101 stories about company networks

To Nofima, the term “network” means professionalism. Good network management and the exchange of information are the most important criteria for success.

Researchers Nina Veflen Olsen (Nofima Mat) and Ingunn Elvekrok (Buskerud University College) have analysed data from 101 regional networks that were organised by Nofima Mat over the period 1995 – 2009.

“We have found that the most important factor for success in networks is the exchange of information. The other factors, such as network organisation, network structure, network management and team spirit, are important because they can influence the extent to which the exchange of information takes place,” says Nina Veflen Olsen of Nofima Mat.

Tough competition – need for innovation

“The challenges for Norwegian food production have increased in line with the ever tougher competitive situation. Companies must step up the pace of innovation in order to survive, which demands new knowledge and skills. This is particularly challenging for small and medium sized companies, because they often lack the necessary capital and resources,” says Veflen Olsen.

As long ago as 1992, the Norwegian authorities saw the need to improve innovation and thereby the competitive abilities of the Norwegian food industry. One of the few politically controlled innovation activities that has been shown to have a positive effect for the food industry is the Network Programme, which is led by Nofima Mat.

Since 1995, Nofima Mat has presided over the formation of more than a hundred networks. The results have come in the form of new and improved products, increased market access, more collaboration and, naturally enough, a bigger network.

Success criteria

The networks are adapted to the participating companies and their needs and resources. Each of the networks consists of five to ten companies, preferably with two or three persons from each company. These meet three or four times over the course of a year for theory, practical trials of methods and techniques and the exchange of information. Between the meetings, the companies work on their own projects, on which they receive help from an expert.

All the networks have a network manager, who is responsible for the network’s content, organisation, project management and reporting.

“The network manager has an important role. The network manager assembles the group, provides the network with professionally and technically relevant input and sets aside enough time for discussion and social interaction. These are factors that have a positive effect on the results. Other factors also come into play, such as internal conditions in the individual companies and the participants’ commitment and willingness to share knowledge and information at the meetings. A good network manager is aware of these factors and tries to stimulate commitment and the exchange of information, both in the network and within the company,” says Veflen Olsen.

Veflen Olsen and Elvekrok have carried out analyses in which they have studied data from all 101 networks. Breaking them down into the seven categories network composition, network content, project management, team spirit, internal company conditions, exchange of information and network results, they have been looking for similarities across as many cases as possible.

“In a good network there is an exchange of information from external experts to the companies, from the companies to the experts and from company to company. The knowledge generated within the network is also spread internally within each individual company,” Veflen Olsen stresses.

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