Analytical and conceptual approoach

The final part of this chapter seeks to understand the viability of using an engineering systems approach as a methodology of describing the macro, meso and micro levels of research. As previously stated, one of the most important challenges of this project is the understanding of the dynamics inherent to both levels of analysis, an interesting question is: Is it a viable strategy to analyse both the macro, meso and micro levels with the same engineering systems conceptual approach?

Let us revisit the macro, meso and micro level literature with an engineering systems state of mind.

A systems approach to the world and country levels

When analyzing the macro (world) or meso (national) levels, we can connect to the roots of the National Innovations Systems research area, lies the work of Richard R.Nelson (Nelson 1993), here he justifies the term “system” as:

“[...] The concept is of a set of institutions whose interactions determine the innovative performance, in the sense above, of national firms. There is no presumption that the system was, in some sense, consciously designed, or even that the set of institutions involved works together smoothly and coherently. Rather, the "systems" concept is that of a set of institutional actors that, together, play the major role in influencing innovative performance. [...]“

Several elements allow a direct connection between this approach and a pure engineering systems approach: there are several elements (institutions), which have a relationship between each other (interactions). Moreover, this citation might even lead us to a certain complex system due to the inherent randomness of its design.

Another clear example is in the work of Jeffrey L. Furman, which describes (Furman et al., 2001) the important relationships and connections between the institutions of a country (figure) as a base to the National Innovative Capacity framework.

A Systems Approach to the Organisational Level

When analyzing the micro, or organizational level, the compatible system oriented literature is not as obvious. Open innovation research is horizontal to an important number of areas that focus on management, research and development, product development, strategic thinking and more. Perhaps the most system-compatible area of open innovation is the Triple Helix framework (Etzkowitz, 2001). In this area, universities, organizations and the government are all involved in an open innovation system where their interactions are crucial to advance the technological field; in fact these are described as “tri-lateral networks”.

The work of Perman and Walsh (Perman, Walsh, 2007) takes the triple helix further by describing the different nature that these relationships, or edges that these elements, or nodes, might have between them.

System Compatibility

After dissecting the possibility of applying an engineering system conceptual approach to both levels of the analysis, one should analyse if they in fact constitute an engineering system. This would validate the possibility of applying the methodology to both levels. Let us take the definition of a more complex engineering system, known as complex systems (Sheard et al., 2009):

Complex Systems:

  • Have many autonomous components.

  • Are self-organizing.

  • Display emergent macro-level behaviour.

  • Adapt to surroundings.

Let us understand how the macro, meso and micro level fit in this definition, taking innovation by the use of technological assets as an example:

Complex Systems Definition

Meso-National Level

Micro-Organizational Level

Autonomous components

Countries, policies, organizations, universities, technological assets (patents, publications, projects), researchers

Universities, businesses, organizations, technological assets


Countries form partnerships and international organizations, such as the EU or OECD.

University-University partnerships, University-Organization partnerships, Organization-Organization partnerships.

Macro-level behaviour

The types of relationships are not determinable from the type of technological asset being analyzed

The types of relationships are not determinable from the type of technological asset being analyzed

Adapt to surroundings

Research direction might inherently be related to the global sustainability concerns at that particular time.

Research direction might inherently be related to the global sustainability concerns at that particular time.

As one might note from the table above that these systems appear to be highly related, one could even say they are different scales of the same system, or even a system-of-systems (Sheard et al., 2009). It is also apparent that the micro level system highly influences the macro level system and vice-versa. For example: a very strong relationship between a university of country A and a university of country B, will lead to a strong relationship between country A and country B, it is simply a matter of scale. One could even go further and try to understand the nano-level, which would consist of analysing a particular university or organization as its own system.

Finally, generally speaking it seems possible to apply the same engineering systems perspective to the macro, meso, and micro level,. However, this is highly dependent on the type of analysis; for example, some particularities of the organizational level system might not be reproducible in the meso level system and vice versa.

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