First study into Dutch ecosystems in a European context

Robust research and innovation ecosystems are the receptive ground for valuable new knowledge, skills, and activities. The Netherlands has affirmed its ambition to strengthen these types of ecosystems, but innovation collaboration does not end at the national border. Little effort has been done on identifying the international connection between research and innovation ecosystems. TNO has now taken the first steps to change this with a study of Dutch ecosystems in a European context. This study was conducted under the auspices of the programmatic collaboration with the Innovation and Knowledge Directorate of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.


The concept of 'innovation ecosystem' is based on the concepts of economic clusters and innovation systems. This type of ecosystem is characterised by an emphasis more on renewal, innovation, and diversification than on expanding existing strengths and specialisations of dominant enterprises in the ecosystem. In such an ecosystem, the focus extends beyond just valorising knowledge and fostering entrepreneurship. It also emphasises the significance of various stakeholders in the 'triple helix' or 'quadruple helix' model, where the collaboration between government, industry, academia, and society plays a pivotal role.

“Mapping ecosystems is a difficult task, because ecosystems themselves cannot be clearly defined,” according to Thijmen van Bree, economic researcher at TNO Vector. “The ecosystem is slightly different for every actor, and new actors are added or disappear on a daily basis. We don’t have a good method for mapping international ecosystems yet, which makes it difficult to strengthen the research and innovation ecosystems that are so important to the Netherlands in a targeted way.”

The modus operandi of an ecosystem

According to Van Bree and his fellow researchers, the development of ecosystems can best be understood on the basis of the way in which the interests of individual parties and collective interests of the broader system are weighed up, and ultimately strategic choices are made. According to Van Bree, characteristics and factors specific to a particular region and context play a role in this. “There’s no perfect one-size-fits-all configuration, which explains why a lot of the emphasis in our study was placed on the organisational and process aspects of regional innovation ecosystems; their modus operandi.”

Strategy formation, leadership, organisational culture, coordination, and partnerships are important success factors in the modus operandi of ecosystems. “In literature, these 'how' questions are considered at least as important as the presence of innovation assets that form the basic elements and production factors of an ecosystem.” This is also evident in the previous study report: Growth through regional innovative ecosystems.

First results

The new study by Van Bree and his colleagues makes it clear that Dutch stakeholders often collaborate in European research and innovation ecosystems. “We’re aware that our country has strong international connections, and this is reflected in our study. Dutch actors are an important, integral part of European research and innovation networks.”

The study also makes it clear that the Netherlands is seen above all as a strong collaborative partner in ecosystems in which it traditionally has strong business sectors and expertise. “This confirms the view that research and innovation ecosystems are based on existing strengths in society, and agrees with current innovation and economic policies.”

During their study, Van Bree and his colleagues discovered that similar ecosystems have different names and are approached differently in different places. “The interconnectedness of ecosystems can only be studied substantively. You can’t rely on a typology based on something such as a character trait, organisational form, or policy. That meant we were unable to categorise ecosystems exclusively along the lines of 'technology driven', 'knowledge driven', or mission driven', as we found too much overlap between these.” In addition, it became clear that the degree of interconnectedness of ecosystems depends on various factors, but these factors vary from one ecosystem to the next. “We can therefore conclude that implementing a one-size-fits-all policy is probably pointless. and that a tailor-made approach is necessary for each ecosystem.”

Recent articles