The Global Network of Innovation Districts

In March 2022, 23 innovation districts, worldwide, formally joined forces through the Global Network of Innovation Districts to advance one of the most promising models for 21st century innovation, work and urban living. The Global Network will not only make important progress for its participating innovation districts, it will also support development of cutting edge research by The Global Institute. Future findings and research will be used to provide vital insights for governments, policy makers and investors.

The innovation districts taking part—a small group out of over 100 that have so far emerged globally—are located across Europe, North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Australia and Asia.

For decades, isolated science parks and campuses defined where, and how, innovation was achieved. Accessible only by car, they gave insufficient attention to quality of life or to integrating work, housing and recreation. The Global Network has begun to sketch out a journey for how to develop and highlight this more sustainable model.
In a two-year partnership, researchers at The Global Institute on Innovation Districts are working alongside districts in the Global Network to accelerate their growth. The work will include a combination of empirical analysis, peer learning, and structured work to help them to implement new strategies and initiatives.

The Global Network will elevate its work and intentions building from two sets of structured engagements with districts to date:

  • The deep work with The Global Institute´s Steering Committee, which includes two Founding Partners and nine innovation districts across six countries. Over the past three years, the Steering Committee financed extensive and novel research on the nine districts in an effort to better understand their complexity, sophistication, and distinctiveness.
  • The highly engaged work with an inaugural and interim network, which was developed in response to the global pandemic and a growing desire for districts to connect during this challenging and uncertain time.

A framework to leapfrog ahead

The Global Network will use a framework, developed by the Global Institute, to strengthen districts’ Unique Value Proposition. This term refers to the particular combination of assets, characteristics and strengths that makes each district unique compared to other areas in its region.

The Global Network has already played an important role in advancing this GIID framework by adding several core elements to it. These are to advance sustainability, be resilient, attract industry and investment, and communicate for impact.

Participants in the network have also detailed what they most want to learn about, and to advance, in their districts. Over the course of two years, they will meet to discuss these top priorities, seeking help from their peers, sharing new ideas and evidence. They have particularly highlighted their needs to explore topics such as governance, equity and inclusion, building a critical mass, and how they can best organize for success.

Districts will meet sometimes in large groups but also in smaller gatherings to tackle specific challenges. The diagram below illustrates the types of conversations that they would like to have, in order to facilitate their growth and evolution.

The Global Network Model

The power of innovation districts lies in their unique attributes and capabilities. There is no single strategy or playbook for realizing an innovation district’s potential. The distinctiveness of districts would make it difficult for a traditional network to address specific challenges or opportunities as well as to solve highly individualized problems. That’s why the Global Institute has developed a tailored approach, whereby participating innovation districts, working with the Global Network for a minimum of two years, will engage in the following set of activities below:

Robust Empirical Research
The Global Institute’s focus on research—deep empirical analysis of each district—is a fundamental step towards understanding an innovation district’s specific challenges and how to leverage its unique strengths. At the same time, robust analysis across the large number of districts in the Global Network will allow The Global Institute to better identify the R&D strengths that are unique to particular innovation districts. This type of analysis will address concerns, raised by governments and other investors, who have sometimes questioned whether districts’ declared R&D strengths are either unique or supported by sufficient evidence.

To address these concerns and advance its own top-level research, The Global Institute will identify the unique strengths of individual districts in addition to their areas of underperformance, their critical mass of mixed-use activities, and their efforts to create quality of place. Comparative analyses across districts will help to develop the evidence necessary to benchmark and define new typologies for innovation districts. Participants in the Global Network have already defined additional areas for focused learning. These include increasing sustainability, creating strategies to attract industry and investment, building resilience to pandemics and economic recessions, and communicating for impact.

Tailored Peer-to-Peer Learning
Informed by its empirical research, The Global Institute will divide the Global Network into cohorts of innovation districts which share similar characteristics and face similar specific challenges or opportunities. Sessions among these smaller peer groups will be informed by data, allowing leaders in innovation districts to better understand their similarities and differences and to develop strategies that fit their unique needs and circumstances. To ensure that the Global Network also remains a larger collective community, districts will participate in larger sessions in order to learn about emerging models and best practices. Topics that could be covered include: leadership models; governance; sustainable financing; strengthening critical mass; and deeper discussions on inclusive innovation.

Strategic Guidance to Advance the Practice
Innovation districts will work in smaller, curated groups on transforming strategies into concrete solutions and tactics. Supported by The Global Institute and their peers, each innovation district will develop and implement new products or processes to strengthen and accelerate their growth. Through these activities, participants will be able to tap The Global Institute’s thought leadership and network of experts. They will also benefit from the experience of more mature districts in how to implement new strategies and solutions.

Strategies to Increase Visibility and Recognition
An important benefit of the Global Network is that districts will form the basis for The Global Institute’s empirically rich research. Districts will be highlighted in future publications on the rise and evolution of districts, expanding their global reach and exposure. The Global Institute will also work alongside districts to increase their visibility through public information and branding strategies.

In summary, the Global Network of Innovation Districts is a powerful pathway for districts to realize their economic and social potential. Shaped by rigorous analysis and thought leader insights, districts are working together to design new strategies and solutions that will help them to leapfrog ahead. At the same time, The Global Institute will help to codify and scale insights about this emerging, but rapidly evolving model—positioning districts as a unique sub-metropolitan/sub-urban geography worthy of investment.

Our collective efforts will produce cutting edge research about this emerging, and rapidly evolving, place-based model of innovation. Our findings will generate new arguments for why districts are a strategic approach for building a more competitive, sustainable and inclusive economy.