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Knowledge Transfer and Innovations in European Cross Border Regions (KTIECBR)

Dr Adi Weidenfeld, Middlesex University, Prof Peter Björk, Hanken School of Economics, Finland and Prof Allan Williams, University of Surrey, UK and with Mr Joakim Byström from the department of Geography and Economic History at Umeå University.

Dr Adi Weidenfeld

ROLE: Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management
SCHOOL & DEPARTMENT: Business School Department of Economics

Objectives

  1. Comparing between two different cross border regions (CBRs) in terms of the impact of physical and human 
  2. geographic factors on the nature and levels of knowledge transfers, creativity and diffusion of innovations amongst Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs) in the service industries from neighbouring EU countries with a special focus on the tourism sector, including : 1.1 Proximity to borders and the impact of natural border barriers (e.g. river, sea) in terms of levels of cross border accessibility; 1.2 Impact of cross-border differences, particularly cultural ones between actors from in both sides of the borders on knowledge transfer.
  3. Identifying the role of cross-border networks in enhancing knowledge transfer and innovations and the establishment of cluster mechanisms.
  4. Identifying obstacles and barriers for knowledge transfer and innovation caused by the special conditions in cross border regions.
  5. The impact of cross border initiatives, such as INTERREG on cross border knowledge transfer;
  6. Suggesting indicators for monitoring levels of creativity and innovations in cross border regions and identifying the implication for EU development planning policies.

Project implementation and findings

The study focused on the more subtle cultural and cognitive differences between managers and customers (shoppers and tourists) from both sides of neighbouring regions in CBRs between Finland and Sweden as well as on the special characteristics of tourism innovation and knowledge transfer between cross border small tourism businesses in two CBRs. CBR I is the twin city of TornioHapranda in the Northern parts of Sweden and Finland (CBR I) and the cities of Vaasa (Finland) and Umea (Sweden) in CBR 

II.

Data collection

Phase I (objectives1,3,5) :

  1. Phase 1Statistical analysis: 783 valid questionnaires (out of 822 a total number of questionnaires) of customers in TornioHapranda (411 customers from Finland and 372 from Sweden).
  2. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were undertaken and survey questionnaires were collected from 19 managers of small and micro service businesses mainly from the tourism, retail and catering service sub-sectors (9 from Tornio and 10 from Haparanda).

Phase II (objectives1-3,5)

  1. Quantitative statistical analysis: 300 valid questionnaires of cross border tourist customers from Vaasa and Umeå visiting Umeå and Vaasa respectively were collected. 2. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were undertaken with and survey questionnaires were collected from 21 managers of small and micro service businesses mainly from the tourism (10 from Vaasa and 11 from Umeå). 
  2. Semi-structured in-depth interviews with 12 experts including development officers, planners, coordinators, head of development agencies from both CBRs, who have worked in facilitating and organizing cross border collaboration projects between Finland and Sweden. Data includes information on new and existing policies aimed at stimulating and encouraging learning and knowledge transfer between cross border actors. 

Phase 2Data from Phase I and II indicate customers' perception of managers and vice versa in terms of the elements in which they perceive each other as different from one another (using Likert scale 1- strongly disagree to 5- strongly agree, see Figure below) in relation to managers' learning from customers and customers' feedback to managers from the culture on the other side of the border (Swedish or Finnish). These aspects influence the extent to which customers potentially provide ideas and information to managers, for product enhancement and innovation and the ability of managers to absorb and use it. Comparisons between the perceptions of each group e.g. visitors and tourists versus residents, Swedish residents vs. Finnish customers, etc., provide an in-sight into the elements that influence cross border exchange of knowledge in the service sector. Data have been analyzed for the purpose of academic articles and communication with the public including local and regional authorities and the local media in the research area as well as EU DG Regio. 

The ongoing phases will provide further in-sight into the impact of EU funded projects on addressing the barriers to knowledge transfer and policy implications.

Phase III (on-going, objectives 2-5)Phase 3 

Semi structured in-depth interviews with 26 managers of small tourism businesses from towns in the cross border regions of the Kvarken Region regarding their view on the characteristics, barriers and enablers of exchange of knowledge and diffusion of tourism innovation among Swedish and Finnish managers, who have participated in the EU funded cross border project, Visit Kvarken, aimed at enhancing compatibility and skills 

Results 

The perceived nature of the differences between customers and managers from TornioHaparanda (i.e. between customers and managers, self-identified as belonging to Finnish or Swedish culture), which influence the nature and extent of knowledge transfer between them are provided in Table 1. The figure illustrates the scale of these perceived differences, which shows the extent to which they see themselves distant (1-4) from their neighbouring cross border culture. Surprisingly, customers' perceived differences were found to be similar to those of visitors (non-residents), which could indicate that CBRs can represent other mainland regions in Sweden and Finland. Some possible implications for policies aimed at improving cross border knowledge transfer in CBRs are presented in Table 2. 

Table 1. Identified Elements affecting knowledge transfer

1 Sharing similar values
2 Conservatism towards new ideas
3 Shared Mentality
4 Knowledge and use of technology
5 Use of a foreign language
6 Provision of specific details
7 Similarity in ways of solving problems
8 Different historical trajectories  

Manager and Customers

Table 2

Element Policy implications/recommendations
Conservatism Awareness of differences between conservatism towards new ideas by participants from the two cultures including the tendency for more more traditional orientation versus preference for more 'trendy' and promoting change by Swedes, should be considered when the same product or a new idea is considered to be implemented by or offered to both sides of the border.
Mentality

More emphasis on discussions and ideation should be given to Swedish participants.
Participation of Finnish actors should begin after allowing Swedes more time for this discussions and brainstorming. This could be implemented by allocating more time for ideation by Swedish actors.

Technology The introduction of technologies (if relevant) used in both sides of the border should be examined by using a critical approach and identification of differences between actors' views at early stages of cross border learning processes.
Use of foreign Language Training in relevant and technical vocabulary, and identification of differences in terminology, should be offered to participants at the beginning of the learning processes.
Provision of specific details The provision of information or the preparation of any written documents to participants by organisers/facilitators should include two sections: a shorter and more specified section where specific and contexualised data and/information is written concisely and another section including longer and more comprehensive and detailed information which raises more questions and stimulates debates. Training in relevant and technical vocabulary, and identification of differences in terminology, should be offered to participants at the beginning of the learning processes.
Ways of solving problems Some pre-organised activities (e.g. workshops, seminars) should allow participants to choose between parallel activities; one focusing on 'trial and error' activities and experiments, and another offering more conventional and intuitive discussions and brainstorming.
Historical trajectories Differences deriving from historical trajectories including processes and discussions related to the perceptions of symbols and quality of life (e.g. ,more tendency to emphasize patriotism in Finland than in Sweden) should be introduced to the participants by actors from both sides of the border.
General Awareness of and tolerance by actors should be enhanced at earlier stages of the process by organising workshops or seminars in which the above differences will be identified by the facilitators and reflected by the actors.
Officers and coordinators of previous and ongoing cross border initiatives showed little evidence of innovative outcomes and awareness to the need to improve ideation and cross border learning, emphasizing indtead obstacles to cooperation.

The study shows that a more fine-grained approach is needed for understanding and improving knowledge transfer between neighbouring national cultures in CBRs. 

Expected final results and their potential impact

  1. A comparison of the perceived cultural and cognitive differences affecting knowledge transfer amongst actors in adjacent cross border regions (TornioHaparanda) to those amongst actors in 'distant' border regions (Vasa and Umea).
  2. Further policy implications and suggested recommendations regarding EU funded projects.
  3. Data on the barriers and enablers of cross border knowledge transfer between managers of small tourism businesses participating in EU projects. 

Further details Dr Adi Weidenfeld adi.weidenfeld@hanken.fi
Tel: +44208411373, Middlesex University, UK
Funding Scheme: FP7-MC-IEF/Grant Agreement number: 254516

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