per Carla Escolà Costa,

A defining characteristic of innovation districts is their horizontal relationships—connections across actors and sectors spanning research universities and medical institutions, companies and smaller firms, start-ups, and intermediaries.

Many innovation districts have worked tirelessly to build and facilitate these horizontal connections, an effort that has included orchestrating or “choreographing” collisions between people as a way to stimulate new relationships and new ideas. Their work has also supported collaborative innovation, where institutions and/or companies work collaboratively to conceive new inventions or advance joint research.

Today, with COVID-19 writing new rules of engagement, new questions are being raised about the unique value proposition of innovation districts: geographies of innovation powered by physical proximity, density, and, crucially, horizontal relationships across actors and sectors. For example, how are districts continuing to nurture, grow, and differentiate their innovation ecosystem when many researchers, workers, and other actors are working from home or in highly separated spaces and places?

In July 2020, The Global Institute convened a peer sharing session with district leaders as part of a new global network of innovation districts to understand the range of strategies and tactics being used to engage and connect district actors. How are district leaders, in other words, keeping the community flame alive and authentic when physical distance is the new normal?

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