Innovation systems, strategic coupling and bridge institutions in Latin America
: an actor-centred account

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Despite the enactment of policies aimed to improve the innovative performance of Latin American countries, low levels of innovative interaction among economic agents remain in the region. Building on the innovation systems literature and other related bodies of work, I propose an actor-centred approach to better understand this deficiency. In particular, I explore the following two research questions: How do lead firms in Latin America manage and organise their innovation strategies? How do non-firm actors in Latin America support the acquisition and management of innovation-relevant knowledge?

A case study research design based on qualitative research was adopted to compare the Brazilian and Mexican innovation systems, examining two lead firms and one technology park in each case. Data collection focused on understanding how firms search for and manage innovation-relevant knowledge, as well as how technology parks support firms in enhancing their innovative capabilities. The thesis further explores and develops two concepts that had been underutilised or underdeveloped in the innovation systems literature: strategic coupling and bridge institutions.

The study finds that Latin American lead firms tend to operate between exploiting (internal) and bounded exploration (external) innovation-relevant knowledge, with some features of higher degrees of innovation management strategies. In turn, non-firm actors support firms in three processes: competence-building, bridging (within the region), and networking (trans-territorial links), which can be attained in interaction with funding sources, scientific knowledge providers and other firms. Interesting differences are observed between the Brazilian and the Mexican cases in how they engage with the sources, channels and geographies involved in accruing innovation-relevant knowledge. This thesis argues that these different patterns are due to the degree and scope of firms’ strategic coupling, and provides a more empirical-grounded development of the bridge institutions concept.

The thesis contributes to a better understanding of the actors’ engagement in the Latin American innovation systems, suggesting how the capabilities to thrive for innovation in the region may be improved. It also contributes to the conceptual expansion of the innovation systems literature, providing some avenues to cross-fertilise with other political economy accounts.
Date of Award6 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SponsorsCONACyT & Secretaría de Educación Pública
SupervisorGaston E Fornes (Supervisor), Jeffrey Henderson (Supervisor) & Magnus Feldmann (Supervisor)


  • innovation systems
  • hierarchical capitalism
  • innovation management
  • developing countries
  • Latin America
  • Bridge institutions

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