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1 In the current era of digital technology and artificial intelligence, the forms of organizing work that are inherited from the industrial revolution have evolved, while new forms have gradually emerged. The complexity and increasing competition of markets have favored the development of more agile work organization by favoring the “projectification” of work in order to be able to coordinate in a flexible way over time and space in a wide diversity of professional fields. Hyper-specialization and the division of labor have led to an increase in the outsourcing of independent professionals working in teams in face-to-face or virtual mode. Hierarchical structures are gradually adapting to become more open and inclusive, forming local and global networks. The increasing need to capture new knowledge and ideas has also pushed organizations to collaborate more and to integrate local entrepreneurial ecosystems, radically challenging the organizations’ boundaries. All these changes have also impacted the status of workers (e.g. freelancers, teleworkers, microworkers, etc.), and independent work has gained in importance, providing more flexibility to organizations, but also causing a lack of job security and instability.

2 The need for increasing innovation and collaboration, as well as integrating more flexible and autonomous ways of working, has also caused changes in the spatialization of work. In recent years there has been an explosion in the creation of spaces where individuals, motivated by the development of their creative projects, interact face-to-face and collaborate with peers. The origin of the spaces might respond to different logics, but it is often related to an actor’s need to gather with other locally distributed peers with a common interest. These collaborative spaces take many different forms and denominations such as fablabs, coworking spaces, living labs, makerspaces, hackerspaces, etc. These different kinds of space have attracted the interest of individuals who, in one way or another, profit from knowledge-sharing and from being involved in collective innovation processes (Capdevila, 2019). Taking an open innovation approach, business managers (and policymakers) have also taken an interest in this new phenomenon considering the high potential of involving their employees (or citizens) in the creative dynamics of their organizations (or territories).

3 A collaborative space can be defined as a localized space that offers open access to resources, and which is characterized by a culture of openness and collaboration concerning knowledge-sharing, skills and tools. Shared resources can range from physical resources such as office resources (printers, Wi-Fi connections, etc.), machines and prototyping tools, to more intangible resources such as new knowledge, professional networking, training, or mentorship.

4 The movements around coworking, fablabs, makers, etc. are relatively recent, having taken on a more significant dimension mainly in the last decade (Morel, Dupont, Lhoste, 2015). As a research field it is an under-explored area, even if in recent years it has attracted interest in management and organization studies (Blagoev, Costas, Kärreman, 2019; Bouncken, Reuschl, 2018; Garrett, Spreitzer, Bacevice, 2017; Ivaldi, Pais, Scaratti, 2018; Rus, Orel, 2015), economic geography (Brown, 2017; Fuzi, 2015; Jamal, 2018; Schmidt, Brinks, Brinkhoff, 2014; Suire, 2019), social economy (Jakonen, Kivinen, Salovaara, Hirkman, 2017; Waters-Lynch, Potts, 2017), knowledge and learning studies (Fabbri, Charue-Duboc, 2013; Parrino, 2013), etc.

5 Even if the number of collaborative spaces has experienced a huge growth in the last few years, the phenomenon is rooted in the past. For example, in the nineteenth century, Thomas Edison launched the Invention Factory, an open floor laboratory dedicated to the development of creative ideas. Similarly, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Homebrew Computer Club, which hosted informal meetings gathering together high-profile hackers and computer entrepreneurs like the young Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Steve Wozniak, was the birthplace of the personal computer revolution. In the 1980s, the sociologist Ray Oldenburg theorized the importance of the so-called “third places” (Oldenburg, 2002), spaces that sustain the development of informal social relations through their inclusively sociable atmosphere, and which lie in between the domestic environment of home (the “first place”) and the productive professional workplace (the “second place”).

6 Collaborative spaces have aroused the interest of managers, policy makers, and academics. Managers have approached the phenomenon looking for new ways to integrate a more flexible workforce, develop external collaborations, and capture new ideas. Policymakers have identified collaborative spaces as a new way of channeling and developing collective creativity in urban areas, and as new laboratories of urban innovation. Spaces have even been seen as local factories of the future, based on 3D printing, and associated with new models of production, where cities could increase their levels of self-sufficiency and sustainability. From the academic point of view, the first steps in the study of the phenomenon were based on exploratory and rather descriptive accounts. In order to make sense of the explosion in the number of spaces and its variety, initial studies tried to establish different types of typologies to make differentiations between spaces. The motivations behind collaborative spaces are diverse and intertwined, similar to the perspectives taken in their analysis. Three of the main rationales are 1) the facilitation of creativity and innovation; 2) the transformation of work, considering de-materialization, de-spatialization and de-temporalization dimensions; and 3) the focus on territorial development and urban regeneration.

7 First, collaborative spaces are considered as spaces facilitating creativity and innovation, based on interdisciplinarity, openness and collaboration. The emergence of the knowledge economy has implied that an increasing number of jobs are based on individual creativity and personal initiative. In a complex and uncertain economy, the processes of creativity and innovation have become increasingly heterogeneous, distributed and pervasive. The exploration of new ideas and the development of innovative products and services take place in a context in which the social aspect plays a key role. Innovation processes often take place outside the conventional structures of research laboratories or R&D departments in organizations. The literature on open innovation (e.g. Chesbrough, 2006) has highlighted the value of collective innovation processes involving the participation of actors outside organizations, particularly localized innovation communities (Baldwin, Hienerth, von Hippel, 2006). These collective innovation practices often involve the existence of physical spaces that allow the gathering of community members, sharing the use of physical assets, and facilitating face-to-face interaction and the transfer of (tacit) knowledge through shared practices.

8 Second, collaborative spaces are a reflection of the changes that work practices have experienced, in terms of de-materialization, de-spatialization and de-temporalization. Advances in telecommunications and information technologies have profoundly affected the way people work, offering more spatial and temporal flexibility, and reducing dependence on physical co-location and materiality. Knowledge-based work has allowed the development of teleworking and the emergence of so-called digital nomads, breaking the classic organizational, spatial, physical and temporal boundaries. In many cases, these changes have represented a profound and traumatic transformation in work conditions, incrementing job insecurity, instability, and precarity. In this context, where workers have a great need for professional networking and access to new knowledge and resources, the role of the space managers appears to be crucial, especially in business-oriented spaces such as coworking spaces.

9 Third, the emergence of the coworking and maker movements has been seen by policy makers as a new way to improve territorial socio-economic development and enhance urban regeneration (Boutillier, 2018). Initially, collaborative spaces appeared as a phenomenon that was characteristic of urban areas. They represented poles of attraction for people with common interests, either around a hobby (in the case of maker/hacker spaces) or professional specialization (as is the case with many coworking spaces). Spaces act as agents of the “middleground” (Cohendet, Grandadam, Simon, 2010) connecting creative individuals and formal organizations, thus contributing to the creative capabilities of cities. In the case of rural and peripheral regions, collaborative spaces have also been identified as a factor that helps social cohesion and economic development. Contrary to urban areas, these territories lack critical mass and require diversity to gather large communities around a common topic, but they have the capacity to offer spaces that facilitate the gathering of local entrepreneurs, breaking their isolation and contributing to the development of local ecosystems of knowledge sharing and collaboration.

10 The papers compiled in this special issue tackle these three structuring themes (among others). They all offer new perspectives on their analysis, thus contributing to the understanding of collaborative spaces concerning their internal knowledge and innovation dynamics, their impact on the innovation process in firms, universities, and public institutions, and in terms of changes to new ways of working.

11 The article by Laurent Antonczak analyzes how mobile technology enables the interaction between new emerging players, intermediation platforms, and individuals. Mobile technology represents virtual spaces of knowledge creation, assimilated in a virtual version of the knowledge-creation model and the ‘ba’ described by Nonaka and his colleagues. Technology broadens the concept of collaboration and innovation by allowing greater autonomy of participants, detached from material and temporal constraints. It also signifies flexible platforms of the middleground that allow the transdisciplinary collaboration that nurtures creative processes among community members.

12 Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay and Arnaud Scaillerez focus on the interests and strategies of salaried workers and entrepreneurs in coworking spaces. The authors identify the factors that facilitate the development of new businesses and collaboration, and the elements that contribute to creating an environment conducive to business interactions between space members and external firms. The results suggest that the physical infrastructures of the spaces, as well as the human and financial resources provided by the space, are factors facilitating collaboration. The authors also provide some insights into the strategies that a space might adopt to stimulate business activity. One of these strategies is to focus on shared values and a common ideology, thus reducing cognitive distance and increasing the complementarity around a certain shared interest. Searching for similar or compatible business activities is also a way to stimulate common initiatives and collaborative projects. Another strategy consists in establishing a relationship of trust among members, to center activities on business-related goals, and to integrate the activities of external firms in the space. The findings also underline the importance of the role of space managers for the success of collaborations. Nevertheless, the authors warn about the risks of not reaching the desired collaborative environment, considering the fact that mere physical co-location or fulfilling the suggested pre-conditions are not guarantees of a successful business development.

13 Through the case study of Vivelab, a public innovation laboratory in Bogota, Ferney Osorio, Laurent Dupont, Mauricio Camargo, Carlos Sandoval and José Ismael Peña analyze the evolution of the space, from its initial conceptualization to the present day. The results reveal the factors that may enable or limit the sustainable development of a public collaborative space. The case illustrates how the implementation of a public space is the result of a strategic intention that is susceptible to change over time, and that its success or failure depends on the capacity to adapt the strategic focus, governance, and innovation activities to the changing political, administrative, legal, financial, and social conditions of the environment through time. The article reflects on the adaptive nature of collaborative spaces, which, on the one hand, have to respond to the needs of users and, on the other hand, have to ensure their sustainability and coherence in constant negotiation with environmental factors. That perspective also refers to the temporality of spaces, and questions the permanent or temporary role of spaces.

14 The article by Justine Ballon and Stéphane Veyer provides an understanding on the current mutations regarding organization of the work of entrepreneurs. Through a study of French cooperatives, the author takes an approach based on the notion of activity to analyze the socioeconomics of work. The study of cooperatives offers a convincing perspective about some of the current major changes in the workplace, concerning an increase in the autonomy and independence of freelancers, and greater participation in decision-making and in engagement in community activities. The three dimensions of cooperative work (occupational, community, and governance dimensions) represent the analytical framework for studying cooperative work structures, which are based on self-organization and self-employment. In contrast to traditional industrial work, these structures enable members to collectively own their means of production and to better adapt their approach to work and the balance with personal life. Cooperative work activity depicts the characteristics common to freelancers, who, benefiting from greater flexibility and freedom than salaried workers, also face difficulties to ensure stable and sustainable economic sources.

15 Lorena Delgado, Daniel Galvez, Pedro Palominos and Laure Morel study the factors that lead to effective collaborative learning, promoted in collaborative spaces. The article proposes a model based on five dimensions to enhance collaborative learning: physical infrastructures (considering such aspects as ergonomics and the design of the spaces), technology (considering training in the use of equipment and devices), the emotional dimension (based on mutual trust and a sense of community), the social aspect (the integration of the user in a community), and the cognitive dimension (through the definition of individual roles and guidance through the innovation process). The article also provides useful insights into how to design a space in a university in order to engage the participation of the different stakeholders.

16 This special issue of the Journal of Innovation Economics and Management contributes to current academic conversations on collaborative spaces and sheds some light on the current work and innovation practices that take place in these spaces. Furthermore, the different articles also provide some further understanding of current changes, both in the organization of work, and about work in organizations.


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Sophie Boutillier
Innovation and Industrial Strategies
Research Unit on Industry and Innovation
University of Littoral Côte d’Opale (France)
Ignasi Capdevila
PSB Paris School of Business /
Chair NewPIC (France)
Laurent Dupont
Université of Lorraine (France)
Laure Morel
Université of Lorraine (France)
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