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Bridging Fields to Tackle Grand Mountains: The Path to Unconventional Inventions and Interdisciplinary Collaboration towards Impact

02 October 2023

Interdisciplinarity is essential for tackling grand societal challenges, as it harnesses diverse expertise to develop holistic solutions capable of addressing multifaceted problems. However, the integration of diverse perspectives into actionable solutions is often hindered by a lack of common language and cognitive distance among experts from different fields.

Milad Abbasiharofteh, Dieter F. Kogler, and Balazs Lengyel studied what drives successful interdisciplinary collaborations. They measured interdisciplinarity based on an ‘atypical’ combination of technologies used to develop an invention; an unusual combination of technologies mentioned in a single patent document compared to the total corpus of patented inventions.

The findings indicate that the success of regional economies in introducing atypical inventions lies neither at the individual nor at the regional level. Similarly, the results reveal that having specialized or diverse technological capabilities in local economies does not necessarily lead to atypical inventions. Instead, the study shows that a region’s power in promoting atypical inventions lies at the meso level, inventor communities. The optimal environment for developing this type of invention includes disciplinary inventor communities, connected by interdisciplinary co-inventor relations. This meso-level attribute of regional co-inventor networks plays a crucial role in simultaneously yielding the strengths of specialization and diversity.

The study suggests that not the diversity of various technological capabilities or inventors per se, but the presence of multiple, diversely specialized, and interlinked inventor communities favour interdisciplinary outcomes in regional economies.

This research provides valuable insights for regional innovation policy. It shows that we can stimulate the development of successful interdisciplinary collaboration by supporting a specific mix of collaboration types. This entails promoting specialized (disciplinary) and bridging (interdisciplinary) collaborations in tandem. It highlights the importance of cultivating interconnected inventor communities with diverse specializations to drive regional innovation and address complex challenges effectively.

Learn more

Abbasiharofteh, M., Kogler, D. F., & Lengyel, B. (2023). Atypical combinations of technologies in regional co-inventor networks. Research Policy, 52, 104886. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2023.104886

Last modified:03 October 2023 10.07 a.m.
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