Definition of a Triple Helix Partnership; what is it and what is it not?


In the past years, MSM worked on multiple capacity building project in emerging markets where collaboration between government, business and knowledge institutions such as universities and TVET’s was being promoted. In our interaction with partners in developing countries, we are frequently asked what this concept of Triple Helix (3H) actually means. In essence, Triple Helix Partnerships simply refer to multi-actor collaboration to further common interests. However, this description seems too vague since it is similar to many other forms of collaboration as well.

A survey on literature on partnerships between different actors such as government, business, CSO’s/NGO’s and academia shows that Triple Helix Partnerships are being interpreted in many different forms of collaboration. There are many names for partnerships that have a lot in common, such as aiming for a public good (i.e. development, economic growth, sustainability) and involving both the public and private sectors. Lets start with looking into the different forms of multi-actor collaborations.

Triple Helix Model (TH Model)
The Triple-Helix model implies the development of a trilateral network of organizational links between university, government and industry in which university (and similar research and educational institutions) should be regarded as the main source where knowledge is being generated and from which it is being spread. In order to be able to commercialize the results of research activities, to link up with industrial processes and to support the growth of new firms, it is necessary to develop an entrepreneurial spirit of the university. Government should provide some strategic guidelines for development of a sectorial and a regional economy of the country, by implementing a number of direct and indirect economic measures and by ensuring financing sources of R&D activities. Government should also be responsible for launching of R&D projects of special importance for the country, particularly when their high financial standards cannot be met without financial help of the government. The role of the firms should be to concentrate their resources on the commercial part of R&D activities[1].

Business Stakeholders forums (BSF):
They are a form of business associations that encompasses extended memberships to other stakeholders, such as TVET institutions, state officials, community members and other stakeholders. They focus on issues of demand driven skills development[2].

Supply chain collaboration:
An interaction between two or more chain members working together to create a competitive advantage through sharing 
information, making joint decisions, and sharing benefits which result from greater profitability of satisfying end customer 
needs than acting alone[3]

Cross- Sector Collaborations (CSC):
CSC’s are new organizational forms to address grand challenges that cannot be solved by individual organizations. By bringing together private, public, and nonprofit organizations with each having

different knowledge bases, resources, and capabilities, CSCs enhance information exchange, knowledge sharing, and learning opportunities necessary for innovations for sustainability[4].

Multi stakeholder initiatives (MSI’s):
MSIs are voluntary partnerships between governments, civil society, and the private sector that have emerged over the last 15 years to address development challenges collaboratively, entrench democratic practices, and strengthen regulatory frameworks[5]

High Performance Partnership (HPP):
This concept refers to the collaboration of an organization with partner organizations, which involves the exchange of products and/or services with the expectation to mutually benefit from this relationship. An inter-organizational partnership is characterized by shared goals, a common purpose, mutual respect, willingness to negotiate and cooperate, informed participation (an enriched knowledge gathering process, achieved by encouraging participants to consider multiple perspectives of a given issue, by learning from their peers), and information giving and shared decision making. HPP characteristics are characteristics that are related to high performance (partner) relations between organizations.[6]

CSO Business Partnerships for Development (CSO)
Acknowledging the complexity of achieving the SDG’s, the development community has sought collaboration between national or subnational governments, private sector actors and civil society actors. As a way to pull together a set of complementary resources, capabilities and knowledge,  inclusive, these multi-stakeholder partnerships between CSO’s and Business for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being promoted[7].

Collaborative Networks for Sustainability (CONESU)
Collaborative networks for sustainability are emerging rapidly to address urgent societal challenges. By bringing together organizations with different knowledge bases, resources and capabilities, collaborative networks enhance information exchange, knowledge sharing and learning opportunities to address these complex problems that cannot be solved by organizations individually.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the apparel sector, where examples of collaborative networks for sustainability are plenty, for example Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Zero Discharge Hazardous Chemicals, and the Fair Wear Foundation. Companies like C&A and H&M but also smaller players join these networks to take their social responsibility. Collaborative networks are unlike traditional forms of organizations; they are loosely structured collectives of different, often competing organizations, with dynamic membership and usually lack legal status. However, they do not emerge or organize on their own; they need network orchestrators who manage the network in terms of activities and participants.[8]

Industry Academia Platform (IAP)
IAP has the dual aims to support open innovation in Kenyan firms and academia through collaboration, while also generating new opportunities for students such as internships or apprenticeships. It is based upon the Triple Helix Model.

Public-Private Partnerships (PPP)
Public-private partnerships involve collaboration between a government agency and a private-sector company that can be used to finance, build, and operate projects, such as public transportation networks, parks, and convention centers. Financing a project through a public-private partnership can allow a project to be completed sooner or make it a possibility in the first place. Public-private partnerships often involve concessions of tax or other operating revenue, protection from liability, or partial ownership rights over nominally public services and property to private sector, for-profit entities.

Defining Triple Helix Partnerships

All these different forms of multi-actor collaboration show a lot of overlap but also some differences. So what is Triple Helix (3H)? A network, a forum, a model, a partnership, a platform?

This confusion hinders external communications and the promotion of the concept but also its operationalization. Hence, there is a need to define the 3H partnerships further. This could be done by narrowing it to a specific form of multi-actor collaboration, for example around innovation. In that sense, the definition of Dr. Huub Mudde may be useful:

“Central to the Triple Helix approach is the blurring of boundaries between the traditional institutional spheres of government, industry and universities, with each assuming roles of ‘the other’. In this way, the relationships among the institutional spheres of the university, industry and government are continuously reshaped in an endless transition resulting in new technologies, new firms and new types of relationships in a sustained and systemic effort” [9].

Hence, we propose that 3H is a specific form of collaboration among industry, academia and government aimed at developing new products and new firms. It’s not an “approach” (as the output is a new product or company), it is not a “ PPP” (as it involves academia in a leading, research oriented role) nor a “ platform” (as it is institutionalized and operationalized to plan and agree on joint actions and the output is specific and tangible) and doesn’t have the rigor of a “model”.

This implies that NGO’s/CSO’s are not part of the 3H partnerships, sometimes referred to as “Quadruple Helix”, since they generally play a minor role in the principal purpose of innovation[10]. It also means that reference to 3H partnerships with a view to local economic development, is also not appropriate, as this seems too broad and may involve a wider set of activities by many more actors such as smallholder farmers.

What this definitely implies is that more research needs to be done in practice to come to a better understanding what 3H partnerships are and what they are not. Only when we understand the critical elements of 3H partnerships better, can we start looking at improving and strengthening these kind of collaborations between the public and private sectors.

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[1] See Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff (Eds.), Triple Helix Issue, Science and Public Policy Vol. 25, Nr. 6 (December 1998). For a specific case, see for example Mira Krneta and Anci Leburic, The application of triple helix model in agricultural sector of Croatia.

[2] See PRIYAN SENEVIRATHNA, Business Stakeholder Forums; their role in a demand driven approach to TVET, Sri Lanka

[3]  Simatupang & Sridharan (2002), The Collaborative Supply Chain, in: The International Journal of Logistics Management 13(1):15-30

[4] See Lori di Vito, Jakomijn van Wijk and Ingrid Wakkee, Governing Collaborative Value Creation in the context of Grand Challenges; A Case study of a Cross-Sectoral Collaboration in the Textile Industry.

[5] USAID (2018), Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives, lessons learned, EITI.

[6] See Andre de Waal, Ruben Orij and Simon van der Veer, The High Performance Partnership Framework as value chain enhancer, May 2010

[7] Bruce Buyiers, Francesca Guadagno, Karim Karaki, How to assess CSO-Business Partnerships for Development, ECDPM Briefing Note no 86, January 2016.

[8] Camarinha-Matos L. M. et al, Collaborative Networks for a Sustainable World, IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology 336:783, IFIP 2012

[9] Huub Mudde (2020), Universities in the midst of society, entrepreneurship and youth employment in Ethiopia, Indonesia and the Palestinian Territories, p. 56.

[10] The same can be said about TVET institutions that are mostly orientated to practical education and demonstration but rarely to innovation through research. Perhaps 3H partnerships are only applicable to academic institutions with the capacity to do fundamental R&D.