Management of science parks and innovation areas

Prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, Innovation Area Development Partnership / Zjak Consult

Paul Jansen MSc., Innovation Area Development Partnership / Caudata

The science park concept is not static. Given the nature of the activities and the institutions it focuses on, it should not be considered likely that this would be a static concept. Until the beginning of this century this concept was predominantly viewed as a ‘stand-alone’ activity and often primarily as a real estate development. Currently, a science park (and similar concepts) are increasingly being considered as a focal point in a network of innovative companies and institutions. The management of science parks has kept up with these changes over time. New developments demand further changes. At the same time, new concepts have developed and the science park does not have the exclusive right to being and becoming a focal point of innovations.

Innovation areas

In the early stages of the development of science parks the emphasis was placed on real estate. Especially during the last three decades this has significantly changed and the primary focus has shifted to stimulating innovation. That is the first trend. A second trend is an increase in scale. As science parks have reached the limits of their growth, occasionally “branches” developed in other parts of the region, which stresses the importance of previously mentioned networking even more. One out of three members of the IASP (International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation) have two or more locations. Furthermore, those ‘branches’ can not only be found in the regions which are strongly focussed on innovation, but also at other work locations such as industrial co-innovative science parks (developed around a leading innovative company instead of a university), creative factories (creative companies under one roof) and innovation areas. The last category is relatively new and can be defined as “a designated zone with its own specific management team, whose main objectives include economic development via the promotion and attraction of selective innovative business for which specific services are provided or made available, and that may also include residential and cultural zones or facilities, or be embedded in urban spaces having such facilities, and with which the economic aspects of the area of innovation interact” (Sanz, 2016). The management of such a development is, as already was the case in science parks and co-innovative parks, still important, though functional blending is a relatively new element in this concept. The link with a university might be less strong, though can be partially overcome by having a “branch” in a different location.

Figure 1: Eindhoven region (The Netherlands) as an example of an innovative region with several focal points Eindhoven

It is important to establish the fact that the scale can vary widely. Ann Arbor SPARK (U.S.A.) covers an entire region, while 22@Barcelona is 200 ha. All the more reason to distinguish between innovative regions with multiple focal points (to illustrate this: see figure 1) and innovation districts which, in terms of scale, are comparable to co-innovation parks and science parks. Innovation area will then be the umbrella term for science parks, industrial co-innovation parks and innovation districts.

Except for the fact that innovative regions currently may have multiple focal points and a network of companies and institutions which are located in those innovation areas can be created, and companies and institutions which are located in other parts of the region must establish that these innovation areas and innovative regions are also included in the worldwide networks (telecommunication, travel options etc.) through the process of globalisation.

The figure below sketches the development over the past decades. It is an ideal-type image which will rarely apply to a specific innovation area. Figure 2 mainly shows that currently much more emphasis is placed on networks and (therefore also) on the regional embedding of an innovation area.

Figure 2: ideal development of the innovation area concept

Ontwikkleing management

Changing management

The right section of this rough sketch of the development of the concept also shows the manner in which the management of these concepts must also adapt. Often this is all covered by the common denominator “park management”, though the scope of the tasks has become much broader, or can be addressed in a much broader manner. Whereas park management originally still strongly focussed on the maintenance of the real estate, it was fairly quickly combined with making services and facilities available, and subsequently by the wish to create a ‘community’ in the park. Firstly, the attention is focused on the employees. Joint festivities, sports events and having a drink together should help to develop this. The next step (once more: in an ideal typical process) is to connect the people who work in the park as well as the companies. Match making, organising seminars, support with patent applications are all matters which are part of the extensive service package which the park management offers. Some parks take this one step further in the form of management encouraging serendipity.  Essentially it comes down to: how can people with different backgrounds be connected and collaborate, to enable new insights and ultimately new products to be developed through “pure coincidence” (serendipity)?  This may manifest itself in a building in which the concept resembles all kinds of creative work places which are popping up all over the place in which flexible, playfully designed spaces with all kinds of facilities and short lease periods are available for creative people, entrepreneurs and others. An example of this in a science park is the NetWork Oasis at the Joensuu Science Park (Finland). This concept will only become truly interesting when the idea of serendipity is combined with a method in which different researches and product developers with different characters and backgrounds are brought together. This is done via a step-by-step process including training camps and work sessions based on which teams are formed, which will then focus on the development of a new product (see Kakko, 2013). This has consequences for the management method, as shown in the table below. Not that this will make project management obsolete. The schedule shows that by including networking, and particularly from the perspective of serendipity, other skills are required from park managers and involved parties.

 Table 1: difference between project management and management of serendipity (Kakko, 2013)

Serendipity management

In line with the previously mentioned processes of increased scale, an increasing amount of attention is given to the park management organisation of the relationships with companies and knowledge institutions which are located outside the park, though in the region. Certainly in combination with the science park’s satellites, this can lead to an innovation area on a regional level.

Interdisciplinary management team

It must have become clear that buildings are no longer the main aspect of science parks and – more broadly – innovation areas, but that community and networking are essential. This distinguishes this concept from industrial parks, business parks and office parks. Which doesn’t alter the fact that ultimately the businesses and institutions located in the innovation areas also need a roof above their heads. In view of this, specific requirements can be placed on buildings, particularly from the desires for community building and networking. For instance, pedestrian flows, the creation of meeting points, concentration of catering and restaurant facilities where pedestrian flows meet, creative work environments, etc. For the successful management of a science park, it is crucial that the different layers in the social-spatial structure of a science park are recognised and are connected to: the infrastructure, the buildings and the networks. This actually makes an interdisciplinary set up of a park management team an absolute necessity.


In light of the developments outlined here, it is obvious that new innovation areas should be developed in accordance with a modern plan. This means they are embedded in the regional economy and are part of broadly set up innovation programs. All of that in an attractive spatial setting with real estate which optimally facilitates this new manner of working. This can only be successful if these developments are managed from an integral management philosophy.

It concerns not only the management, though also the nature and the design of the buildings, the quality of the surroundings and the possibilities for meetings etc. The older science parks and co-innovative parks are not sufficiently geared to do this. If they want to keep up with the increasingly faster paced developments in the area of innovations, a physical and functional redevelopment will be required, including a reorientation of the management.

Quoted literature

  • Kakko, Ilkka (2013), The Fundamentals of Third Generation Science Park Concept. Paper for the UNESCO-WTA International Training Workshop, Daejeon, Korea.
  • Sanz, L. (2016), Understanding Areas of Innovation. In Anna Nilina, Josep Pique, Luis Sanz (red.): Areas of innovation in a global world. IASP (e-book).


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