By Julie Fabbri and Anna Glaser
During the 16th EURAM Conference in Paris (at Paris-Creteil University) we had the opportunity to organize a Development Working Group (DWG) entitled “Fab lab, coworking space, start-up accelerator… New spaces of cooperation?”. The DWG was sponsored by the SIG Entrepreneurship and took place on Friday, June 3rd 2016. We are happy to share to a broader audience what happened there.
In line with this year’s conference theme – “Manageable Cooperation?” -, the DWG gathered scholars and practitioners to discuss new collaborative practices and spaces for business development. It focused on various forms of collaborative spaces such as coworking spaces, fab labs, start-up accelerators, innovation labs, created by different set of people like freelancers, academics, publics, or corporate entities. Three speakers were invited around the table to discuss this nascent research topic in management science: Sihem Ben Mahmoud-Jouini from HEC Paris (France), Thierry Rayna from Novancia Business School & Imperial College London (France & UK), and François-Xavier de Vaujany from Paris-Dauphine University-PSL (France). Their takes were based on different theoretical backgrounds (ranging from innovation management, economics to information systems) based on in depth empirical studies taken place in various settings (e.g. innovation labs, fablabs, coworking spaces).
To understand the background of this DWG, just a few words about us – Julie Fabbri (from Ecole polytechnique i3-CRG, France) and Anna Glaser (from Novancia Business School, France) – the heads behind this DWG: we are two young scholars in Management and Organisation Studies (MOS) who thrive for collaborative spaces. Anna (originally from Austria, but living and working in France) comes from an industry cluster and public policy background. Her PhD thesis (2014) dealt with the institutional factors that facilitate or hinder the genesis of inter-organizational collaborations in the context of top-down cluster policies. Julie (a 100% Parisian but moving to Lyon very soon) anchors her work in the material turn of MOS and focuses on work situations that facilitated by multi-company shared workspaces. In her PhD thesis (2015), she studied inter-organizational collaborative dynamics within coworking spaces for innovative entrepreneurs.
Building on the key findings of our respective works, we highlighted how collaborative spaces enhance, support and grasp cooperation and collaboration relationships between individuals, groups, and organisations that would probably never emerged without shared physical spaces. As François-Xavier de Vaujany (one of the keynote speakers) claimed, we are also convinced these spaces are great units of analysis to “look at something else, something bigger like the rise of entrepreneurship and freelancing, the return of communities… This object offers the opportunity to illuminate things beyond collaborative spaces themselves.” Being aware that physical proximity is not the only factor ensuring collaborative dynamics, we were striving to understand better how spaces could drive to success. The roundtable allowed us to confront theories with practices in order to provide insights about the current state of art around collaborative spaces. Drawing from talks and discussions, we suggest avenues for further research.
At the beginning of the session the keynote speakers were asked to describe collaborative spaces which have particularly impressed and intrigued them. First, Thierry Rayna presented the case of a Russian Fab Lab. This original space built intergenerational cooperations between kids and adults. Second, François-Xavier de Vaujany exposed three international examples of collaborative spaces (100ECS in Paris – France, ECTO in Montreal – Canada, and Betahaus in Barcelona – Spain). For each of them the aesthetic dimension plays a crucial role. Finally, Sihem Ben Mahmoud-Jouini spoke about three corporate collaborative spaces in three large & leading established companies firms from various industrial sectors in France (the iLab of Air Liquide – Gas Industry, the Design Center of Thales – Defense industry, and the Digital Studio of Essilor – Optical Industry). They arranged specific physical spaces for innovation endeavours that can transform the way they innovate.
Then, we moved on the specific organizational processes, technologies and artefacts present in spaces. Sihem explained, for instance, that flexibility within Thales Design Center space is particularly important to fit with each new project and new working conditions. François-Xavier commented on an understudied element in MOS: the smell. During his visits, he was surprised by the intense smell in maker spaces (e.g. burning, dust). Whereas for him the smell was quite aggressive and unpleasant, for manager it meant that people were really making things. Finally, Thierry related the story of children creative capacities. Because they were not old enough to use 3D CAD software, they accessed 3D scanners to print a little pony in 3D from a model made in play dough. They completely distorted the rules made by the adults.
During the second stage of the roundtable, we discussed the different theoretical frameworks used to study collaborative spaces. We questioned keynote speakers about the challenges behind studying a new research object such as collaborative spaces. Our speakers came from various various disciplines: strategic management, organisation studies, innovation management, technology management, information systems, entrepreneurship, public policy… Here are the different approaches we discussed about:
- According to François-Xavier de Vaujany, two perspectives seem really interesting. First, Merleau-Ponty’s (1945, 1964) and de Certeau (1984) phenomenology are likely to shed light on bodies, embodiment, emotions, mobility, gesture, expressivity and invisibility, to make sense of legitimation beyond discourses. “It is not obvious to work in collaborative spaces. You need to reinvent yourself and your relationship to work.” Second, Marxist discussions about politics, events and transformative agencies (e.g. Coombs, 2013) can be very useful to conceptualise social, political and economic change processes within a disruptive paradigm.
- Sihem Ben Mahmoud-Jouini insisted on the way collaborative spaces can transform how organisations think and do innovation. “Innovation labs –or whatever you call them – are flourishing everywhere. Is it just a fad? Otherwise, what do they reveal?” In particular, she highlighted the three stages of innovation management processes : the upstream phase of innovation management (e.g. exploration activities), the prototyping phase (e.g. what is the value of a prototype vs a demonstrator or a simulator?), and organizational design at large (e.g. which management scheme for innovation labs? Which links with the rest of the organisation?).
- Last but not least, Thierry Rayna quoted Third Wave (1984), Toffler’s book, to put the emphasis on the digital manufacturing revolution. He stated that entrepreneurship literature has to get deeper in two new forms of entrepreneurship, both allowed and enhanced by collaborative spaces: casual entrepreneurship and community-based entrepreneurship. “We need spaces for communities to work together” (e.g. Cohendet et al., 2010).
Finally, we tried to project ourselves in the future and determine new avenues for further research. Our three speakers shared with us their research agendas on collaborative spaces and beyond.
For Thierry Rayna, there are two remaining issues: an opposite way of doing entrepreneurship and the business model. In fact, some spaces may struggle to survive and to provide access to as many people they can. With Luciana Castro-Goncalves (ESIEE), Anna Glaser (Novancia Business School), and Yannick Meiller (ESCP Europe), he launches a research programme on the impact of 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing on Innovation Practices and Entrepreneurship. They focus on how digital manufacturing impacts open innovation practices and on how innovation management needs to be adapted to leverage digital manufacturing?
Sihem Ben Mahmoud-Jouini also emphasized the crucial question of the business model of collaborative spaces, even in a corporate context. After few months of creation, innovation labs have to demonstrate the benefit for the company by showing evidence and facts. What value can they can for the organisation? How to implement some reporting measurement? “The life-cycle perspective of these spaces is a very promising one for both academics and managers.” Sihem added three other directions for the next coming years she would like to study with Julie Fabbri and some PhD candidates: (1) network(s) of innovation labs in multinational corporations (e.g. in several business units, geographical areas). (2) Intrapreneurship. How can collaborative spaces support communities of intrapreneurs or corporate hackers? (3) Big data and collaborative spaces. “After ‘corporate garages’ and ‘design studios’, more and more firms are launching ‘Data Labs’. What do they do?”.
François-Xavier de Vaujany’s concluded the round table by highlighting the relationship between managerial practices and politics, and the broader transformation of political programs and the society in general. It took the opportunity to present the nascent global network called “Research Group about Collaborative Spaces” (RGCS) he set up in November 2014. The ambition of this international network is to encourage research projects and conversations around situated practices and processes at the heart of value creation in organisations, in several cities: Paris & Lyon/Grenoble (France), London (UK), Montreal (Canada), Barcelona (Spain), and society at large. He also announced that the first international RGCS symposium “Work and workplace transformations: The new communities of makers and entrepreneurs in the city” will take place on December, 16th 2016 in Paris and that the deadline of the call for paper (abstract of 1.000 word) is June 30th.
At the end of the talk, we opened the floor to the audience. People raised up the idea to look at Urban Studies and Social Network Dynamics. Other asked for more insights around the dark side of collaborative spaces.
We would like to end this note with a warm thanks to the three excellent panellists and the audience that made a huge effort by coming and listening us during a late Friday afternoon, on a strike and rainy day! Spare a thought for Hélène Bussy, the third coordinator of this DWG, who was not able to come to Paris…
Please, be free to write us and visit RGCS website to participate to other RGCS Symposiums: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
 François-Xavier de Vaujany, Julie Fabbri, Pierre Laniray and Anna Glaser are the coordinators of RGCS Paris Chapter. To know more: https://collaborativespacesstudy.wordpress.com/ on Twitter @collspaces.
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