Ready for 2019

Yes, I know it is already February. It took me a month to settle in and get my focus right. Happy (new) year of the Pig to my clients and friends in the East!

This year started differently from previous years. I usually conclude most of my contracts by early December, and in January I often search for, select and initiate new contracts and research themes.

This year was different in several ways. Firstly, I have three research contracts that already started in November and December of last year (2018). I will describe these research projects in more detail in a next post.

Secondly, instead of hosting my business partners in South Africa for our annual meeting, I had to travel (with Annelien) to Argentina early in January. It took me a few days to settle in on our return.

A third reason why I am writing this first blog post of the year so late is because I had to decide how narrow I want my focus to be for the year ahead. I had to evaluate the risks of continuing on the path that I set out on last year. The rest of this post will be about this reason.

The first theme I dived into last year was about technological change and how developing countries (like South Africa) can prepare for technological change, disruption and perhaps even the mythical Fourth Industrial Revolution. I worked with the Trade and Industry Policy Strategies (TIPS) research organisation in Pretoria to advise a newly established Chief Directorate on how to assist the manufacturing sector to prepare for technological convergence and disruption. Once the papers are available for public comment I will post them on this website. (click here if you would like to receive a draft in the meantime and the final version when it is approved for distribution).

Under this theme I could work in several countries on technological change, disruption and knowledge for innovation.

The second theme was about how organisations that are meant to support structural economic change or address market failures adapt, change, evolve and come into being. I was able to finalise a third version of the meso organisation adaptation framework, and had several opportunities to test elements of the diagnostic instrument in South Africa and elsewhere. I could use elements of this research also in Kosovo, Germany and at some of my longstanding clients in South Africa.

These two themes come together in the field of sociotechnical change and evolutionary thinking. It combines knowledge domains such as innovation systems, evolutionary economics, new institutional economics, innovation, organisational development and learning and knowledge management. I see myself more and more as a researcher and facilitator of search and discovery processes, and less and less as an expert and consultant.

I decided to continue down this path for 2019. I want to immerse myself in the meso level where leadership of meso organisations has to anticipate sociotechnical shifts, and where managers have to manage competing objectives for scarce resources. I would like to work with business leaders who have to figure out not only how to catch up with better-resourced, powerful global competitors, but where the private sector must often make up for incomplete economic policies, supporting institutions and other structural failures. I would like to partner with research organisations and various other researchers and expand the research theme on the website.

So here I am in 2019. If you would like to keep informed of my progress, you can sign up in the box on the left of this post (or here) to receive a personal newsletter from me. I promise not to clog your inbox with junk mail.

Photo credit: Goran Jankovic of the EDA in Banja Luka (BiH). Picture taken during a session with industry leaders on innovation, competitiveness and leveraging knowledge for innovation during September 2018.

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Shawn Cunningham

I am passionate about how organisations and institutions change in developing and transitioning countries. I essentially work between organisations, communities, industries and experts.

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