The organizational adaptation of universities to smart specialization: the emergence of strategic network interface units

Liliana Fonseca, Carlos Rodrigues, Joan-Lluís Capelleras

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Universities are increasingly expected to engage in regional innovation policy. This has reinforced the need for organizational adaptation of university structures to respond to these new challenges. Recently, a variation in the typical knowledge transfer structures has emerged: strategic network interface units. These units are multidisciplinary and cluster-like formal networks led by universities in collaboration with businesses, government authorities and other organizations. This paper compares the organizational adaptation of two universities–the University of Aveiro and the Autonomous University of Barcelona–as they assume increased responsibilities in regional innovation dynamics. Through interview-based analysis, findings suggest these interface units were created to support the alignment of the universities with smart specialization strategies and EU priority areas for accessing funding. However, while the original aims of these units are very similar, their institutional and operational configuration has led to different cooperative arrangements. Transversal communication based on trust and capacity-building was an important supporting factor in the innovation impact of these units.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Planning Studies
Early online date3 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Dec 2020


  • Universities
  • interface units
  • organizational adaptation
  • regional cooperation
  • smart specialization

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