How Space Augments the Social Structures of Innovation

  • Jean Wineman University of Michigan
  • Yongha Hwang University of Michigan
  • Felichism Kabo University of Michigan
  • Jason Owen-Smith University of Michigan
  • Gerald Davis University of Michigan
Keywords: organization theory, innovation, spatial analysis, workspace design


Research on the enabling factors of innovation has focused on either the social component of organizations or on the spatial dimensions involved in the innovation process. But few have examined the aggregate consequences of the link from spatial layout to social networks to innovation. Preliminary results from this NSF sponsored research were presented at ARCC 2012. The research explores how spatial layout and social networks promote innovation among professionals working indifferent research-intensive organizations. The associations between innovation within these organizations and the organization’s social and spatial structure are investigated. This paper presents results for one of our partner organizations, an international automobile manufacturer. The study applies spatial analysis to map and characterize physical space and sociometric surveys to capture contacts among employees. For the automobile manufacturer, we were able to augment these tools with location tracking methods. Our use of the UWB location system, allowed us to assess contact networks in real time.Social networks play important roles in structuring communication, collaboration, access to knowledge, and knowledge transformation. These processes are both antecedent to and part of the innovation process. Spatial layout structures patterns of circulation, proximity, awareness of others, and encounter in an organization. These interrelationships become fundamental to the development of social networks, especially those networks critical to the innovation process. We hypothesize that network positions and office locations influence workers’ ability to prospect for new ideas and mobilize the resources and attention necessary to implement those ideas, both critical ingredients to innovation. Results demonstrate the salience of both social and spatial dimensions in the processes of innovation. Ourfindings indicate that relationships between salutary network positions and beneficial locales themselves derive from institutional contexts that shape the priorities, opportunities, goals and practices of discovery. Thus, we suggest that innovation is a process that occurs at the intersection of social and physical space, and moves toward a socio-spatial science of design for innovation.
How to Cite
Wineman, J., Hwang, Y., Kabo, F., Owen-Smith, J., & Davis, G. (2014). How Space Augments the Social Structures of Innovation. ARCC Conference Repository.
Peer-reviewed Papers