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Structural Holes, Innovation and the Distribution of Ideas


  • Cowan, Robin

    () (UNU-MERIT)

  • Jonard, Nicolas

    () (Université de Luxembourg)


We model knowledge diffusion in a population of agents situated on a network, interacting only over direct ties. Some agents are by nature traders, others are by nature "givers": traders demand a quid pro quo for information transfer; givers do not. We are interested in efficiency of diffusion and explore the interplay between the structure of the population (proportion of traders), the network structure (clustering, path length and degree distribution), and the scarcity of knowledge. We find that at the global level, trading (as opposed to giving) reduces efficiency. At the individual level, highly connected agents do well when knowledge is scarce, agents in clustered neighbourhoods do well when it is abundant. The latter finding is connected to the debate on structural holes and social capital.

Suggested Citation

  • Cowan, Robin & Jonard, Nicolas, 2006. "Structural Holes, Innovation and the Distribution of Ideas," MERIT Working Papers 039, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
  • Handle: RePEc:unm:unumer:2006039

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Thomas Brenner & Claudia Werker, 2004. "Empirical Calibration of Simulation Models," Computing in Economics and Finance 2004 89, Society for Computational Economics.
    2. Schrader, Stephan, 1991. "Informal technology transfer between firms: Cooperation through information trading," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 153-170, April.
    3. Adam B. Jaffe & Manuel Trajtenberg & Rebecca Henderson, 1993. "Geographic Localization of Knowledge Spillovers as Evidenced by Patent Citations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 577-598.
    4. Cowan, Robin & Jonard, Nicolas, 2004. "Network structure and the diffusion of knowledge," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 28(8), pages 1557-1575, June.
    5. Allen, Robert C., 1983. "Collective invention," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 1-24, March.
    6. Cowan, R. & Jonard, N., 2003. "The dynamics of collective invention," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 52(4), pages 513-532, December.
    7. Hicks, Diana, 1995. "Published Papers, Tacit Competencies and Corporate Management of the Public/Private Character of Knowledge," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(2), pages 401-424.
    8. Maryann Feldman, 1999. "The New Economics Of Innovation, Spillovers And Agglomeration: Areview Of Empirical Studies," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 8(1-2), pages 5-25.
    9. Cohen, Wesley M & Levinthal, Daniel A, 1989. "Innovation and Learning: The Two Faces of R&D," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(397), pages 569-596, September.
    10. Granstrand, Ove & Sjolander, Soren, 1990. "Managing innovation in multi-technology corporations," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 35-60, February.
    11. von Hippel, Eric, 1987. "Cooperation between rivals: Informal know-how trading," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 16(6), pages 291-302, December.
    12. Joel A. C. Baum & Andrew V. Shipilov & Tim J. Rowley, 2003. "Where do small worlds come from?," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(4), pages 697-725, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Johannes Van Der Pol, 2015. "Structural dynamics of the French aerospace sector: A network analysis," Working Papers hal-01284993, HAL.
    2. Mauro Napoletano & Stefano Battiston & Michael D König & Frank Schweitzer, 2008. "The efficiency and evolution of R&D Networks," Sciences Po publications 2008-31, Sciences Po.
    3. Corinne Autant-Bernard & Cilem Selin Hazir, 2011. "Conceptualizing the Role of Geographical Proximity in Project Based R&D Networks: A Literature Survey," Post-Print halshs-00674345, HAL.
    4. Jérôme Stuck & Tom Broekel & Javier Revilla Diez, 2016. "Network Structures in Regional Innovation Systems," European Planning Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(3), pages 423-442, March.
    5. Johannes VAN DER POL, 2016. "Social interactions between innovating firms: an analytical review of the literature," Cahiers du GREThA 2016-23, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée.
    6. repec:eee:jeborg:v:145:y:2018:i:c:p:424-434 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Bulat Sanditov & Saurabh Arora, 2016. "Social network and private provision of public goods," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 26(1), pages 195-218, March.
    8. repec:spr:jeicoo:v:12:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11403-016-0178-8 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Uwe Cantner & Holger Graf, 2011. "Innovation Networks: Formation, Performance and Dynamics," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economic Complexity of Technological Change, chapter 15 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    10. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/9935 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/7346 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Johannes VAN DER POL, 2016. "The French Aerospace Sector Collaboration Network : Structural Dynamics And Firm Performance," Cahiers du GREThA 2016-24, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée.
    13. Cantner, Uwe & Rake, Bastian, 2014. "International research networks in pharmaceuticals: Structure and dynamics," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 333-348.
    14. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/9933 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Johannes VAN DER POL & Jean Paul RAMESHKOUMAR, 2016. "The co-evolution of knowledge and collaboration networks: The role of technology life-cycle in Structural Composite Materials," Cahiers du GREThA 2016-25, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée.
    16. König, Michael D. & Battiston, S. & Napoletano, M. & Schweitzer, F., 2011. "Recombinant knowledge and the evolution of innovation networks," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 79(3), pages 145-164, August.
    17. Johannes Van Der Pol & Jean-Paul Rameshkoumar & David Virapin & Bernard Zozime, 2014. "A preminary analysis of knowledge flows: The case of structural composite materials in aeronautics," Working Papers hal-01284991, HAL.
    18. Araujo, Luis & Minetti, Raoul, 2011. "Knowledge sharing and the dynamics of social capital," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 55(8), pages 1109-1119.

    More about this item


    Innovation; Diffusion of Innovations; Knowledge; Information; Networks;

    JEL classification:

    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty

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