The role of public innovation intermediaries in supporting the digital transition

This post has been contributed by Dr Federica Rossi, Birkbeck, University of London, Dr Ana Colovic, NEOMA Business School, Dr Annalisa Caloffi, University of Florence, and Prof Margherita Russo, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

The ‘fourth industrial revolution’ uses the power of digitalisation to connect people and objects globally. The so-called Industry 4.0 technologies, such as robotics, 3D printing and Internet of Things (IoT) are reshaping production processes and the associated value chains. Whilst digitalisation, by enabling global connectedness, generates new markets, new products and services, new and more efficient processes, these opportunities can be adequately exploited only by those companies that are able to redesign their activities in order to align with the new paradigm.

Innovation intermediaries can play an important role in helping companies to address the challenges brought about by the digital transformation. They can help companies to adopt and integrate new technological and organisational systems and processes, foster collaborations among SMEs and between SMEs and large companies, and unveil market opportunities. But despite the growing interest in innovation intermediaries and the growing awareness of the need to support companies in the process of digital transformation, little research exists on the different roles played by different types of innovation intermediaries, and, in particular, on the specific role of public or publicly-funded innovation intermediaries in this context.

In our study, we have sought to address this research gap. Thanks to funding from the British Academy-Leverhulme, we have carried out, between 2018 and 2019, numerous interviews with selected public intermediaries in France and in the UK, innovation experts and companies. In our paper ‘Public innovation intermediaries and digital co-creation’ (which has been published as one of the outputs of the OECD TIP Co-creation project , and is also available as a CIMR Working Paper) we present three main sets of key findings.

First, we show that, when co-creating a complex technological solution, the intermediary is involved in two complementary, often intertwined, but distinct processes that bring together organisations that ‘demand’ technology, on the one side, with organisations that ‘supply’ (full or, more often, partial) technological solutions, on the other side. The intermediary can be involved in either one of these processes, or more often in both at the same time:

  • On the ‘demand’ side, the intermediary helps the organisation that is looking for a technological solution (which could be a large company, a SME, or another actor like a municipality) to articulate their demand for such solution, and eventually to find it as well (we call this ‘demand-led’ co-creation process).
  • On the ‘supply’ side, the intermediary brings together a system of technology providers (large companies, SMEs, universities and public research organisations) able to devise, develop and implement a technological solution which responds to a client’s needs (we call this ‘supply-led’ co-creation).

Second, since intermediaries performing these roles do not necessarily have to be public or publicly-funded, we single out the specificities of public innovation intermediaries that allow them to play a unique role in the co-creation of complex technological solutions, assigned to them by the public policy mandates. These specificities are listed in the following figure.

Finally, we identify the features of public innovation intermediaries – which relate to their public nature and funding – that allow them to play their specific role in the co-creation of complex technological solutions. Such key features are: (i) the legitimacy to act as intermediaries, because they have been mandated to do so by a public agency endowed with authority; (ii) the presence of public funding, which can facilitate the survival of public intermediaries for a long time, even in difficult economic times, and enables intermediaries to gain reputation and trust over time; (iii) the intermediaries’ good understanding of competencies in the relevant regions and sectors, and ability to mobilise the competences of various actors for the purpose of specific projects or to respond to specific needs (developed over time); (iv) a functioning evaluation process that spurs them to act effectively and efficiently and to be responsive to demands from their stakeholders


Rossi, F., Caloffi, A., Colovic, A., Russo, M. (2020),”Public innovation intermediaries and digital co-creation. Research contribution to the OECD TIP Co-creation project”: and