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4 The Ecological Approach

Looking at SPs as sociotechnical infrastructures allows an understanding of their complexity as relational spaces. Complexity is neither predictable nor quantifiable so that it becomes a research challenge.

I faced this challenge in conducting qualitative research–from April 2011 to March 2013–principally based on semi-structured interviews. The research was aimed at analysing SPs as sociotechnical infrastructures. The project involved six Italian parks: the Science and Technology Park Kilometro Rosso (Bergamo), the AREA Science Park (Trieste), the VEGA-Venice Gateway for Science and Technology (Venezia), the Toscana Life Sciences (Siena), the Technology Park of Lodi Cluster (Lodi), and the Technology Park of Navacchio (Pisa). Firstly, I selected these parks in order to have a representative sample of the Italian scenario (three SPs are cross-thematic, the other three are thematic parks). Furthermore, applying this criteria of representativeness, I selected the SPs according to their shareholding (in this sample, one park is public, another one is private and four have a mixed nature) and I also considered the incubation of University spin-offs[1], as a typical activity of SPs (Carlile, 2004). Then, I defined a set of actors to interview:

• Academic experts on SPs and innovation processes (4)

• The President of the Italian Association of Science and Technology Parks (APSTI) (1)

• Coordinators[2] of three thematic APSTI's Committees (3)

• Professionals of academic Industrial Liaison Offices (5)

• Directors[3] of SPs (6)

• The President of the Italian Network for the Valorisation of University Research (Netval) (1)

• Business Incubator[4] managers (5)

• Founders of the University spin-offs localised into the SPs (10)

In this chapter I present the case-study of VEGA park that, at the time of my research, displayed different organisational features. Then, in preparing my contribution to this book, in July 2013 I came back to the research field in order to interview the architect originally involved in the construction of the VEGA building, and I interviewed again, one year later the first meeting, the founder of Unisky s.r.l which is the unique University spin-off hosted by VEGA. These two additional interviews were motivated by a meaningful change of the VEGA governing body that occurred after the end of my research. So in order to properly discuss the casestudy, I took this initiative.

I completely transcribed all interviews. The software Atlas.ti supported the

codification of the empirical data, according to the rationale of Grounded Theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The iterative process of moving back and forth between empirical data and emerging analysis made the data progressively more focused and the analysis successively more theoretical (Bryant & Charmaz, 2007). The codification was influenced by my STS background according to Susan Leigh Star's suggestion (2007) to distance yourself as a researcher from a strictly inductive approach, legitimising a more embedded pathway to Grounded Theory. I complemented the interviews with the analysis of documents about SPs, principally retrieved on websites, in magazines, and institutional reports. Web research was particularly useful to reconstruct Michele Vianello's perspective: he was the Director of VEGA till July 2013. Unfortunately, I was not able to interview him, but there is a remarkable amount of documentation on the web about his work as past VEGA Director. Vianello's role has often been publicly criticised in the media, but his work has also been frequently discussed as a positive contribution to the improvement and innovation within VEGA. These secondary sources of information enabled me to better understand the case overall.

  • [1] A standard definition of “University spin-off” can be retrieved in Wikipedia: “University spinoffs transform technological inventions developed from university research that are likely to remain unexploited otherwise” (Wikipedia, 2013b). The number of University spin-offs' founders that I have interviewed at that time corresponds to the total number of spin-off localized into the involved Parks, taking into account one “unattainable” spin-off.
  • [2] One interviewed Coordinator is also Director of one involved park: I counted this person two times. Overall, there are seven APSTI Committees
  • [3] In two cases, I interviewed the Director's spokesperson instead of the Director
  • [4] At that time, one park didn't have an internal Incubator. A basic definition of “Business Incubator” or “Incubator” can be retrieved in Wikipedia: “Business incubators are programs designed to support the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed and orchestrated by incubator management and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts. Incubators vary in the way they deliver their services, in their organizational structure, and in the types of clients they serve” (Wikipedia, 2013a)
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