New Governance Models For Entrepreneurial Universities: A Conceptual Framework

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Wendy Purcell
Harvard University

LinkedIn profile

Leith Sharp
Harvard University

Teresa Chahine
Harvard University

Entrepreneurial universities need to build new capabilities in their governance systems and processes in order to more fully realize their innovation potential in working with industry. A new conceptual framework being validated through Harvard University’s executive education program, working open source with university and industry thought partners reveals how work really gets done within organisations. In making the implicit explicit, new governance models are being developed that enhance organisational agility and support university-industry partnership working.
The model of leadership dominant in most university and industry management systems is a command-control operating system. While important for resourcing, accountability and scaling it is not well-positioned to support idea creation, flow and experimentation all of which underpin successful entrepreneurial activities. Indeed the very governance processes in place are typically hierarchical and present a barrier to co-creation. And yet, the university and its industry partners each operate as an ideopolis with ideas emerging from individuals, teams and through interactions with one another, stakeholder groups and students. This more agile, adaptive operating system is characterized by idea creation, co-creation and flow across institutional barriers. New models of governance that support full articulation of the Senior Management Hierarchy (SMH) with the Community of Social Networks (CSN) will better support entrepreneurial activities.
Exploring on a case-by-case basis how ideas flow through an organisation, from the SMH and/or the CSN and back again, the conceptual framework reveals key inflection points where barriers impede entrepreneurialism. On some occasions this is appropriate given lack of ‘fit’ with the strategy. However, it is more often the case that ideas get ‘stuck’ and do not move forward to deliver value. It is however possible to map the journey of an idea from inception to delivery to scaling and evaluation, identifying which system is operating at any one time and how they are interacting. In this way the moves that really matter can be identified.
Using the knowledge gleaned from the forensic mapping of several hundred idea flow maps, analysis has surfaced patterns that either support or frustrate effective idea generation and flow. Using this information to develop new models of governance that are more adaptive and future-facing will serve to support successful idea generation, capture, flow and scaling. The SMH and CSN is a both/and model and entrepreneurial universities need to determine that they have the right balance for effective governance. The CSN is animated by shared purpose and social agreement among participants who are engaged – it is agile and creative, innovation in action – an ‘ideopolis’. While the SMH, having secured a best fit ‘solution’ is able to power ahead and say “Let’s go” and assign resources and support to scale-up. The SMH represents the ‘formal’ authority structure while the CSN is the informal or volunteer engagement.
The power of the SMH is in defining and communicating the strategic direction of the entrepreneurial university and giving ‘permission’ to the CSN to engage in co-creation and innovation with industry. However, the governance processes thereafter need to go beyond this mandate and serve to harness the ideopolis in delivering against mission by careful idea selection, resourcing and stewardship of ideas. The SMH needs to create and sustain the conditions that underpin psychological safety essential to releasing creativity in the organization. The SMH can then direct a level of resource, in a timely manner, to further develop ideas that fit with strategic intent and support a level of piloting and experimentation important to de-risking the innovation. Co-creation with university and industry partners working together adds a level of stakeholder complexity that needs to be accommodated in agile governance processes that support effective decision-making. On occasion a shared university-industry governance space may be necessary.
In leading an entrepreneurial university, we need leaders who are consciousness of each operating system, namely the SMH and the CSN, and understand how best to harness the dynamic. The SMH needs to signal to the university’s CSN at large its strategic intent in driving up engagement with industry and thereby give permission for ideas to be released (safely) into the formal governance processes. Such processes need to support innovation rather than stifle idea flow. We need institutional and divisional leaders in universities and industry to be more explicit around the design of their governance processes and ensure they support entrepreneurial activities, hard-wiring the SMH and the CSN stages into the program. The two operating systems need to be tight at times to get things to progress and individuals will move in and out of the two operating systems in line with the stages of idea flow.
Developing a new governance model that maps the stages of idea flow, each in turn, to an appropriate governance process can drive up successful entrepreneurial (and intrapreneurial) activities. In this way, entrepreneurial universities can increase the volume of ideas that flow between them and industry partners and towards overall strategic purpose. A respect for both operating systems is essential, the key being to integrate both and thereby transform the culture, conditions, structures and relationship capital that support effective and entrepreneurial partnership working.