Project Social Capital in Biotech R&D: Its Configuration and Impact on Knowledge Development

  • Mats Magnusson
  • Daniele Mascia
  • Fausto di Vincenzo


Drawing upon recent literature, which employs social networks in the field of project management, the aim of this research is to empirically investigate the importance of projects’ social capital for knowledge development in R&D projects. Primary data were collected via sociometric questionnaires on a population of 53 biotech R&D projects located at one of the most important science parks in Sweden. The analysis focused on the distinctive structural configuration of projects’ social capital, among which the roles of network diversity were emphasized. Our results suggest that certain structural configurations of project social capital maximize the level of effectiveness in knowledge development. More specifically, we found an inverted U-shaped relationship between projects’ network diversity and their level of knowledge development, demonstrating that intermediate levels of diversity maximize project knowledge development. Implications for innovation managers and policymakers are discussed.


  1. Arthur, M. B., DeFillippi, R. J., & Jones, C. (2001). Project-based learning as the interplay of career and company non-financial capital. Management Learning, 32, 99–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Audretsch, D., & Feldman, M. (1996). R&D spillovers and the geography of innovation and production. American Economic Review, 86, 630–640.Google Scholar
  3. Bakker, R. M., DeFillippi, R. J., Schwab, A., & Sydow, J. (2016). Temporary organizing: Promises, processes, problems. Organization Studies, 12, 1703–1720.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bhidè, A. (2000). The origin and evolution of new businesses. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Blumenthal, D., Campbell, E. G., Causino, N., & Louis, K. S. (1996). Participation of life-science faculty in research relationships with industry. New England Journal of Medicine, 335, 1734–1739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bresnen, M., Goussevskaia, A., & Swan, J. (2004). Embedding new management knowledge in project-based organizations. Organization Studies, 25, 1535–1555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burt, R. S. (1983). Range. In R. S. Burt & M. J. Minor (Eds.), Applied network analysis. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  8. Burt, R. S. (1992). Structural holes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Cacciatori, E. (2008). Memory objects in project environments: Storing, retrieving and adapting learning in project-based firms. Research Policy, 37, 1591–1601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cattani, G., Ferriani, S., Frederiksen, L., & Taube, F. (2011). Project-based organizing and strategic management. Advances in Strategic Management, Vol. 28.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, W., & Levinthal, D. (1990). Absorptive capacity: A new perspective on learning and innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35, 128–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cummings, J. N., & Kiesler, S. (2007). Coordination costs and project outcomes in multi-university collaborations. Research Policy, 36, 1620–1634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cusumano, M. A., & Nobeoka, K. (1998). Thinking beyond lean: How multi-project management is transforming product development at Toyota and other companies. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  14. Czarnitzki, D., Glänzel, W., & Hussinger, K. (2009). Heterogeneity of patenting activity and its implications for scientific research. Research Policy, 38, 26–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davies, A., & Brady, T. (2000). Organizational capabilities and learning in complex product systems: Towards repeatable solutions. Research Policy, 29, 931–953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davies, A., Brady, T., Prencipe, A. & Hobday, M. (2011). Innovation in complex products and systems: Implications for project-based organizing. In G. Cattani, S. Ferriani, L. Frederiksen, & F. Taube, Project-based organizing and strategic management; Advances in strategic management, Vol. 28.Google Scholar
  17. Di Vincenzo, F., & Mascia, D. (2012). Social capital in project-based organizations: Its role, structure and impact on project performance. International Journal of Project Management, 30, 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ebers, M., & Powell, W. (2007). Biotechnology: Its origins, organization, and outputs. Research Policy, 36, 433–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Felsenstein, D. (1994). University-related science parks—“seedbeds” or enclaves of innovation? Technovation, 14, 93–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grabher, G. (2002a). The project ecology of advertising: Tasks, talents and teams. Regional Studies, 36, 245–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grabher, G. (2002b). Cool projects, boring institutions: Temporary collaboration in social context. Regional Studies, 36, 205–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grabher, G. (2004). Temporary architectures of learning: Knowledge governance in project ecologies. Organization Studies, 25, 1491–1514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Guimerà, R., Uzzi, B., Spiro, J., & Nunes Amaral, L. A. (2005). Team assembly mechanisms determine collaboration network structure and team performance. Science, 308, 697–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hagedoorn, J., & Cloodt, M. (2003). Measuring innovative performance: Is there an advantage in using multiple indicators? Research Policy, 32, 1365–1379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hobday, M. (2000). The project-based organization: An ideal form for managing complex products and systems. Research Policy, 29, 190–241.Google Scholar
  26. Keegan, A., & Turner, J. R. (2002). The management of innovation in project based firms. Long Range Planning, 35, 367–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Keller, R. T., & Holland, W. E. (1982). The measurement of performance among R&D professional employees: A longitudinal analysis. IEEE Transactions of Engineering Management, 29, 54–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lawrence, P., & Lorsch, J. (1967). Differentiation and integration in complex organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 12, 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lichtenthaler, U. (2010). Outward knowledge transfer: The impact of project-based organization on performance. Industrial and Corporate Change, 19, 1705–1739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Liebeskind, J. P., Oliver, A. L., Zucker, L., & Brewer, M. (1996). Social networks, learning, and flexibility: Sourcing scientific knowledge in new biotechnology firms. Organization Science, 7, 428–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Linton, J. D., Walsh, S. T., & Morabito, J. (2002). Analysis, ranking and selection of R&D projects in a portfolio. R&D Management, 32, 139–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Long, J. S., & Freese, J. (2006). Regression models for categorical dependent variables using Stata (3rd ed.). College Station, TX: Stata Press.Google Scholar
  33. Manning, S., & Sydow, J. (2011). Projects, paths, and practices: Sustaining and leveraging project-based relationships, Industrial and Corporate Change, 20, 1369–1402.Google Scholar
  34. Maurer, I., & Ebers, M. (2006). Dynamics of social capital and their performance implications: Lessons from biotechnology start-ups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51, 262–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McCauley, C. (1989). The nature of social influence in groupthink: Compliance and internalization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 250–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McFayden, M. A., & Cannella, A. A. (2004). Social capital and knowledge creation: Diminishing returns of the number and strength of exchange relationships. Academy of Management Journal, 47, 735–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McKelvey, M., Alm, H., & Riccaboni, M. (2003). Does co-location matter for formal knowledge collaboration in the Swedish biotechnology–Pharmaceutical sector? Research Policy, 32, 483–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Milliken, F. J., & Martins, L. L. (1996). Searching for common threads: Understanding the multiple effects of diversity in organizational groups. Academy of Management Review, 2, 402–433.Google Scholar
  39. Noteboom, B., Van Haverrbeke, W., Duysters, G., Gilsing, V., & van den Oord, A. (2007). Optimal cognitive distance and absorptive capacity. Research Policy, 36, 1016–1034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Obstfeld, D. (2005). Social networks, the tertius iugens orientation, and involvement in innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50, 100–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Oh, H., Chung, M.-H., & Labianca, G. (2004). Group social capital and group effectiveness: The role of informal socializing ties. Academy of Management Journal, 47, 860–875.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pelled, L. H., Eisenhardt, K. M., & Xin, K. R. (1999). Exploring the black box: An analysis of work group diversity, conflict and performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 1, 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Powell, W. W., Koput, K. W., & Smith-Doerr, L. (1996). Inter-organizational collaboration and the locus of innovation: Networks of learning in biotechnology. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41, 116–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Prado, P., & Sapsed, J. (2016). The anthropophagic organization: How innovations transcend the temporary in a project-based organization. Organization Studies, 37, 1793–1818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Prencipe, A., & Tell, F. (2001). Inter-project learning: Processes and outcomes of knowledge codification in project-based firms. Research Policy, 30, 1373–1394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Reagans, R., & Zuckerman, E. W. (2001). Networks, diversity and productivity: The social capital of corporate R&D teams. Organization Science, 12, 502–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Semadeni, M., & Anderson, B. (2010). The follower’s dilemma: Innovation and imitation in the professional service industry. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 1175–1193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stjerne, I. S., & Svejenova, S. (2016). Connecting temporary and permanent organizing: Tensions and boundary work in sequential film projects. Organization Studies, 37, 1771–1792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Storey, D. J., & Tether, B. S. (1998). New technology-based firms in the European Union: An introduction. Research Policy, 26, 933–946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sydow, J., & Staber, U. (2002). The institutional embeddedness of project networks: The case of content production in German television. Regional Studies, 36, 215–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sydow, J., Lindkvist, L., & DeFillippi, R. (2004). Project-based organizations, embeddedness and repositories of knowledge: Editorial. Organization Studies, 25, 1475–1489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. van Knippenberg, D., & Mell, J. N. (2016). Past, present, and potential future of team diversity research: From compositional diversity to emergent diversity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 136, 135–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Verona, G., & Ravasi, D. (1999). Core competence per sviluppare nuovi prodotti con continuità. Economia & Management, 3, 99–110.Google Scholar
  54. Whitley, R. (2004). Competition and pluralism in the public sciences: The impact of institutional frameworks on the organisation of academic science. Research Policy, 32, 1015–1029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zahra, S. A., & George, G. (2002). Absorptive capacity: A review, reconceptualization, and extension. Academy of Management Review, 27, 185–203.Google Scholar
  56. Zeller, C. (2002). Project teams as means of restructuring research and development in the pharmaceutical industry. Regional Studies, 36, 275–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mats Magnusson
    • 1
  • Daniele Mascia
    • 2
  • Fausto di Vincenzo
    • 3
  1. 1.KTH Royal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of ManagementUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  3. 3.G. D’Annunzio UniversityPescaraItaly

Personalised recommendations