Beyond “Triple Helix” – towards “Quad Helix”

by Christer Asplund on March 22, 2012

In this blog post, we present our views on the challenges with the Triple-Helix model for innovation system development and we present the Quad Helix approach which we have found to be more efficient and true to real life challenges. The ideas in the blog post are developed by Christer Asplund and Jörgen Eriksson in our consulting projects and we were also inspired by a brief paper written by Ernest J. Wilson III at the University of Southern California.

triple helix

In the photo above we can see triple helix spiral stairs from the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They all start on the ground floor and lead to different places. The photograph illustrates the real-world difficulties of making the business sector, the academic sector and government understand each other and cooperate.

The traditional Triple-Helix

Triple helix modelTriple-Helix is a model which describes the crossing of three worlds; academia, business and government.

in the model, the business segment operates as the locus of production; government as the source of contractual relations that guarantee stable interactions and exchange; the university as a source of new knowledge and technology, the generative principle of knowledge-based economies.

The increased importance of knowledge and the role of the university in incubation of technology-based firms gave the model a prominent place in the institutional firmament in the 1990s.

The model was developed in the mid-1990s and has often been used to explain the inner workings of regional innovation systems and clusters. However, the construction of Triple-Helix comes from the vocabulary and models of central planning and institutional and traditional patterns, which –  in our opinion – no longer works.

The world in the 21st century is dynamic and is in continuous flux, due to globalisation and hyper competition. These are trends which will not be reversed. The traditional Triple-Helix model does not consider entrepreneurs and place managers, irrespective of their sectors. The consequence is that individual resourceful persons and brilliance of ideas are not addressed.

For many years we have struggled with the oversimplification and even basic faults of the Triple-Helix model. The starting point is that dynamic innovation processes are not really compatible with the Triple-Helix jargon.

Repeatedly in reality, we have witnessed that real world situations are much more complex than the model and we have concluded that Triple-Helix needs rethinking.

The Triple Helix concept comprises a prominent role for the university in innovation, on a par with industry and government in a knowledge–based society.

However, when you act yourself as a mediator or catalyst in place development, between the three stakeholders, you often notice that there are at least two missing links in the model. Especially, the complex world of place management needs context and driving negotiators who are capable to maneuver between the reefs and hurdles.


1) The first missing link can be described in terms of an absence of “context management” in trying to find the common denominators between the highly institutionalized stakeholders in the classical Triple Helix model.

Instead of inbuilt “context management” the various parties are defining “their” respective agendas according to their own directions and well defined interests The daily work often resembles a number of parallel but separated drain pipes as in the illustration below.

drain pipe

Successful place development, may it be a cluster, a science park or a whole city, can never thrive on an organisational set up where the traditional institutional borders look like the drain pipes. Instead, an open and innovative cross fertilisation is the winning recipe. In summary: a “context management” is a prerequisite.

2) The second Triple-Helix dilemma is the missing link to strong individuals who are resourceful, not in their capacity as legitimised role players in either of the three Triple-Helix organisations, but rather as resourceful individuals who are less well organised and normally not appointed by at least the classical institutions.

The informal role of the resourceful individuals might be the reason why the model of Triple-Helix has survived so many years in the highly institutionalised European societies. You know that something is missing but it has been difficult to formulate an understandable alternative model.

The Quad-Helix

Recently, we came across a brief paper written by Ernest J. Wilson III, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California.  The paper was called How to make a region innovative and can be downloaded here:

Immediately we understood that we had found the inspiration for rethinking the Triple-Helix jargon.

Ernest J. Wilson underlines in his paper that especially in the context of innovative clusters it is critical to involve resourceful persons, not as representatives, but as resourceful entrepreneurs. He focuses on talented people who are open minded and capable to combine complex and disparate factors, irrespective of their heritage or birthplace.

Ernest J. Wilson call these persons “quad leaders”, which we have used as the forth corner in the “Quad Helix” model, see below.

The Quad Helix

The Quad-Helix model recognizes that the drain pipe approach is not competitive (but unfortunately common). It also illustrates the key importance of the central context management, connecting the civil society with talented people irrespective of their home base.

The prime background is if the resourceful individuals are capable to connect diverse facts, curiosity and sometimes even economic resources of their own or via their networks.

There is a fascinating correlation between Ernest´s definition of the Quad talents and what has been presented in our recent book Place Management – New Roles for Place Managers in Rebuilding European Wealth.

We would stretch it so far that we argue that the introduction of “Quad-Helix” is an important step to move beyond the trap of “Triple-Helix”, and we look forward to present this further in our next book on Talent Attraction, planned to be released in 2013.

About Christer Asplund :

Specialist in the field of building more attractive investment infrastructures at local and regional places, innovative clusterbuilding and place marketing strategies.

Extensive capacity in linking practical experiences with more theoretical structures. Christer has since 1975 developed place branding plans for major and smaller cities throughout Europe, including for Barcelona and Catalunya (May 2006) and for the city of Shanghai (July 2006) and latest for some cities in Turkey under the coordination of Brandassist in Istanbul. These place branding plans have focused three target groups: investors, visitors and potential residents.

He has written several books and articles on regional development, industrial policy, innovations, science parks, information technology, place branding, place management, place development and place attraction. The latest book, Place Management, published in 2011, brings place leadership issues to life, with examples from many parts of the world. The first book, Place Hunting: the Art of Attracting New Businesses, was published at the beginning of the 1990s and gave rise to a succession of local and regional projects in Sweden and Norway. The next book, Place Hunting International, focused on the success factors of making a place attractive to investment. The third book, Marketing Places Europe, written in collaboration with Professor Philip Kotler, focused on market related aspects of place development. The original English edition has been translated into Russian, Chinese and Turkish. Has participated in teaching missions throughout Europe during 35 years. Has developed numerous teaching materials in fields like local and regional attraction building, place branding and lately also place management via the program Leadership for Growth.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

David Lansdale June 19, 2013 at 04:16

Would love to talk with you about both the Galapagos, and also Quito, regarding place branding plans for both destinations, both UNESCO heritage sites. I look forward to hearing from you! David

Jörgen Eriksson Jörgen Eriksson June 23, 2013 at 13:07

Dear David, thank you! We will get in touch with you. /Jorgen

Jan Bergman August 29, 2013 at 18:39

Great article, I finally found a model to help me explain my role as an quad leader 😉 Jan Bergman, Calaicia

Syahrul Aiman September 6, 2013 at 09:32

Very nice article. With your permission, I would like to utilize the quad-helic concept for discussion and learning process in Indonesia. thanks a lot.

Chukwuma Ogbonna October 16, 2013 at 11:25

I am most delighted to read your perspective -Quad Helix- as an advancement of the wonderful Triple Helix concept. In my works, I have been using the term “Social Helix” so as to give a distinct inclusion of religious, traditional, and civil society leaders alongside the academia, industry & government. In developing countries like Nigeria where feudalism and capitalism struggle to co-habit like a clash of civilisation, the role of the clergy, traditional rulers and civil society in influencing the mode, means & relations of production alongside the academia, industry and government deserves special mention; although, they can be co-opted under the civil society.
I need to study your perspective more and desire to learn more. Its enriching. Please kindly keep me informed.
Thank you.
Chukwuma Ogbonna

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Charley January 10, 2015 at 18:36

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