fuels from below the seabed.

Two additional focus areas were important for most of the surveyed network centres: ocean entrepreneurship and ocean education. Ocean entrepreneurship concerns any centre that specifically targets collaborating with start-ups or encourages other forms of entrepreneurial activity. The ocean education focus includes any centre that either houses student researchers at its facilities or promotes ocean literacy as part of its core activities (Figure 3.9). Most of the centres focus on multiple areas so any combination of the areas is possible.

Figure 3.9. Focus areas of surveyed innovation network centres
Number of innovation network centres focusing on different areas of the ocean economy

Note: Individual innovation network centres may focus on more than one area and therefore the number of focus areas may be greater than the number of innovation network centres.

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

The innovation network centres taking part in this study are developing a number of different technologies. The responses to the questionnaire have been sifted into ten different technology types. Often centres focused on different areas of the economy are developing different versions of the same technology with specifications suited to their needs (Figure 3.10). The three technologies most apparent among the network centres are autonomous systems, wave and tidal systems, and materials and structures (all with 40%). Robotics, offshore wind and fish monitoring are also important technologies, being developed in 30% of network centres. The remaining technology categories are biotechnology (20%), offshore oil and gas (10%), marine sensors (10%) and fisheries gear (10%).

Figure 3.10. Ocean innovations occurring in ten different technologies
Proportion of surveyed innovation network centres developing each technology, as a percentage of total number of network centres

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

A further point of variation in the questionnaire responses is found in the purpose for which innovations are occurring in each focus area. This can be exemplified through marine autonomous vehicles. Autonomous systems are being developed for use in several areas of the ocean economy for multiple purposes, as already seen in Chapter Two. In the aquaculture industry, for example, autonomous underwater vehicles allow the monitoring of fish to continue in the absence of human beings. This has applications in a number of the industry’s activities but could be particularly important in rough conditions prevalent in offshore and exposed areas. To follow this line of thinking to its conclusion, the aquaculture industry (focus area) is developing marine autonomous vehicles (technology) in order to improve fish monitoring (purpose) and reduce the risks associated with human presence in aquaculture farms (purpose) (Figure 3.11).

Figure 3.11. Purpose for innovation
Number of surveyed innovation network centres with each purpose for innovation

Note: Individual innovation network centres may focus on more than one area and therefore the number of focus areas may be greater than the number of innovation network centres.

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

3.2.3. Issues concerning knowledge sharing and appropriation

An important question for organisations entering collaborations is what information (or knowledge) should be shared with other collaborators. Interaction with external parties raises important issues regarding the protection and safeguarding of intellectual assets and intellectual property (patents, trademarks, trade “secrets”, etc.). It can create uncertainty about how to appropriate or share the benefits of the collaboration. Tyrrell (2007[22]) identifies intellectual property theft as the most important risk in global innovation networks, with more than 60% of the 300 senior executives questioned indicating intellectual property as the most acute problem in collaborating for innovation.

Varying cases of knowledge sharing were apparent in the innovation network centres surveyed. For some projects, only limited amounts of knowledge need to be shared. In other cases, more efficient outcomes could be achieved by ensuring collaborations are as open as possible. In either case, trust in collaborators is crucial for effective interactions within networks. Without trust, organisations, or even teams within organisations, are unlikely to share their knowledge with each other or enter into arrangements that are anything other than contractual. On the other hand, the free exchange of knowledge may also lead to situations where the security of unrelated intellectual property is compromised. It could therefore be necessary for innovation network centres to put in place policies that safeguard intellectual property within their networks. There are likely to be many possible forms of such a policy. Around a tenth of the surveyed centres provide secure facilities only (meeting rooms, computer equipment etc.) and a fifth provide advice only (Figure 3.12).

Figure 3.12. Approaches to safeguarding knowledge flows between network members
Number of surveyed innovation network centres with certain approaches to safeguarding knowledge flows, as a percentage of total responses

Note: The figures represent percentages (rounded to the nearest whole number) of total responses to the relevant question in the questionnaire, rather than total number of innovation network centres. Some innovation network centres chose not to respond to the relevant question.

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

A second issue concerns how the proceeds from innovations are shared among collaborators. The role of the innovation network centre in dealing with the outcomes of innovation will depend on the type of agreements it fosters with the organisations it collaborates with. One way innovation network centres may choose to deal with innovation outcomes is through the use of intellectual property tools, which are an often utilised way for innovators to protect the value of their innovations. Setting up licensing schemes is the most common arrangement, with 60% of the centres having pursued them (Figure 3.13).

Intellectual property tools are often looked at as one measure of innovation performance (e.g. patents, trademarks and industrial designs). Registering intellectual property tools is not necessarily a priority for many of the innovation network centres surveyed. Patents have been registered by 33% of the surveyed networks, and more than half (56%) have not applied for any intellectual property tools thus far (Figure 3.14).

Figure 3.13. Ways of dealing with innovation outcomes
Number of innovation network centres that pursue different intellectual property strategies, as a percentage of total

Note: The figures represent percentages of total responses to relevant question in the questionnaire, rather than total number of innovation network centres. Some innovation network centres chose not to respond to the relevant question.

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

Figure 3.14. Types of intellectual property tools in place
Number of surveyed innovation network centres that have used particular intellectual property tools, as a percentage of total responses

Note: The figures represent percentages of total responses to the relevant question in the questionnaire, rather than total number of innovation network centres. Some innovation network centres chose not to respond to the question.

Source: Analysis of the OECD Ocean Economy Innovation Networks Survey results.

3.3. The benefits associated with ocean economy innovation networks

There is some ambiguity when trying to measure the benefits associated with innovation networks. The following sections first introduce issues related to evaluation, and then identify a range of qualitative benefits generated by innovation networks, both for network participants and society more generally.2

3.3.1. Evaluating innovation networks

Literature assessing the impacts of networked innovation is relatively scarce, and dedicated assessments of public programmes to support innovation networks remain relatively few in number (Cunningham and Ramlogan, 2016[23]).

While studying sector-specific clusters, Porter (1998[24]) suggests that firms are driven to collaborate by access to scientific or technological excellence or by market demand. However, “the mere presence of firms, suppliers, and institutions… creates the potential for economic value, but it does not necessarily ensure the realization of this potential”. The benefits derived from innovation networks by organisations participating in them may therefore depend more on intangible factors such as those associated with information flowing more freely and a willingness to align objectives and agendas between otherwise misaligned organisations. Further complicating the analysis of potential benefits is that innovation can create significant value for actors beyond the main innovating organisation, which is one of the more general observations resulting from open innovation frameworks (Chesbrough, 2003[5]; Porter and Kramer, 2011[6]).

Several methodologies with roots in the business literature attempt to tease out such complicated relationships. Value-network analysis, for example, is a theoretical framework for modelling the interactions between stakeholders in a network (den Ouden, 2012[25]; Allee and Schwabe, 2015[26]; Grudinschi et al., 2015[27]). In order to do this effectively, all value flows between all stakeholders both tangible and intangible must be understood, and all relationships and interactions identified.

Assessing the performance and broader impacts of innovation networks is therefore a complex endeavour, typically involving multiple factors. For example, a detailed, national-level assessment of the impact on firm performance of the Danish Innovation Network programme found that, on average, firms involved in sponsored networks had 7% higher labour productivity and 13% higher total factor productivity than similar unparticipating firms (Daly, 2018[28]). The analysis was performed on data collected by Denmark’s Agency of Science and Technology and the Danish innovation network surveyed for this chapter, Offshoreenergy.dk, is one of 22 networks examined. Such analysis provides a limited but evidence-based assessment of the impacts of innovation networks from the perspective of the productivity of participating firms.

Evaluating only the potential benefits does not, however, consider the efficiency of public investment and the potential for disadvantages arising as a result of sponsored innovation networks. In general, any factor particular to an innovation network that reduces innovation outcomes when compared to a state where no publicly funded innovation network exists would be considered a disadvantage. In order to ascertain the true societal value of ocean economy innovation networks, the appropriate analysis would therefore entail summarising the cost-effectiveness of programmes designed to encourage innovation networks and the costs associated with collaboration more broadly. Ultimately, an assessment of the socioeconomic impacts of innovation networks that balances the full ranges of advantages and disadvantages is necessary.

In this context, preliminary studies of the socioeconomic impacts of ocean economy innovation networks may be useful for framing their future development and ensuring appropriate oversight of public spending. An example of one such review was commissioned by the Scottish Funding Council in order to assess the progress of its Innovation Centres Programme, of which the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) is a product. The independent review of the entire Innovation Centres Programme is wide ranging and covers many issues, including oversight, funding mechanisms and broader impacts. A total of 55 written submissions and 41 interviews were conducted, plus an economic impact assessment commissioned from an external consultancy (EKOS Consultants, 2016[29]).

In particular, the economic impact assessment considered the wider socioeconomic effects of the programme. Estimations of the number of jobs, gross value-added (GVA), wages, turnover and cost-reductions generated by the innovation centres are arrived at. Despite being in the early stages of development, the assessment found evidence of positive net impacts and the potential for future benefits. For example, central case estimates of additional jobs and GVA attributable to the entire Innovation Centre Programme are calculated to be around 330 full-time equivalents and GBP 44.4 million respectively. These results contributed to the recommendations provided by the independent reviewer in their final report, proving the utility of conducting such studies in programme assessment and providing useful background to the implications of innovation networks in a societal context.

3.3.2. Benefits for stakeholders involved in ocean economy innovation networks

To begin to understand the motivations for organisations joining ocean economy innovation networks, the OECD questionnaire asked for information surrounding the contributions and benefits gained according to the organisations participating in at least two projects. Since the organisations involved in networks are highly varied, their respective contributions and the resulting outcomes of their cooperation were very diverse. This section describes qualitatively the benefits accruing to stakeholders involved in networks, as reported by the innovation network centres surveyed.

Co-ordinated approach to ocean research and development across stakeholder communities, and improved cross-sector synergies

The benefits associated with ocean economy innovation networks are often produced in response to the challenges associated with multi-faceted research and development. For example, a fragmentation in ocean research objectives and efforts is often observed among stakeholders. In response, innovation networks aim to provide a co-ordinated approach across disparate research communities and improve cross-sector synergies. A few illustrations are presented below.

The first challenge summarised here concerns the linkages between research and industry players in new domains of the ocean economy. The centre for Marine and Renewable Energy in Ireland (MaREI) represents a good example of how innovation networks can be utilised to co-ordinate a fragmented research environment, enabling novel approaches to problem solving and boosting the development of new innovations. Headquartered at University College Cork, MaREI is the largest innovation network centre surveyed in this chapter with over 200 staff and a budget in excess of EUR 35 million. It brings together a wide range of research groups, some 45 industry partners, offers testing infrastructure and facilitates innovation in marine renewable energy (MRE) through the co-ordination of efforts among the research and development community. The technologies it develops are aimed at harnessing ocean energy to generate electricity (e.g. offshore wind, tidal stream, ocean current, tidal range, wave, and thermal and salinity gradients.) and are increasingly recognised as opportune for countries looking to shift their energy mix away from fossil fuels. In comparison with more-established ocean-based industries, MRE industries are relatively young and at an early stage of development. With the exception of offshore wind, most MRE technologies have not been proven at a commercial scale and scientific and technical difficulties remain.

A second challenge concerns the growing scientific, technological and logistical complexity of applied research in the ocean economy and ocean environment. A well organised innovation network brings together a diverse range of actors and partners and can strengthen multidisciplinary approaches and activities. It may also enable the exploration of opportunities for combining established with emerging technologies.

Box 3.2. “Ideation” contributing to ocean innovation

The “ideation” of ocean innovation can be supported by the right network set-up. Ideation is the creative process of forming and developing new ideas, from the initial conception through to actualising real-world applications. Occasionally, organisations of all types require assistance with taking ideas from “the back of an envelope” to a fully-realised project plan. This can be especially true when uncertainty surrounding the risks associated with investing in research and development (R&D) are particularly large. For example, IBN Offshore Energy, in Flanders, Belgium, facilitates the innovation project planning process for large companies, SMEs, start-ups, R&D intensive and innovation-aware organisations operating in the offshore energy sector. In certain circumstances, the centre simply matches actors for innovative outcomes. In others, the centre will assist collaborators in producing a full project plan for grant applications and other funding schemes. In addition to assistance with the project planning process, the centre provides a range of services on behalf of its networks. Examples of its activities include supporting R&D investments through demonstrating technologies in a commercial setting, creating new value chains by integrating solutions to real problems, rapidly disseminating new scientific knowledge to the market, and representing Flemish concerns in international forums.

To illustrate, most aquaculture at present takes place in coastal waters sheltered from rough conditions. In Norway, where significant parts of the coast are exposed to harsh conditions, this greatly reduces that amount of space available to industrial fish farming. Moving into exposed conditions therefore represents a potential opportunity for the industry. However, the technologies currently available to fish farmers are not suitable for operations in exposed areas. Moreover, the technological and logistical complexity of operating in exposed locations is significantly greater than in sheltered areas (see also Chapter 2 on these challenges). The EXPOSED Aquaculture centre is therefore attempting to foster the innovation required to enable fish farming in exposed locations by matching robust research with industrial applications. EXPOSED aims to deal with the additional complexity through developments aimed at improving safety and reliability in operations, but also in ensuring sustainable production. The types of technologies under development include: autonomous systems and technologies for remote operations, monitoring and decision support for fish, site and operations; structures for exposed locations; and, vessel designs for exposed operations. In addition, the impacts on safety and risk management for human presence in exposed locations, and fish behaviour and welfare in harsh conditions are being researched. To achieve these objectives, the centre brings together a consortium of 14 industry partners and four research institutions. It provides access to exposed sites for testing technology and specialised knowledge required to ensure the tests are robust.

The third challenge is concerned with exploiting the synergies between and across sectors in order to contribute to the creative process of developing new ideas and relevant innovations (see Box 3.2 above for a further example). Three examples from different innovation networks help to demonstrate how networked innovation assists in realising the advantages of cross-sector synergies.

  • Linking with fundamental research: The Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), for example, is an international hub for marine research based at Dalhousie and Memorial Universities on the east coast of Canada. OFI’s focus is on sustainable development and it encourages strong collaboration across disciplines, especially social and natural sciences, to discover solutions that strengthen the economy and protect the ocean’s changing ecosystems. Through education, training, and communication, and by sharing resources and information, OFI’s works across two broad areas; (1) key aspects of atmosphere-ocean interactions, resulting ocean dynamics and shifting ecosystems, and (2) effective approaches to resource development that are sustainable, globally competitive, societally acceptable and resilient to change. Geographically, OFI’s research covers the North Atlantic and Canadian Arctic Gateway, including the Labrador Sea and eastern portions of the straits of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

  • Securing collaboration with other sector-specific networks (drones): A further example of networks keeping track of innovations and relevant knowledge in related industries is apparent in Denmark. Organisations related to the large and varied offshore energy sector in Denmark collaborate in innovative activity through an innovation network centre called Offshoreenergy.dk. Its members are related to offshore oil and gas and offshore wind and wave energies. The main objective of Offshoreenergy.dk is to facilitate innovation projects and activities between various actors within the Danish offshore industry. Additionally, the centre tracks innovative technologies in other sectors and searches for opportunities for transferring them into the offshore energy industry. Examples include securing collaborations between innovation networks such as those related to the Danish drone industry, in which many SMEs are operating. Creating linkages between the offshore energy sector and the drone industry promises to provide opportunities across many applications, which benefits both sectors simultaneously. Keeping track of relevant innovations, state-of-the-art knowledge and access to testing facilities in related industries are all fundamental benefits associated with innovation networks.

  • Securing collaboration with other sector-specific networks (ICT): Initiatives that attempt to encourage multidisciplinary and cross-sector research in digital technologies are increasingly important. Digitalisation is enabling advances in many of the technologies mentioned in this book, from autonomous vehicles to better marine sensors. As the ocean economy continues to digitalise, ocean data will grow exponentially beyond what is already collected. This is likely to yield important benefits for understanding the ocean environment and provide opportunities for innovative companies. In order to imagine new uses of digital ocean data, the “Campus mondial de la mer” in Brest, France, has organised an annual competition called the Ocean Hackathon since 2016 that draws verse diverse research and industry communities together (Box 3.3).

Box 3.3. Spurring digital innovation in the ocean economy via hackathons

The “Ocean Hackathon” organised by “Campus mondial de la mer” in Brest, France brings together multi-disciplinary teams from a broad range of backgrounds with the aim of solving challenges based on ocean data. The challenges are varied and designed to generate innovative ideas over one, non-stop, 48 hour period. In 2017, for example, Brittany Ferries, a ferry company based in the surroundings of Brest (Roscoff), tested the potential for virtual reality explanations of the surrounding environment to be provided during their ferry crossings. The 2018 edition, which attracted 86 participants from France, Ireland, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Canada, developed uses of data over a diversity of themes, including: the detection and avoidance of unidentified floating objects, coverage of real-time nautical events, real-time visualisations of satellite observations, shark monitoring, and smartphone identification of algae. Beyond the exploration of innovative uses of ocean data, the Ocean Hackathon provides data engineers and scientists with exposure to organisations collecting and working with data. In addition, the competition attracts data contributions from organisations that would otherwise not allow access to their databases. This provides opportunities for both the data providers and teams with the skills to develop the data into useful products. It also allows the benefits of opening otherwise closed-access data to be tested by their guardians.

Facilitation of access to suitable research facilities and specialised knowledge

The ability to test innovations in a controlled environment removes an important barrier to the development of many ocean economy technologies, via access to suitable research facilities and specialised knowledge, This represent an important raison d’être of the innovation networks.

  • As an illustration, the recently formed “Campus mondial de la mer” in Brest, at the tip of French Brittany, is building upon existing regional strengths to facilitate further communication, practical co-ordination of joint activities and access to demonstration sites on behalf of its community. The local authorities have nurtured the area’s historical association with the ocean through business support organisations and other support services such as technology transfer programmes. The network builds further links between research institutions, such as the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer), traditional ocean-based industries such as fishing fleets, newly established innovative companies and a vibrant university community with strong links to the sea. The result is a strong agglomeration of ocean-related activity directly supporting 65 650 jobs (5% of the total) concentrated around Brest, the largest city on the Brittany coast (ADEUPa, 2018[30]).

  • Further south, the Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands (PLOCAN) is designed to provide the facilities to test innovations for a broad range of activities. Initiated in 2007 to provide the scientific-technological community, both public and private, with the large infrastructure required to develop innovations, PLOCAN has since developed a range of other facilities and services. In addition to the multi-use platform, which was fixed in location off the north-east coast of Gran Canaria in 2016, PLOCAN contains a 23 km2 offshore test area and a multidisciplinary observatory that is part of the European ocean observatory network. The multi-use platform contains a control tower for monitoring all operations of the platform and the surrounding test site, laboratories and classrooms, an open working area, and a test tank for facilitating sea trials and launching underwater vehicles. PLOCAN also provides a range of services to complement the core testing infrastructure. Such services include assistance with the testing and demonstration infrastructure, management consultancy, and, education and training. For example, the platform hosts an annual training forum for ocean-glider technology. The week-long “Glider School” brings together leading manufacturers of glider technologies and provides students with practical experience through classwork, laboratories and open water sessions, all taking place within the sites facilities.

Support for start-ups and SMEs in the ocean economy

The majority of organisations entering into formal innovation partnerships in the ocean economy are SMEs. However, there are many challenges for start-ups and SMEs, notably in matters of funding, infrastructure and the speed with which they are able to market innovations. The networks often aim to provide support in terms of training, de-risking, marketing and commercialisation, and facilitate funding opportunities for R&D, all by leveraging additional funding from regional, national and international entities.

  • As an illustration, in order to capitalise on Portugal’s lengthy history of ocean activity and exploration, several universities with links to the ocean economy created MARE-Startup in 2015. The aim of MARE-Startup is to boost ocean entrepreneurship and assist start-ups through a holistic approach. The type of support offered includes access to education and research, but also the provision of advice on business and governance issues. The centre also looks for opportunities more broadly through networks of start-up incubators and centres of excellence in related fields.

  • Another example is provided by the Marine Autonomous and Robotics Innovation Centre (MARSIC), in the United Kingdom, which promotes interactions between large, established companies and smaller, innovative organisations. In essence, the innovation network centre acts as an informal financial intermediary. Under MARSIC’s model, large companies with an interest in exploiting the next generation of technologies pay a fee to become “Associate Members” of the innovation centre. They do not have the right to a constant presence at the centre but receive access to the “Strategic Partners” – which are organisations, typically SMEs and academic partners, developing new technologies there. The benefits of such an arrangement flow in both directions. Associate Members represent the end-users of ocean technology. They have detailed knowledge of operational needs and are able to influence the direction of innovations accordingly. This increases the chance that the technology developed is useful to them. They also gain early-sight of technological developments enabling them to remain on top of the innovation pipeline and plan accordingly. Strategic Partners, on the other hand, are better able to develop their innovations in-line with the market’s needs, improving the likelihood that their technologies are successful when marketed. The support they receive while working at the innovation centre is funded in part by the membership fees paid by the Associate Members, lowering an important barrier to innovation in smaller enterprises.

  • Further north, the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) at the University of Stirling led a pilot project entitled Aquaculture Innovation Network for the Northern Periphery and Arctic (AINNPA), to engage rural and remote SMEs with the aquaculture supply chain. The Northern Periphery and Arctic (NPA) Programme 2014-2020 is fostering cooperation between nine countries in the northern and Arctic regions of the European Union. Funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), its members include regions in Finland, Sweden, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Norway. A core objective of the programme is to “use innovation to maintain and develop robust and competitive communities” in often remote locations throughout the NPA. Remotely located SMEs are key to the aquaculture industry across the NPA. Sustainable growth of the sector requires new, innovative products and services. SMEs often experience variable and constraining access to innovation services, however. The AINNPA pilot project addressed this by developing transnational solutions for innovation to aquaculture-facing SMEs and open new markets for innovative SMEs not yet engaged with the aquaculture sector. This was explored by activating international networks for remote SMEs engaged with the aquaculture supply chain, sharing models for delivering innovation services to those SMEs, and combining R&D efforts to develop new products and services for international markets. The intended output from AINNPA is an integrated network of aquaculture innovation services across the participating regions; SME-led prioritisation of regionally relevant aquaculture innovation topics; and new innovative aquaculture products and services. Other project partners include Matis Research and Innovation (Iceland), Bantry Marine Research Station Ltd (Ireland), SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture (Norway) and the Aquaculture Research Station of the Faroes (Faroe Islands).

3.3.3. Wider benefits associated with ocean economy innovation networks

In addition to the benefits accruing to organisations that join or are associated with ocean economy innovation networks, the survey reveals a range of broader benefits that spill over to society more generally. The three categories outlined below are framed around the potential for ocean economy innovation networks to contribute to broader societal objectives, such as: building scientific capacity and investing in skills and knowledge for the future; diffusing knowledge between related economic sectors; and, creating more sustainable economic activity.

Ocean economy innovation networks’ contribution to building scientific capacity and to investing in skills and knowledge for the future

The innovation networks surveyed originate in different types of public organisations. Some have grown from technology institutions, others from public research centres and universities. Many driving forces have been highlighted which attempt to explain why these organisations have decided to formalise innovation networks. This, in turn, suggests a multitude of activities and benefits have been targeted. However, a common motivation for the networks related to public research institutes and universities is taking advantage of innovation to improve ocean science. In general, increased scientific capability benefits everyone; whether it be through the better prediction of severe weather events and their impacts, or the intrigue encouraged by learning and understanding more about marine flora and fauna to give but two examples.

Scientific capacity may be increased by innovation in any number of ways. One potential avenue actively pursued by innovation networks is better ocean monitoring. In any case, the ability to measure and observe the ocean is the cornerstone of ocean sciences. Several technologies under development hold the promise of enabling more consistent ocean observations with a more effective cost structure. Marine autonomous vehicles, for example, offer a range of options for monitoring the ocean more efficiently than manned vehicles, operator controlled robotics, buoys and other ocean observation systems. Related advances in marine sensors and instruments, including lab-on-a-chip technology, allow measurements of the marine environment to be taken and processed quicker and with lower power requirements. Further examples of efficiency saving and efficacy boosting ocean observation technologies abound. Advances in this area enable more science to be performed, untold discoveries to be made and new knowledge to be created, leading to greater societal understanding of the ocean.

In addition to technological advances, the innovation networks surveyed are developing approaches to improved ocean monitoring that fall more in the fields of management and international cooperation than R&D. The challenge of building the capacity to monitor the ocean effectively and consistently is complicated by its size and the fact that the high seas are not under individual country jurisdictions. Conducting such activities on a purely unilateral basis is unlikely to be efficient or effective in all situations, but especially for observations occurring outside of a country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Working internationally makes sense in this regard and many of the centre’s involved in this study are actively pursuing the internationalisation of their networks. Drawing cross-border attention to new technological developments, sharing ship time on research vessels and organising international workshops and conferences, are some examples mentioned in the survey. Such initiatives expand international scientific capacity, spreading the associated societal benefits on a multilateral basis.

A further important point here relates to maintaining a pipeline of appropriately skilled researchers ready to exploit the advanced technologies of tomorrow. This requires foreseeing both technological developments and the volume of new science that is likely to be enabled by them. Incorporating educational opportunities into the innovation process is one way in which the innovation networks surveyed attempt to satisfy such complicating factors. Many facilitate access to funding opportunities for masters and doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and for industry professionals to undertake advanced training. Some incorporate students and early-stage researchers into their daily activities by employing them in project positions. Directly developing research capacity with an eye to the future is key and is complemented by the networks’ work to strengthen connections between varieties of stakeholders, including through the vocational development of promising professionals. Such efforts increase awareness of innovative business activity among scientists and their students, and vice-versa. When combined with greater emphasis on ocean literacy, which boosts understanding of the ocean among the general population, society’s absorption of the benefits yielded by improvements in ocean research is likely to continue apace.

Ocean economy innovation networks’ contribution to knowledge diffusion beyond the ocean economy

The previous sections listed a number of activities, such as the facilitation of access to specialised knowledge and bringing innovations out of the laboratory and into the real world. These translate into benefits tilted towards network participants and their immediate stakeholders. The current section focuses on the diffusion of knowledge among typically unrelated areas, thereby stimulating interactions between actors that might not occur otherwise and generating benefits that accrue to society beyond the ocean economy.

Much like all other sectors, the ocean economy is profoundly influenced by enabling technologies that are derived elsewhere. Examples include: broad-based advances in ICTs at the core of marine autonomy – such as machine visual-image processing – with applications across the full spectrum of ocean-based industry and science; the redevelopment of sensors from land-based industry into a product suitable for the offshore fossil fuel industry, such as those used to detect gas leakages from wastewater treatment facilities; and, the use of ultrasound technology and medical diagnostic tools to delouse farmed fish and assess their health, resulting in less damage to the fish or the surrounding environment.

The examples above suggest knowledge exchange between economic sectors offers opportunities for progress in ocean innovation that would not be available should organisations concentrate solely on ocean-related activity. For organisations operating alone, the costs of following the general state of technology may outweigh the potential payoff should a targeted breakthrough prove compatible. Innovation networks therefore play an important role in keeping up-to-date with technology markets and covering a wider range of promising avenues than any organisation could achieve alone. In particular, innovation network centres track technological developments, consider possible ocean applications and communicate advances to their partner organisations, sometimes through dedicated conferences and/or newsletters. This provides benefits to the ocean economy but also the sectors in which alternative technologies originate, contributing to the pool of resources available for progress in society more generally. It should also be noted that innovations may flow in the other direction; from the ocean economy towards other sectors. Here too innovation networks provide a core service by spreading the costs of outreach among multiple parties, an input particularly important for small enterprises without the means to invest in greater exposure individually.

The second element in this category relates to improving policymakers’ knowledge of the ocean economy’s potential to provide social benefits. Often, ocean-based industries fall under the domain of policies focused more broadly. Ocean and coastal tourism, for example, is likely to be impacted predominantly by policies targeting tourism in general. Advances in aerial drone technology hold great promise across a spectrum of ocean-based industries but the market is poorly regulated and restricted by policies focusing on land-based uses. Marine renewable energies are a clean alternative to fossil fuels and contribute to efforts to decarbonise electricity generation but can be underestimated by decision-makers unaware of their potential. In each of these cases, the nuances associated with ocean-based applications require more attention in policymaking than is afforded by a process that does not distinguish between land-based and ocean economies.

Innovation networks provide a useful platform in this regard. By pooling resources and grouping a variety of actors together, networks are perhaps more visible than individual organisations and are likely to represent a broad range of viewpoints. In marine renewable energies, for example, networks are able to combine expertise in environmental monitoring, perhaps from a research institution, with real-world experience of the energy business, from an energy company, to develop credible siting recommendations. The multi-stakeholder approach provides confidence to policymakers that opportunities are legitimate and provides the voice for a range of communities to communicate the importance of their activities. Ultimately, networked collaboration in the ocean economy creates space for more effective consultation and communication during the policymaking process. Better ocean policies, and the prospects for society to benefit from them, are more likely to be realised as a result.

Ocean economy innovation networks’ contribution to sustainable economic activity

The core function of innovation networks is to forge collaborations between distinctly different organisations. The fundamental purpose for encouraging such collaborations, expressed by each of the innovation network centres surveyed, is to harvest the opportunities provided by the ocean in a manner that is both environmentally and economically sustainable. At the most basic level, bringing together a variety of organisations with differing incentives but a common objective – to develop innovations that are adopted in scientific endeavour and/or commercialised – will boost economic activity in the short term. The ocean economy, however, is an interactive system of ocean-based industries and the marine ecosystems upon which they are built. The interdependency of both implies as imperative that economic activity be conducted in such a way that it encourages the conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems. Many of the innovations under development and discussed in the examples above, as well as in Chapter 2, are designed with these objectives in mind.

A sustainable ocean economy will provide societal benefits on many levels. Take, for example, the marine renewable energies sector. Any technology under development applicable in this area has the ultimate aim of lowering the levelised cost of renewable energy, thereby reducing the costs to society of an energy system less reliant on emissions of greenhouse gasses and other harmful pollutants. Marine autonomous vehicles are likely to provide the technology required to conduct full water column surveys of the ocean environment at a fraction of the present costs, with the added advantage of reducing the necessity to place humans in dangerous environments. The environmental benefits of such technologies are clear, particularly when applied to scientific uses or renewable energies.

Additionally, innovation specifically in networks has a role to play in the realisation of a sustainable ocean economy in more intangible ways. Matching collaborators with complementary but different expertise is likely to result in development paths that are some combination of the objectives of all parties involved. It could be that, for example, the involvement of marine scientists in projects with potentially adverse environmental impacts results in outcomes more acceptable to society than products resulting from innovative efforts conducted purely by industry. It is also likely that, through the connections made and relationships formed, emerging technologies from other sectors are applied in new ocean settings. This stokes economic activity and opens new markets where no connections existed before. Finally, bridging the gap between academia and business will assist with maintaining a thriving pipeline of workers with skills appropriate for a sustainable ocean economy. Optimising the education system to build the right capacity is, after all, perhaps the most important determinant of long term sustainability of them all.

3.4. How to ensure that innovation networks have positive impacts

The ocean economy innovation networks surveyed are different in scope. But they tend to share some common points, including in terms of the challenges they face. The following sections provide an overview of these challenges and suggest some policy options for policymakers wishing to ensure innovation networks are well equipped to operate.

3.4.1. The challenges faced by ocean economy innovation networks

The following four broad challenges reported by the innovation network centres should not be considered exhaustive of the issues faced by ocean economy innovation networks, but provide instead a number of insights into the challenges of collaboration schemes between marine and maritime actors.

1. Taking advantage of the opportunities of a growing ocean economy

The broad objective of many of the networks is to develop the innovations required to secure an ocean economy that is able to provide the benefits associated with economic growth while conserving and sustainably using marine ecosystems. These aims will also impact upon broader objectives such as efforts to decarbonise the overall economy. Still, many of the opportunities made possible by innovation in the ocean economy are yet to be exploited, or recognised, in their fullest. An example is the marine renewable energies (MREs) sector. Given many countries are attempting to shift their energy mix away from fossil fuels in the medium term, MREs are likely to become increasingly important in the future. There is a general sense, however, that the role that innovation has played in reducing the costs of marine renewable energies – reductions in the costs of offshore wind being particularly impressive – have been overlooked at levels of national policymaking beyond that directly responsible for renewable energy in many parts of the world. Such issues appear of more importance in recently established and/or smaller innovation networks which perhaps do not have the capacity to communicate the outcomes of their work to the appropriate audience. The larger innovation centres, on the other hand, have reported active links with policymakers.

2. Responding to the growing pains of collaboration

Despite the broad based benefits associated with networked innovation in the ocean economy, some important challenges exist in conducting collaborative activities. Perhaps the greatest relates to a core function of the innovation network centre: to successfully build bridges between a diversity of organisations, with differing purposes and objectives. Often, for example, businesses have shorter time frames in which to conduct R&D than partners based in academic settings. While academics might be most interested in the pursuit of new knowledge, business will place a greater premium on real-world marketability. In certain cases, competing priorities and mismatched notions of time could produce frictions between partners that prove detrimental to innovation. In general then, the innovation network centres work to match compatible organisations and reduce gaps between organisations that may be irreconcilable without the existence of a functioning centre. Relatedly, a balance must be struck between the numbers of each type of collaborating organisation. The strongest networks are likely to contain a range of partner types. It typically falls to the innovation network centre to ensure an appropriate balance is maintained and that relationships are managed accordingly.

3. Balancing commercial potential and opportunities for more research

While in many cases mixing and matching different types of organisations is likely to result in better innovations, it is also important to ensure that innovation has commercial potential by being a viable investment and, indirectly, by contributing to a more evidence based policy environment. Often then, industry partners play a role in signalling whether or not R&D is being directed towards problems faced in the ocean economy. Innovation network centres pursue a variety of methods to coordinate this interaction. Some centres build upon a problem statement provided by industry as part of their conditions of service. Others host networking breakfasts and/or actively match potential customers with specific technologies. Such initiatives are clearly worthwhile and assist in the slow grind towards commercial success. However, innovations may also prove suitable for solving problems that are currently unforeseen, and fundamental R&D in this area should not be disregarded. Ultimately then, engaging end-users in the innovation process by actively encouraging them to join innovation networks seems likely to have the greatest impact, regardless of whether a problem statement exists. In this way, potential end-users are able to steer innovation in a useful direction, but may also be inspired to change the way they operate as a result of opportunities only discovered through actively partaking in the innovation process.

4. Maintaining a culture of innovation in the network

Finally, it follows that an important contribution of ocean economy innovation networks is to maintain a culture of innovation within and between diverse groups of actors. Key factors deciding success in this regard include upholding a deep understanding of the issues affecting a relevant area of innovation and the development of effective working relationships between collaborating organisations. Innovation network centres play a fundamental role in cultivating such attributes and, in turn, boosting ocean economy innovation. They perform a function that, increasingly, goes to the very heart of the sustainable ocean economy of the future. However, there is room for policy to assist this most important of ocean economy trends. Many of the innovation network centres surveyed operate with a small number of staff, are subject to short funding time frames and are faced with restricted access to trial and demonstration sites, for example. The following sections expand on areas of potential policy improvements so that the opportunities presented by innovation in the ocean economy can be exploited more fully.

3.4.2. Policy options to address ocean economy innovation networks

Policymakers looking to encourage and monitor the development of ocean economy innovation networks in their countries may wish to consider the policy environment under which these networks are operating. In view of the diversity of the ocean economy innovation networks that exist, there is no ‘one size fits all’ policy option. Several options are proposed below to cultivate the potential for ocean economy innovation networks to deliver sustainably into the future.

1. Assess the performance and evaluate the impacts of innovation networks

As an important step, independent and credible scrutiny is recommended to ensure that public funds channelled through innovation networks are reaching their target of facilitating cooperation between different stakeholders and leading to innovations. Assessing the performance of the innovation networks over time will contribute to ensuring their effectiveness and sustainability as they mature. The limited number of independent assessments of ocean economy innovation networks that have been carried out, as mentioned in previous sections, have shown the generation of benefits within and beyond the sector under investigation. However, more efforts to assess impacts will be required if their value is to be fully assessed and understood widely.

2. Orientate regulation towards innovation

The relationship between regulation and innovation is often ambiguous. On the one hand, regulation can affect the rate of innovation both positively and negatively. On the other, technological change can render once-effective regulations obsolete. Given this, the regulatory framework should seek to ensure stability as far as possible (to provide private decision makers with a degree of certainty) while being able to adapt to trends in technological development where necessary. This is often a difficult mix of objectives and can be particularly challenging in the ocean economy where safety and environmental concerns are paramount (Box 3.4).

Box 3.4. Regulatory challenges surrounding marine autonomous vehicles

An example of the importance of the regulatory environment on the development of technology in ocean economy innovation networks is apparent in projects related to marine autonomy. At present, Marine Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) are subject to regulation designed for conventional shipping. Regulations designed for ships navigated entirely by on-board seafarers may not be appropriate in all autonomous eventualities and could represent a hindrance to innovation. Furthermore, different rules are likely to be required according to what type of area the vessel is travelling through (coastal, open ocean, shipping lanes, remote locations etc.) and the level of automation utilised (only limited automated functions through to full autonomy). Several industry-led attempts have assessed the effects of the regulatory environment on development in this area (see, for example, Ramboll and CORE Advokatfirma (2017[31]) and UK Maritime Autonomous Systems Working Group (2017[32])). The issue is now under the attention of the UN International Maritime Organisation’s Maritime Safety Committee (IMO-MSC). These efforts should be bolstered and extended if investor certainty is to be maximised.

Performance-based regulations are targeted at the consequences of a particular product or service on health, safety and environmental outcomes. They do not specify technical specifications for a particular technology or imply that a particular standard must be achieved (unlike technology-based standards). Because of this, performance-based regulations tend to be technology neutral and provide a degree of flexibility for innovators who are permitted multiple pathways for meeting regulations affecting them. Flexibility, in general, is considered beneficial for innovation as it allows a greater deal of experimentation in R&D. However, if regulation is to encourage innovation then it must be designed with the risks that it may discourage innovation in mind. A great deal of uncertainty surrounds how best this might be achieved (in reality a bit of both impacts are likely to occur), but the inclusion of ocean innovation expertise throughout the design and implementation phases of the regulatory process – and this is already the case for most of the surveyed networks – is likely to increase the chance that regulations result in more innovation rather than less (Box 3.5).

3. Consider increased support for technologies in later stages of development

The high costs associated with early-stage research have led in general governments to offer support for fundamental and applied research. Such funding mechanisms tend to only apply to basic research. Once scientific principles suggest an innovation is possible and a proof-of-concept is achieved, such sources of funding tend to dry up. Just as critical in an ocean technologies path to commercialisation, however, is the process of testing and demonstrating that a product operates effectively (broadly equivalent to technological readiness levels six to nine). The costs of proving a technology is ready for commercialisation are significant and could act as a barrier to innovation. Public support for demonstration and testing tends to be available through various innovation funds and many of the innovation networks surveyed have accessed such sources. In some cases, more support could be provided at the latter stages of technological development, both in terms of facilitating access to finance and the provision of suitable demonstration sites, where proving commercial applicability is key. This could be recognised as an option by administrations looking to support late-stage technological development in the ocean economy.

Box 3.5. Advanced tools for regulating the aquaculture industry

New models for estimating the impact of aquaculture waste on the environment partly supported by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC)

Waste from aquaculture farms may have significant environmental effects. Licensing new, or re-licensing existing, farms therefore depends on estimating local impact. Since the mid-1990s, sea-bed impact has been estimated with predictive models that simulate the fate of organic material moving from fish enclosures to deposit on the sea-bed, with subsequent bio-degradation and some resuspension. From the mid-1990s, models such as DEPOMOD encapsulated the relevant physics and biology. Predictions based on physical measurements could be checked against surveyed sea-bed biology. Consequent elaboration of the models helped ensure their wide international application. Progress was tied to the flow of new knowledge and to the increasing cheapness and efficacy of numerical modelling. This continues today with the development of a user-friendly “newDEPOMOD” that incorporates detailed bathymetry and improved knowledge of resuspension. The new model promises to use verified and numerically modelled three-dimensional flow around a farm rather than single site measurements. Development of this model and its parameterizing over different sea-bed types is partly supported by SAIC and its partners involved in both industry and academia. Such innovatory decision-making regulatory science, based on cross-sectoral collaboration, will allow the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to improve regulation, and industry may be freed from some inevitably precautionary assumptions that arise from over-simple modelling processes.

4. Invest in or remove barriers to accessing test facilities and demonstration sites

Relatedly, the ability to test new technologies in the ocean is crucial to the development and commercialisation of many ocean economy innovations. The survey reveals that important motivations for entering innovation networks are access to testing facilities and the expertise needed to prove technologies work as they should.

This suggests that the development and commercialisation of innovations could be increased through better access to testing infrastructures. Although the costs of such facilities are significant, some countries have recognised a gap and have invested in the construction of purpose built facilities. The Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands (PLOCAN) is one such example and is able to test a broad range of technologies, including: offshore renewable energies; marine observation, monitoring and surveillance technologies; data communication technologies; and, autonomous and remotely operated vehicles. Due to the high costs of building and operating a facility such as PLOCAN, it may be more prudent for administrations to share facilities rather than investing in new ones. Where this is the case, mechanisms to encourage smooth access to facilities, either across sectors or between countries, should be considered.

Once proven inside a facility, technologies will also need to be demonstrated in the open ocean if trust in their capabilities is to be understood by the market. In the case of marine robotics and autonomous vehicles, offshore demonstration sites will necessarily be large and deep. In addition to the provision of purpose built facilities, the regulatory environment and licensing regime should allow for such offshore demonstrations to take place. The sharing of demonstration sites should also be encouraged.

5. Consider the role that alternative sources of finance may play in innovation networks

While public financial support is clearly an important aspect of ocean economy innovation, it is not the only funding stream that policymakers can influence. Banks and venture capitalists also have a role to play in financing innovation and will respond to well-designed incentives created by the policy environment. Policymakers may therefore wish to explore their role in encouraging the development of collaborations between ocean economy innovators and suitable financial entities. For example, venture capitalists investing in ocean economy innovations have a stake in ensuring and maintaining connections with end-users and are likely to assist with managing an innovation’s route to market. In general, the introduction of alternative sources of finance could increase the pool from which ocean innovators are able to fund their activities, provide access to skills such as marketing that are not always common in small enterprises focused on innovation, and, ultimately, provide opportunities for innovation networks that are unavailable through traditional partners.

6. Provide long-term road maps to boost certainty

Investing in research and development is inherently uncertain and risks must be taken if innovation is to be effective. For the networks surveyed, public funding helps to de-risk innovation to acceptable levels. This is likely to be true in firms of all sizes, but particularly in small, resource constrained companies. However, public finance is not limitless and, as the point above suggests, the introduction of alternative sources of finance is often necessary. A key barrier to private investment is uncertainty arising from the policy environment more generally. If policies are poorly designed, subject to regular revision and/or imply a lack of political support for particular technologies, then private decision-makers are unlikely to have the confidence necessary to invest. Key to attracting alternative sources of finance in the ocean economy is therefore a political signal that provides a degree of long-term certainty. Long-term roadmaps help to build certainty in the policy environment, which is vital for innovation networks to plan their activities and can be important for sustaining private sector investments.

3.5. The way forward

Ocean economy innovation networks represent a specific type of collaboration in the ocean economy. In principle, such networks have the potential to produce multiple benefits, through the organised cooperation of many innovating organisations, but their actual performance and effectiveness will need to be monitored over time.

This initial OECD exploration of ocean economy innovation networks has set the foundations for further work in the area. Most of the innovation network centres that responded to the initial OECD questionnaire were established relatively recently and changes are likely to occur rapidly as they grow. The geographical spread of the networks surveyed is also concentrated in Europe and Canada, but there are many more centres to examine, in different parts of the world, with unique set-ups and a multitude of focus areas within the ocean economy. The OECD Ocean Economy Group will therefore continue its exploration of ocean economy innovation networks, both by following developments in the networks presently surveyed and expanding the reach of case studies further afield.


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← 1. Offshoreenergy.dk is an innovation network for the offshore energy sector in Denmark. The centre originates in a national industry cluster organisation called Offshore Centre Denmark that was established in 2003. Since then, the centre has undertaken a number of transformations. The current incarnation occurred in 2013, when the centre merged with several knowledge institutes and was named Offshoreenergy.dk. Its status as an innovation network centre was recognised nationally by the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science in 2014.

← 2. The questionnaire responses were delivered by the network centre and, therefore, do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the partner organisations directly. This adds an element of bias to the results that should be considered. Future research could include a less detailed survey of network partners to garner their thoughts about the collaboration process.

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