European Innovation Leader Advises on Impact Through Network Thinking

In Game Changers 13, Introducer Game Changers and World NGOs' Best Impact 13 by Mary KurekLeave a Comment

Daria Tataj, Ph.D., Founder of Tataj Innovation, is a renowned expert on growth through Network Thinking. Dr. Tataj helps develop growth strategies for companies, cities, regions, and entire countries. As Chairwoman of High-Level Advisors to European Commissioner for Research, Science & Innovation she leads the EU policy reflection on €100 billion Horizon Europe budget. Dr. Tataj played an instrumental role in re-defining the European innovation ecosystem as the founding EIT Board Member and World Economic Forum Digital Leader. Prof. Manuel Castells endorsed her book Innovation and Entrepreneurship. A Growth Model for Europe Beyond the Crisis’ as ‘the fundamental, innovative book that will reshape the way we think.’

“I believe the essential for growth is to link strategy, innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership. This is what Network Thinking is about, bringing core aspects of these four elements, helping people understand how the network economy works.”  Daria Tataj

With such expertise on creating impact and helping NGOs and businesses to progress in their work, I felt it important to share some insights

from Daria that could help others.  What follows is a Q & A with our expert.

Q:  How does Network Thinking move innovation toward impact?

A:  I think we live in such a fast-changing world that innovating basically means learning, and you cannot learn in a vacuum. You learn in networks or rather trusted communities. When we think about a general approach on what is innovation, or rather what is innovating, it is all about creating interfaces, being able to innovate together.  I believe the essential for growth is to link strategy, innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership. This is what Network Thinking is about, bringing core aspects of these four elements, helping people

Panorama – Daria in Warsaw. (Credit: Tomek Gola)

understand how the network economy works. Then the third step is about becoming a leader of networks, which basically means orchestrating different networks to unleash this network effect.  Network Thinking builds the skills one needs to learn how to work across silos. There can be silos within a large corporation, where people with the core aspects mentioned as strengths find it difficult to talk with one another. For this, our Network Thinking methodology helps advance in-house innovation. But it also helps build open innovation
ecosystems, where business professionals collaborate in a creative manner with public servants, researchers, and representatives of civil society.  This is why I believe Network Thinking is a core skill every leader and every innovator should have today to be impactful.

Q:  What was your role within the World Economic Forum?

A:  World Economic Forum is the global brain trust. It brings key governments, industry, thought leaders and changemakers to innovate together. The value of creating a neutral space to reflect what policies and strategies can make a better world is so important. I was invited to join the Global Agenda Council, then advise on European innovation ecosystem and finally join the group the Forum calls Digital Innovators. We prepared a manifesto on what governments, companies, and universities should do to create vibrant ecosystems for people and businesses to thrive in the digital era.

Q: What policies need updating or changing to accommodate innovation growth in Europe?

A: I don’t believe in identifying one specific policy or set of policies. The change needs to be how people think. They need to think in terms of communities, understand how to build their capacity, how to develop this Network Thinking capacity in the ecosystem. Because it’s not enough that you are able to connect. If people from different backgrounds and organizations are not able to connect, they miss the opportunity to collaborate, and nothing will change.  To drive change, you need leadership; it’s all about people…it’s all about leadership.  The cities that will experience the greatest impact with this change in mindset are midsize cities or a metropolis merging as one urban area with numerous towns and municipalities.  What is happening is a natural phenomenon that people cluster around large metropolitan
areas because there are more opportunities to work basically, and to learn. And I think that midsize cities if they are part of a large metropolitan area or within a few hours commute, they suffer from brain drain meaning talent outflow, as well as money outflow due to a
shortage of talented people. So, our approach is helping build ecosystems in those midsize cities, to create a more tightly local ecosystem and then build connections to other ecosystems.  This is the growth model for entrepreneurial innovation ecosystems around the world. I
researched this in Europe, in the United States and saw how China builds entrepreneurial innovation ecosystems. Basically, it comes down to uniting research, innovation, education, and entrepreneurship, which tend to work in silos. This is to bring them and help them develop projects locally, together and then help them connect to similar entities in other ecosystems, creating larger partnerships and larger collaborations.

Q:   Since you are located in the pioneering Smart City of Barcelona, you may be able to see firsthand some of the results of Smart City planning.  Of the different pieces to Smart City planning and design, where are you seeing the most impact on citizens? Is there data that correlates the innovations to dollars or lives saved, economic boon, or entrepreneurialism, etc.?

A: There are many cities with deteriorating post-industrial zones and Barcelona was one of them.  What has happened in the city over the last 30 years has promoted the development of a strategy to change the district of Poblenou into a project known as 22@Barcelona. This today, is a colocation of university campuses, large corporate offices, startups, and coworking spaces, but still, there are modestly priced living areas.  All this makes a melting pot where people work in digital channels, but also have this physical interaction, which still matters a lot.  So, if you’re able to transform part of your city, it’s fantastic. What brings most impact is to combine physical urban space with digital transformation. Barcelona is one of the most progressive cities in the world and actually gained the title of European Innovation Capital in 2014. The city experiments how to deploy digital agenda, including such trust-related aspects as citizens’ control over their data. It also reinvents urban mobility, closing big quarters to commute traffic. One key approach is citizens’ engagement through Fab Labs, makers movements, and participatory budgets. What we hear are a few success stories but then there are dozens of failures and projects that are not advancing as fast as they could. It is important to learn from this experimentation how to become ‘smart’ in the digital age. And many cities could learn from each other and could get inspired. So this is why we’re working with mid-sized cities in Europe, experimenting with how our methodology can help them build the leadership to drive change in turning around the local ecosystem and connect with the global networks through collaborations.


With thanks to Daria for sharing her wisdom with The Introducer. Daria has interest in connecting with CIOs of progressive companies which help make cities more “livable.”

Daria’s site

Daria’s Linkedin

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