Investigating knowledge exchange programmes in small to medium-sized enterprises, comparing the informal, Innovation Creative Exchange Plus (ICE+) with that of the formal, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)

  • Sarah Agar-Brennan

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The purpose of this thesis is to explore the effectiveness of knowledge exchange programmes in small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), with a particular focus on comparing the informal with the formal approaches. Knowledge exchange (KE) has become a critical component of organisational success, with the ability to access and utilise knowledge and expertise from internal and external sources being a key competitive advantage for SMEs. However, many SMEs struggle to implement and absorb knowledge effectively due to resource constraints and a lack of formal structures and processes.

The thesis develops a theoretical framework for effective knowledge absorption, building on Lane et al.’s (2010) framework highlighting the importance of both external and internal antecedents in determining the successful absorptive capacity (AC) of an organisation. The literature explores the Triple Helix (TH) model of innovation as a KE framework (Zhou, 2014), examining the actors within and the critical roles they play. It also considers the dynamic capabilities (DC) of an organisation to implement and drive impact from KE activity.

This study employed a qualitative research approach alongside an interpretivist methodology to investigate the research aim and objectives. An in-depth enquiry was required so case study research with an embedded design containing 2 units of analysis: KTPs and ICE+ was selected. Semi-structured interviews provided a flexible and open-ended approach enabling the participants to communicate freely, and flexibly about the topic being researched (Quinlan, 2011). The findings highlighted the role informal KE plays for universities within the knowledge ecosystem, facilitating the building of trust-based relationships for future collaboration. SMEs favoured informal knowledge exchange programmes, due to its accessibility. However, formal programmes have a higher impact on the SMEs' competitiveness and overall performance.

This study makes several scientific and practical contributions and recommendations which can be used to guide the development of effective knowledge exchange programmes (KTPs) for SMEs, which are tailored to their specific needs and resources. Investigating where informal KE activity sits in the University’s framework, examining further the concept of informal KE being a ‘catalyst’ for formal KE could contribute to an improvement in the number of SMEs working with universities.
Date of Award12 Jan 2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorClaire McCamley (Main Supervisor) & Andrew Jenkins (Co-Supervisor)

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