Value co-creation in University-Industry collaboration. An exploratory analysis in digital research projects

  • Francesco Polese
  • Maria Vincenza Ciasullo
  • Raffaella Montera
Keywords: university-industry collaboration; value co-creation; S-D logic; R&D projects; digital platforms; focus group


Purpose of the paper: The paper aims to investigate how academic and business actors co-create value when collaborating in digital research projects.

Methodology: Qualitative research was conducted according to a social constructionism approach. Thirty participants comprising Italian university researchers and industry practitioners took part in three focus groups.

Findings: The interplay among resources, interactions, and outcomes was analysed across individual, organisational, and institutional layers to provide a comprehensive understanding of the value co-creation process between university and industry. Some barriers to the co-creation of value also emerged.

Research limitations: The study had some limitations related to the generalisability of the research results. These limitations nonetheless represent potential avenues for future research.

Practical implications: The study contributes practically to the debate on value co-creation between university and industry in the context of digitalisation, highlighting some actions aimed at developing successful research collaborations and facilitating the transfer of knowledge between scientific and economic actors.

Originality of the paper: The entire value co-creation process was examined, as well as both sides of university-industry (U-I) collaboration, which were considered simultaneously. A conceptual framework consisting of building blocks and contextual layers is proposed drawing on the service-dominant (S-D) logic perspective.


AGRAWAL A., HENDERSON R. (2002), “Putting patents in context: Exploring knowledge transfer from MIT”, Management Science, vol. 48, n. 1, pp. 44-60.

BARILE S., POLESE F. (2010), “Smart service systems and viable service systems: Applyng system theory to service science”, Service Science, vol. 2, n. 1-2, pp. 21-40.

BAUERSFELD H. (1995), “Language games’ in the mathematics classroom: Their function and their Effects”, in Cobb P., Bauersfeld H. (Eds.), The emergence of mathematical meaning: Interaction in classroom cultures, Hillsdale, US-NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum: pp. 211-292.

BEKKERS R., BODAS FREITAS I.M. (2008), “Analysing knowledge transfer channels between universities and industry: to what degree do sectors also matter?”, Research Policy, vol. 37, n. 10, pp. 1837-1853.

BHARADWAJ A., EL SAWY O.A., PAVLOU P.A., VENKATRAMAN N. (2013), “Digital business strategy: Toward a next generation of insights”, MIS Quarterly, vol. 37, n. 2, pp. 471-482.

BOZEMAN B., FAY D., SLADE C. (2013), “Research collaboration in universities and academic entrepreneurship: The-state-of-the-art”, The Journal of Technology Transfer, vol. 38, n. 1, pp. 1-67.

BRAUN V., CLARKE V. (2006), “Using thematic analysis in psychology”, Qualitative Research in Psychology, vol. 3, n. 2, pp. 77-101.

BRUNEEL J., D’ESTE P., SALTER A. (2010), “Investigating the factors that diminish the barriers to university–industry collaboration”, Research Policy, vol. 39, n. 7, pp. 858-868.

BRYMAN A. (2012), Social research methods, 4th Ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press.

CANTNER U., HINZMANN S., WOLF T. (2017), “The coevolution of innovative ties, proximity, and competencies: Toward a dynamic approach to innovation cooperation”, in Glückler J., Lazega E., Hammer I. (Eds.), Knowledge and networks. Knowledge and space, pp. 337-372.

CHANDLER J.D., VARGO S.L. (2011), “Contextualization and value-in-context: How context frames exchange”, Marketing Theory, vol. 11, n. 1, pp. 35-49.

CIASULLO M. (2018), Service innovation in (Eco)System View. Towards a circular path of co-innovation, Giappichelli Editore, Torino.

CHRYSSOU C.E. (2020), “University-industry interactions in the Sultanate of Oman: Challenges and opportunities”, Industry and Higher Education, pp. 1-16.

COHEN W.M., NELSON R.R., WALSH J.P. (2002), “Links and impacts: The influence of public research on industrial R&D”, Management Science, vol. 48, n. 1, pp. 1-23.

CORSARO D., RAMOS C., HENNEBERG S.C., NAUDÉ P. (2012), “The impact of network configurations on value constellations in business markets. The case of an innovation network”, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 41, n. 1, pp. 54-67.

D’ESTE P., GUY F., IAMMARINO S. (2013), “Shaping the formation of university–industry research collaborations: What type of proximity does really matter?”, Journal of Economic Geography, vol. 13, n. 4, pp. 537-558.

DENZIN N.K., LINCOLN Y.S. (Eds.) (2012), Strategies of qualitative inquiry, 4th ed., London: Sage.

DU J., LETEN B., VANHAVERBEKE W. (2014), “Managing and measuring value co-creation in business-to-business relationships”, Research Policy, vol. 43, n. 5, pp. 828-840.

EDMONDSON G., VALIGRA L., KENWARD M., HUDSON R.L., BELFIELD H. (2012), Making industry-university partnerships work. Lessons from successful collaborations, Science/Business/Innovation Board AISBL.

EDVARDSSON B., TRONVOLL B., GRUBER T. (2011), “Expanding understanding of service exchange and value co-creation: A social construction approach”, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 39, n. 2, pp. 327-339.

ETZKOWITZ H. (2016), “The Entrepreneurial University: Vision and Metrics”, Industry and Higher Education, vol. 30, n. 2, pp. 83-97.

FEREDAY J., MUIR-COCHRANE E. (2008), “Demonstrating rigour using thematic analysis: A hybrid approach of inductive and deductive coding and theme development”, Journal of Qualitative Methods, vol. 5, n. 11, pp. 80-92.

FRANCO M., HAASE H. (2015), “University-industry cooperation: Researchers’ motivations and interaction channels”, Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, vol. 36, pp. 41-51.

FRISINA A. (2010), Focus group: Una guida pratica, Il Mulino, Bologna.

GALÁN-MUROS V., PLEWA C. (2016), “What drives and inhibits university-business cooperation in Europe? A comprehensive assessement”, R&D Management, vol. 46, n. 2, pp. 369-382.

GARCIA R., ARAÚJO V., MASCARINI S., SANTOS E.G., COSTA A.R. (2018), “How the benefits, results and barriers of collaboration affect university engagement with industry”, Science and Public Policy, vol. 46, n. 3, pp. 347-357.

GUMMESSON E., MELE C. (2010), “Marketing as value co-creation through network interaction and resource integration”, Journal of Business Market Management, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 181-198.

HA Y., KWON S. (2016), “A study on factors influencing the outcomes of university-industry collaborative activities focusing on the faculty’s need for and engagement in university-industry collaborative activities”, Indian Journal of Science and Technology, vol. 9, n. 46, pp. 1-8.

HEMMERT M., BSTIELER L., OKAMURO H. (2014), “Bridging the cultural divide: Trust formation in university-industry research collaborations in the US, Japan, and South Korea”, Technovation, vol. 34, n. 10, pp. 605-616.

HENARD D.H., MCFADYEN M.A. (2006), “R&D knowledge is power”, Research-Technology Management, vol. 49, n. 3, pp. 41-47.

HITT M.A., IRELAND R.D., SANTORO M. (2003), “Developing and managing strategic alliances, building social capital and creating value”, in Ghobadian A., O’Regan N., Gallear D., Viney, H. (Eds.), Strategy and Performance: Achieving Competitive Advantage in the Global Marketplace, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills.

JANSSEN O., VLIERT E.V.D., WEST M. (2004). “The bright and dark sides of individual and group innovation: A special issue introduction”, Journal of Organizational Behavior, vol. 25, n. 2, pp. 129-145.

KITAGAWA F., LIGHTOWLER C. (2013), “Knowledge exchange: A comparison of policies, strategies, and funding incentives in English and Scottish higher education”, Research Evaluation, vol. 22, n. 1, pp. 1-14.

KITZINGER J., BARBOUR R. (Eds.) (1999), Developing focus group research: politics, theory and practice, Sage, London.

LAMBERT D.M., ENZ M.G. (2012), “Managing and measuring value co-creation in business-to-business relationships”, Journal of Marketing Management, vol. 28, n. 13/14, pp. 1588-1625.

LAURSEN K., REICHSTEIN T., SALTER A. (2011), “Exploring the effect of geographical proximity and university quality on university-industry collaboration in the United Kingdom”, Regional Studies, vol. 45, n. 4, pp. 507-523.

MARBACH G. (2010), Ricerche per il marketing, 2th Ed., Utet, Torino.

MEYNHARDT T., CHANDLER J.D., STRATHOFF P. (2016), “Systemic principles of value co-creation: Synergetics of value and service ecosystems”, Journal of Business Research, vol. 69, n. 8, pp. 2981-2989.

MELE C., RUSSO-SPENA T. (2015), “Innomediary agency and practices in shaping market innovation”, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 44, pp. 42-53.

MUSCIO A., POZZALI A. (2012), “The effects of cognitive distance in university-industry collaborations: Some evidence from Italian universities”, The Journal of Technology Transfer, vol. 38, n. 4, pp. 486-508.

NAMBISAN, S. (2017), “Digital entrepreneurship: toward a digital technology perspective of entrepreneurship”, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, vol. 41, n. 6, pp. 1029–1055.

NGUGI I., JOHNSEN R.E., ERDELYI P. (2010), “Relational capabilities for value co-creation and innovation in SMEs”, Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, vol. 17, n. 2, pp. 260-278.

PERKMANN M., TARTARI V., MCKELVEY M., AUTIO E., BROSTRÖM A., D’ESTE P., SOBRERO M. (2013), “Academic engagement and commercialisation: A review of the literature on university–industry relations”, Research Policy, vol. 42, n. 2, pp. 423-442.

PERKS H., GRUBER T., EDVARDSSON B. (2012), “Co-creation in radical service innovation: A systematic analysis of microlevel processes”, Journal of Product Innovation Management, vol. 29, n. 6, pp. 935-951.

POTTER J. (1996), Representing reality: Discourse, rhetoric and social construction, Sage, London.

PRAHALAD C., RAMASWAMY V. (2004), The future of competition: Co-creating unique value with customers, HBS Press.Boston, MA.

RAMASWAMY, V., OZCAN, K. (2014), The co-creation paradigm, Stanford University Press.

RIPPA, P., SECUNDO, G. (2019), “Digital academic entrepreneurship: The potential of digital technologies on academic entrepreneurship”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 146, pp. 900-911.

SAAD M., ZAWDIE G. (2011), “Introduction to special issue: The emerging role of universities in socio-economic development through knowledge networking”, Science and Public Policy, vol. 38, n. 1, pp. 3-6.

SIEGEL D.S., WALDMAN D.A., ATWATER L.E., LINK A.N. (2003), “Commercial knowledge transfers from universities to firms: Improving the effectiveness of university-industry collaboration”, Journal of High Technology Management Research, vol. 14, n. 1, pp. 111-133.

SOENDERGAARD H.A., BERGENHOLTZ C., ROSENDAHL J.C. (2015), “University-Industry collaboration: Drivers and barriers for going online”, In Proceedings of DRUID Summer Conference, Rome, June 15-17, 2015.

STORBACKA, K., BRODIE, R.J., BÖHMANN, T., MAGLIO, P.P., NENONEN, S. (2016), “Actor engagement as a microfoundation for value co-creation”, Journal of Business Research, Vol. 69, n. 8, pp. 3008-3017.

THOMAS, L. D., AUTIO, E., GANN, D.M. (2014), “Architectural leverage: Putting platforms in context”, Academy of Management Perspectives, vol. 28, n. 2, pp. 198-219.

THUNE T. (2007), “University-industry collaboration: The network embeddedness approach”, Social and Public Policy, vol. 34, n. 3, pp. 158-68.

UN C.A., CUERVO-CAZURRA A., ASAKAWA K. (2010), “R&D collaborations and product innovation”, Journal of Product Innovation Management, vol. 27, n. 5, pp. 673-689.

VARGO S.L., LUSCH R.F. (2011), “It’s all B2B…and beyond: Toward a systems perspective of the market”, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 40, n. 2, pp. 181-187.

VARGO S.L., LUSCH R.F. (2008), “Service-dominant logic: Continuing the evolution”, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 36, n. 1, pp. 1-10.

VARGO S.L., LUSCH R.F. (2016), “Institutions and axioms: An extension and update of service-dominant logic”, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 44, n. 1, pp. 5-23.

VARGO S.L., LUSCH R.F. (2017), “Service-dominant logic 2025”, International Journal of Research in Marketing, vol. 34, n. 1, pp. 46-67.

ZAMMUNER V.L. (2003), I focus group, Il Mulino, Bologna.

WIELAND H., POLESE F., VARGO S.L., LUSCH R.F. (2012), “Toward a service (eco) systems perspective on value creation”, International Journal of Service Science, Management, Engineering, and Technology (IJSSMET), vol. 3, n. 3, pp. 12-25.