Learning networks represent a highly effective and efficient means of enterprise development for entrepreneurs (Bessant and Tsekouras, 2001). The highly contextual, peer-to-peer nature of the learning that occurs in learning networks makes them a valuable vehicle for the development of indigenous enterprises. Prior research highlighted the need to examine the developmental dynamics of networks over time (Hoang and Antoncic, 2003; Provan, Fish and Sydow, 2007 and; Jack, Drakopoulou Dodd and Anderson, 2008) and the examination of gender-specific networks of entrepreneurs (Greve and Salaff, 2003; Hanson and Blake, 2009; Hampton, Cooper and McGowan, 2009). This research addresses these deficiencies by exploring what motivates entrepreneurs to engage and sustain engagement with learning networks over time. Utilising a longitudinal mixed method research design, six learning networks of entrepreneurs in Ireland and Wales were examined over a period of almost three years. Differences were examined across female, male and mixed-gender networks; using a series of data points: 350 hours of observations, 37 in-depth interviews, 46 personality inventories and 400 questionnaires and evaluations. This research identified a number of factors that impact sustained engagement with networks including: participant commitment to network purpose, valuable network engagement, high accountability between members, a positive network environment of openness and sharing, the presence of network champions and critically, routine structures and processes within network operations. In Ireland the networks continue to meet almost six years later as an amalgamated network; whereas, the networks in Wales ceased to meet after two years. This study contributes to existing research on the creation, development and sustaining of networks, to our knowledge of learning networks, and our understanding of what motivates entrepreneurs to engage with and remain engaged with networks over time. The research has implications for academics, consultants, practitioners and enterprise support agencies interested in setting up sustainable, self-propagating learning networks.
|Publication status||Unpublished - 2016|