Lead project

Sources and Paths of Innovation: A Spatial Perspective on the Dynamics of Knowledge Generation and Utilisation in the Economy

Research Department: Dynamics of Economic Spaces

IRS Research Topic: Research on Innovation Processes

Project Leader within IRS: Prof. Dr. Oliver Ibert Dr. Verena Brinks

Project Team: Dr. Felix Claus Müller Prof. Dr. Suntje Schmidt Dr. Axel Stein Manuela Wolke

Duration: 01/2012 - 12/2014


This lead project aimed to systemically compare innovation biographies and to evaluate how such innovations are utilised for economic gai n. We conducted qualitative case studies to develop so-called innovation biographies in order to grasp how innovations unfolded. Specifically, we opted to 'follow the idea' whereby we began our investigations from observable innovations and then interviewed experts about an innovation's underlying idea, who had spread it, and through which area and organisation it had been passed on before being realised. We identified all links that proved important in this context, from the very genesis of an idea to its realisation. Moreover, we closely examined the character of and respective proximity between these various links. Given that innovation biographies transcend pre-defined geographical research areas, we decided to restrict our focus to the wider Berlin area and to closely study how innovations evolve in this region.

Our research compared four sectors which ideal-typically produce different kinds of innovation. These are: the biotech industry (representing epistemic communities), legal advice services (representing professional communities), board game developers (representing creative communities), and individuals engaged in popular sports (representing communities of like-minded enthusiasts).

None of the innovations we examined unfolded within clearly defined territorial spaces. As such, innovations are best understood as multi-local phenomena. Our project was able to show that innovations undergo different phases which entail different geographical requirements. This is why an innovation displays shifting focal points over time. In the early stages of an innovation, during which challenges and ideas remain vague, coincidental local encounters between innovators and others have a big impact. Later, when innovators have a better understanding of what challenges lie ahead, they tend to forge relationships over greater distances.


Article released in "European Urban and Regional Studies"

Innovation is considered an important asset for economic growth. This is why the stimulation of innovation processes has been a core strategy for regional development policies for a long time. These policies have been relying on cluster-based approaches and by that on the spatial proximity of actors involved in innovation processes. As a result of year-long research on spatial and temporal aspects of innovation processes researchers of the IRS Research Department “Dynamics of Economic Spaces” developed a new approach called “Open Region” which accounts for – among other aspects – the high mobility of ideas and innovations. In a recently published article in “European Urban and Regional Studies” the concept is explained in detail. more info


Brinks, V., Ibert, O., Müller, F. C., & Schmidt, S. (2018). From Ignorance to Innovation: Serendipitous and Purposeful Mobility in Creative Processes - The Cases of Biotechnology, Legal Services and Board Games. Environment and Planning A, 50(8), 1742-1763. DOI: 10.1177/0308518X18758327
Brinks, V., & Ibert, O. (2015). Mushrooming Entrepreneurship: The Dynamic Geography of Enthusiast-Driven Innovation. Geoforum, 65, 363-373. DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.01.007
Ibert, O. (2014). Organizing Relational Distance: Innovation as the Management of Sociocultural and Time-Spatial Tensions. In A. B. Antal, P. Meusburger, & L. Suarsana (Eds.), Learning Organizations: Extending the Field (pp. 85-102). (Knowledge and Space; No. 6). Dordrecht ; Heidelberg: Springer.
Grabher, G., & Ibert, O. (2014). Distance as Asset? Knowledge Collaboration in Hybrid Virtual Communities. Journal of Economic Geography, 14(1), 97-123. DOI: 10.1093/jeg/lbt014
Müller, F. C., & Ibert, O. (2014). (Re-)Sources of Innovation: Understanding and Comparing Innovation Dynamics through the Lens of Communities of Practice. (Working Paper / Leibniz-Institut für Regionalentwicklung und Strukturplanung; No. 52). Erkner: Leibniz-Institut für Regionalentwicklung und Strukturplanung.
Müller, F. C., & Ibert, O. (2015). (Re-)sources of Innovation: Understanding and Comparing Time-Spatial Innovation Dynamics through the Lens of Communities of Practice. Geoforum, 65, 338-350. DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.10.007