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The development of a suitable public charging system for electric vehicles relies on inputs from many complementary organizations that need to synchronize interdependencies across different activities, organizations, and industries. Research on temporal fit has focused on synchronizing activities within or external to the organization, rather than exploring synchronization across multiple organizations with highly interdependent yet colliding temporal structures and multiple time-givers. Drawing on a case study of a collaborative effort to create a national charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, we theorize the interplay between various highly interdependent actors. The resulting theory posits that actors combine and shift between different innovation practices to organize time and explains how multiple, yet interdependent actors engaging in temporal work attempt to accomplish temporal fit. Three entrainment dynamics are identified: (1) temporal tug-of-war through ecosystem configuration; (2) temporal dictating through group politics; and (3) ecosystem navigation through temporal ambivalence. These dynamics arise both between and within groups of actors when they coordinate innovation practices across multiple temporal structures and time-givers. Together, the simultaneous pursuit of synchronization within and across these different coalitions appears to constrain the realization of the collective goal.
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energies
Article
Charging for Collaboration: Exploring the Dynamics of
Temporal Fit in Interdependent Constellations for Innovation
Wouter P. L. van Galen * , Bob Walrave , Sharon A. M. Dolmans and A. Georges L. Romme


Citation: van Galen, W.P.L.; Walrave,
B.; Dolmans, S.A.M.; Romme, A.G.L.
Charging for Collaboration:
Exploring the Dynamics of Temporal
Fit in Interdependent Constellations
for Innovation. Energies 2021,14, 5386.
https://doi.org/10.3390/en14175386
Academic Editor: Marcin Połom
Received: 29 June 2021
Accepted: 25 August 2021
Published: 30 August 2021
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral
with regard to jurisdictional claims in
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iations.
Copyright: © 2021 by the authors.
Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.
This article is an open access article
distributed under the terms and
conditions of the Creative Commons
Attribution (CC BY) license (https://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/
4.0/).
Department of IE & IS, ITEM Group, Eindhoven University of Technology, P.O. Box 513,
5600 MB Eindhoven, The Netherlands; b.walrave@tue.nl (B.W.); s.a.m.dolmans@tue.nl (S.A.M.D.);
a.g.l.romme@tue.nl (A.G.L.R.)
*Correspondence: w.p.l.v.galen@tue.nl; Tel.: +31-402-472-170
Abstract:
The development of a suitable public charging system for electric vehicles relies on inputs
from many complementary organizations that need to synchronize interdependencies across different
activities, organizations, and industries. Research on temporal fit has focused on synchronizing
activities within or external to the organization, rather than exploring synchronization across multiple
organizations with highly interdependent yet colliding temporal structures and multiple time-givers.
Drawing on a case study of a collaborative effort to create a national charging infrastructure for electric
vehicles, we theorize the interplay between various highly interdependent actors. The resulting theory
posits that actors combine and shift between different innovation practices to organize time and
explains how multiple, yet interdependent actors engaging in temporal work attempt to accomplish
temporal fit. Three entrainment dynamics are identified: (1) temporal tug-of-war through ecosystem
configuration; (2) temporal dictating through group politics; and (3) ecosystem navigation through
temporal ambivalence. These dynamics arise both between and within groups of actors when they
coordinate innovation practices across multiple temporal structures and time-givers. Together, the
simultaneous pursuit of synchronization within and across these different coalitions appears to
constrain the realization of the collective goal.
Keywords: EV charging infrastructure; electric vehicles; temporal work; entrainment; collaborative
innovation setting
1. Introduction
In today’s interconnected world, many organizations need to manage interdepen-
dencies across different activities, organizations, and industries. These interdependencies
imply the need to coordinate efforts among various inter-organizational strategies and
processes in order to simultaneously achieve local goals (e.g., sustaining a competitive
advantage) and collective goals (e.g., they aim to replace an incumbent technology by
a more sustainable technology [
1
6
]. For example, the development of path-breaking
innovations to grand challenges in the area of sustainable energy production and smart
mobility systems is characterized by high levels of interdependence between diverse orga-
nizations that need to be involved yet also be aligned. Hence, these are system-wide issues
that stretch beyond the boundaries of a single organization or industry, involving diverse
yet complementary organizations (such as governments, grid operators and technology
developers) that have various competing interests (e.g., societal and environmental versus
commercial interests) and objectives (e.g., reducing local air pollution versus safeguarding
grid stability versus increasing profit) [7,8].
As such, the broader collaborative setting for innovation comes with specific chal-
lenges for those organization pioneering a path-breaking value proposition. In particular
because concerted efforts are required from the organizations involved, each shaping its
strategic choices and actions according to a unique temporal structure and assumptions—
that is, temporal work [
6
,
9
,
10
]. In this respect, the various participants in a joint innovation
Energies 2021,14, 5386. https://doi.org/10.3390/en14175386 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/energies
Energies 2021,14, 5386 2 of 23
effort are likely to face different temporal interpretations [
9
13
] that, as a result, causes for
participant misalignment, which then may jeopardize the efficacy of the collaboration [
3
,
6
].
Thus, the involved actors have to coordinate their activities across different temporal
structures to ensure a so-called state of temporal fit, required to materialize the focal value
proposition [2].
The temporal fit between two or more interacting systems has also been called entrain-
ment, also known as the synchronization of activity cycles of one (organizational) system to
those of another [
14
16
]. The concept of entrainment serves to understand the processes
by which organizations cope, or fail to cope, with the key elements of entrainment—that
is, matching speed and aligning phases—to accomplish temporal fit between their own
time-giving activities (e.g., internal R&D processes) and those of the external environ-
ment (such as technology suppliers or customers) [
17
]. Previous studies have assessed
entrainment in various contexts, both within and external to the organization, and its
impact on performance [
12
,
16
,
18
21
]. However, little is known about entrainment in a
structure of joint path-breaking innovation ([
22
] is an exception), despite the fact that
matters of alignment are of central importance in such settings [
1
,
2
,
23
,
24
]. Indeed, grand
challenges are highly complex, uncertain and without easy solutions; moreover, effective
cross-sector collaborations are deemed necessary to solve such challenges e.g., [
25
27
].
Here, organizations such as technology developers, energy providers, grid operators and
local governments are facing competing temporal structures, multiple time-givers, and
conflicting local goals and strategies in their innovation efforts [
7
,
8
,
11
] while being nested
in a complex system of interdependence.
It is therefore not surprising that scholars have called for research that seeks to un-
derstand how organizations interact in their joint efforts to achieve the desired joint
value proposition, particularly when temporal structures and activities tend to collide
e.g., [
12
,
19
21
,
28
] or when these organizations are nested within larger interconnected
systems [
18
,
29
,
30
]. However, still little is known about how various complementary actors
make sense of time in complex and highly interdependent constellations for innovation.
Therefore, in this study we seek to understand how multiple organizations engage in temporal
work in the context of an ecosystem for a path-breaking innovation.
By drawing on an in-depth embedded case study of the development of the Dutch
charging infrastructure for EVs, we highlight the complex dynamics that interdependent
actors face when they collaborate toward a collective goal. Our findings suggest that
ecosystem actors give rise to three specific entrainment dynamics: (1) temporal tug-of-
war through ecosystem configuration; (2) temporal dictating through group politics; and,
(3) ecosystem navigation through temporal ambivalence. These dynamics arise both
between and within groups of actors when they coordinate innovation practices across
multiple temporal structures and time-givers. More specifically, we observe that actors
establish coalitions to seek to synchronize their innovation practices to a single dominant
time-giver that is perceived to be most relevant to their interests and challenges of achieving
temporal fit. In addition, groups of actors are likely to use such a coalition to gain more
influence and power over competing temporal-structures and innovation practices (e.g.,
to influence value appropriation distribution or the nature of the joint value proposition).
However, when actors strategize in the form of such coalitions (called ‘nested-entrainment’),
they are likely to jeopardize the interdependency structure at the collective level—which is
critical to creating the collective innovation outcome in the first place.
This study contributes to the literature on temporal work and innovation by theorizing
how organizations combine and shift between different innovation practices, thereby gener-
ating three distinct entrainment dynamics. Hence, our findings offer a new perspective on
how multiple yet interdependent actors engage in temporal work and (fail to) accomplish
temporal fit. Moreover, while temporal work and entrainment are typically explored
within or external to a focal organization, this study is one of the first to shed light on the
dynamics underlying the complex relationships between multiple nested systems, that
Energies 2021,14, 5386 3 of 23
together represent a multi-level system seeking to achieve temporal fit and thereby aim to
materialize a joint value proposition in an innovation ecosystem setting.
2. Theoretical Background
Entrainment involves the process by which two or more interacting systems come into
temporal fit [
14
,
15
] and provides a lens for developing theoretical perspectives on different
interacting systems at multiple levels of analysis [
15
,
16
]. In this respect, scholars have
addressed the synchronization of organizational activities with an external environment,
such as competitors, customers, or governments—referred to as extra-entrainment. Extra-
entrainment explains the performance implications that arise as activity cycles of one sys-
tem entrain to those of a more dominant external system, the so-called time-giver
[16,17,20]
.
Time-giving actors “set the tempo (i.e., the speed at which an activity is to be performed)
and/or phase (i.e., the starting point) of activity cycles to which the organization must
entrain” [
20
] (p. 106). However, the need to synchronize internal activities, that is, intra-
entrainment, has also been emphasized [
16
,
17
,
31
]. Hence, the state of intra-entrainment
may reinforce or undermine the positive effects of extra-entrainment [17,20].
Some studies have only focused on intra-entrainment; for instance, Hopp and Greene [
32
]
examined the temporal relationships between business plans and the achievement of
new ventures’ viability. However, other studies have considered both intra- and extra-
entrainment. For example, several studies show that alliance managers have to assess
and manage internal and external rhythms to effectively coordinate alliances [
16
,
21
].
While studying the temporal fit between organizations and its external environment,
Khavul et al. [20]
focused on the intersection of internationalization and the performance
of international new ventures, and Reinecke and Ansari [
6
] explored the interplay be-
tween market and development temporalities to explain how organizations entrain to
multiple temporal environments. Collectively, the logic in these multidisciplinary studies
has remained largely the same over the years: entrainment captures the temporal fit be-
tween two interacting systems. Hence, a good fit is likely to enhance firm performance,
e.g., [
14
,
16
,
17
,
20
], while a misfit results in damaging consequences and thereby suboptimal
firm performance [14,33,34].
Despite these advancements, entrainment is rarely studied in more complex contexts,
notably those that reach beyond a single focal organization (see [
12
,
22
] for two exceptions).
This is interesting, as organizations are inevitably embedded in larger systems and thereby
interconnected with other competing and/or complementary organizations, which on
top of an organization’s entrainment strategies might further complicate and potentially
destabilize joint efforts [
18
,
29
31
]. More specifically, entrainment inevitably occurs in a
nesting structure, involving a hierarchical structure of multiple organizations that need to
achieve temporal fit to reach an overarching collective goal [
18
,
19
,
21
,
30
]—such as innova-
tion. Such a nesting structure represents a multilevel system composed of interdependent
subsystems (i.e., organizations that embrace different temporal-structures and time-givers)
that share common interests and goals while coordinating their activities to a higher-level
system goal. Such a structure is likely to bring about a (transient) state of equilibrium
among competing time-givers [
18
] which allows multiple organizations to collaborate,
but a powerful organization or alliance of actors can have the leverage to enact or resist
temporal change and thereby undermine the collective innovation effort [17].
A key challenge is therefore the need to balance the demands of multiple divergent
yet interconnected organizations, without compromising individual and collective perfor-
mance. In response, several scholars have stressed that forming alliances [
21
], forming
strategic groups [
18
] and setting up coalitions of organizations [
17
] are well established
approaches to manage inter-organizational relationships. Nevertheless, strong and stable
sub-systems representing groups of organizations—such as a coalition or alliance—may
also result in internal tensions. That is, organizations active in such a sub-system may
prefer a different speed and/or set of rhythms, and these sub-systems may therefore face
continuous tensions that emerge from external (competing) demands [
18
], for instance from
Energies 2021,14, 5386 4 of 23
co-innovating organizations [
2
,
35
]. While the mutual appreciation of interdependencies
can allow organizations to bridge competing temporalities [
6
], the arenas in which various
organizations seek to accomplish temporal fit have become very complex [
3
,
18
,
36
], for
example because of temporal complexity [
11
]. This is likely to result in misfit and may
jeopardize the efficacy of the collaboration and its performance.
Thus, while the unique inputs and impulses from co-innovating actors typically serve
to enable innovation it also raises important issues in terms of temporal fit [
1
,
2
,
17
,
20
,
28
].
That is, the competing temporal structures, multiple time-givers and conflicting local goals
make collaborative settings for innovation unstable and thereby a complex endeavor [11].
However, nowadays various organizations increasingly collaborate as partners in joint
innovation efforts towards both local and collective goals, for instance to compete with
established value propositions, aimed to replace the incumbent technology [
2
]. Moreover, in
the context of such a joint innovation setting (often referred to as an innovation ecosystem),
the functioning of the system—and with that the potential to realize the system’s goal—
depends on the functioning of the participating actors, and vice versa [
1
,
2
,
5
,
35
,
37
]. This
implies that the failure of any key actor to successfully synchronize with the innovation
ecosystem negatively impacts the performance of the system as a whole. As such, the
entrainment challenges arising from joint innovation are not only situated within the
organization, but also in the organization’s (external) ecosystem of co-innovating actors.
A key challenge for the actors involved in an innovation ecosystem is therefore to
achieve their local goals, while bridging competing temporal perspectives to achieve a
temporal fit, without compromising the joint value proposition. In this respect, many
authors have called for research that seeks to create a better understanding on how organi-
zations interact in their joint efforts to achieve collective innovation outcomes, particularly
when temporal structures and time-giving activities tend to collide, e.g., [
12
,
17
,
19
21
,
28
]
or when these organizations are nested within larger interconnected systems [
18
,
29
,
30
].
In response, Hilbolling et al. [
22
] provided useful empirical insights by taking a temporal
lens on the coordination of innovation ecosystems. More specifically, the authors suggest
that a combination of both synchronous as well as asynchronous strategies shape temporal
coordination in innovation ecosystems.
Nonetheless, the complex structure of interdependency raises several new questions.
For instance, how is entrainment behavior shaped or constrained in a complex system of
interdependent actors and how does this influence the success or failure of achieving a path
breaking value proposition? How do organizations cope with multiple time-givers? In
addition, questions arise regarding how the complexity, dynamism, and uncertainty of an
interdependency structure shape organizational practices in achieving fit, or reducing mis-
fit, with the environment. Overall, the extant literature suggests that little is known about
how multiple actors organize time in complex and highly interdependent constellations for
innovation [
12
,
17
21
,
28
30
]. In this study, we therefore explore how multiple organizations
engage in temporal work in the context of an ecosystem for a path-breaking innovation.
3. Method
Due to the exploratory nature of the research question, we conducted an in-depth case
study that offers an authentic context and allows us to develop a deeper understanding [
38
].
Our study focuses on an emerging innovation ecosystem in the Netherlands, representing
a set of various highly interdependent actors with complementary assets that need to
be combined to develop a public charging infrastructure for EVs. At the time, such an
infrastructure is considered as a critical prerequisite to enable a successful transition to
EVs (e.g., through smart charging [
8
,
39
]). This ecosystem is well-suited for studying the
behavior of diverse actors attempting to structure time in an innovation ecosystem for a
path-breaking innovation. It covers a multiplicity of co-innovating actors creating novel
temporal trade-offs that influence the nature of their main innovation practices, while also
being connected by their collective value proposition [7,8,4042].
Energies 2021,14, 5386 5 of 23
Furthermore, the development of the national charging infrastructure entails various
local parties and large scale (technical) inputs that require inputs from multiple organiza-
tions of the same type—such as multiple municipalities, grid operators, and charge point
operators [
7
,
8
,
41
]. This allows us to study how (groups of) actors engage in synchronizing
their innovation practices in the ecosystem. The simultaneous engagement in both joint
innovation and temporal fit makes the Dutch public charging ecosystem an appropriate
setting for this study [43,44].
3.1. Data Collection
The data collected consist of interview data, site visits, and archival data. The public
and private organizations studied were selected in view of their direct involvement in
the development of the public charging infrastructure, including: local governments
(representing Dutch municipalities, city regions and provinces), national government
(Enterprise Agency and a ministry), grid operators (i.e., Distribution System Operators
or DSOs), large (European) energy companies, charging station manufactures, Mobility
Service Providers (MSPs), Charge Point Operators (CPOs), European and non-European
(electric) vehicle suppliers, and knowledge institutions (i.e., universities, research institutes,
and consultancy firms).
3.1.1. Interview Data
A total of 30 semi-structured interviews, which lasted from 45 to 120 min, were
conducted with 36 key actors representing managers or policy makers responsible for their
organization’s public charging infrastructure related innovation activities. We used an
interview protocol (Appendix A) to systematically uncover the actors’ innovation attitude,
strategic behavior, temporal innovation practices, and synchronization efforts in view of the
dynamics related to the ecosystem and the joint innovation practices. During the interviews,
the interviewees were first invited to elaborate on their role in the organization and were
subsequently invited to describe how their organization was involved in the development
of the public charging infrastructure. The interview then focused on key topics related to
the joint innovation processes, the actors’ strategic behavior and innovation practices, and
their synchronization efforts with respect to their external environment. When necessary,
we also asked for additional information on specific innovation activities and relationships.
All interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed.
3.1.2. Site Visits
In addition to the interviews, we conducted 26 site visits to organizations involved
with public charging in the Netherlands. We visited grid operators (3 DSOs, and 1 in-
dustry organization), 3 local governments (i.e., municipalities), 3 regional governments
(i.e., provinces and city regions) and 2 national governments (i.e., Enterprise Agency and
a ministry), and multiple technology companies (developers of charging stations, CPOs,
MSPs). These visits grounded the findings in the field, helped to identify additional
informants (to be interviewed) and enabled access to additional documents (see below).
3.1.3. Archival Data
Throughout the study, various kinds of (publicly available) documents (27 in total)
and other secondary data regarding the participating organizations and ecosystem served
to triangulate the patterns inferred from the interview data and site visits. By regularly
sharing the emerging findings with various actors, we assured that our interpretations of
the dynamics in and around the innovation ecosystem were valid.
3.2. Data Analysis
Different steps were used to analyze the data [
45
,
46
]. We performed these steps
sequentially, but kept iterating as we continued to collect data in the field. Firstly, the
data were transformed into a more manageable form, by analyzing and mapping various
Energies 2021,14, 5386 6 of 23
relevant characteristics of the actors involved in the ecosystem. Table 1provides a con-
cise overview of the actors that formed the basis of the ecosystem, including their roles,
complementary assets, interests, and general innovation strategies. This step resulted in a
general case narrative, constructed from the interviews, observational and archival data.
The narrative constituted our initial effort to explore the entrainment dynamics in the
ecosystem through open-coding, and to understand how (groups of) actors engaged in
synchronizing their innovation practices in the ecosystem. Secondly, we used second-level
codes to label distinct characteristics that explain actors’ temporal work (Table 2), hence
fueling dynamics across the participating actors. Further analysis pointed at three specific
entrainment dynamics that may detail how multiple organizations engage in temporal
work in this ecosystem (Appendix B).
Table 1. Overview of the public charging ecosystem’s actors.
Actor General Role and
Complementary Asset Local Interests Expectations Strategies Dominant
Time-Giver
Local
government
Approve location and
placement of charging
stations. Asset: public
space, i.e., charging spot.
Fulfill charging demands of
citizens and visitors.
Preserve strategic parking
spaces and optimal use of
parking spaces.
Growing number of EV
charging spots may
aggravate parking pressure.
Public charging market is
organized and
self-sustaining in the
short term.
Variety of supportive
policies in cities and
surrounding regions.
Policies and financial
incentives for charging
station requests and
corresponding
permits differ.
Ratio between
EVs and public
charging points.
Energy
company
Provide electricity in order
to enable charging.
Asset: electricity.
Maintain and increase
market share. Flexibility on
the wholesale market,
balancing electricity supply
and customer demand, and
prediction of electricity
price movements.
EV and charging
infrastructure will become
an essential and valuable
element in the transition to
future energy systems. EV
may pose a threat to the
balance between supply and
demand in the long term.
Development of forecast
models for dynamic pricing
and peak shaving.
Establishing public charging
networks to learn about EV
and charging. Lobby for
legislative change to
enable balancing.
Consumers of
electricity.
Grid operator
Construction of the
physical connection
between the grid and the
charging point. Asset:
electricity grid.
Grid stability and safety.
Supply security and
postpone grid
reinforcements and
investments. Facilitate the
development of the charging
infrastructure.
Large scale adoption of EV
may pose a threat to the grid
stability and cause
additional investments. Grid
stability requires
smart charging.
Development of forecast
models for smart charging.
Coordinate activities and
safeguard interests in
different ways.
National
government.
Charging
station
manufacturer
Provide suitable charging
stations. Asset:
charging station.
Commercial interests.
Maintain R&D activities.
Market expansion, both
national and international.
EV demand will increase
and charging market
provides opportunities to
develop and exploit
products internationally.
Partnerships in large scale
projects to create economies
of scale. Market
segmentation.
Customers of
charging
stations.
Charge point
operator
Place, maintain, operate,
and thereby provide a
reliable pool of charging
stations. Asset: provide
other actors access to
charging stations.
Quickly organized
ecosystem. Market
expansion, both national and
international. Commercial
activities in the short term
and being part of future
energy transition.
EV demand will increase
and charging market
provides opportunities to
develop and exploit
products internationally.
Competition will increase.
Commercial strategies.
Provide themselves a
profitable position in future.
Collaborate with other actors
for interoperability, and
technical protocols.
Users of the
public charging
infrastructure.
Mobility
service
provider
Provide charging services.
Ensure that users can
charge anytime, anywhere
at different charging
providers. Asset:
Charging services.
Selling services and making
profit. Market expansion,
both national and
international. Reliable public
charging infrastructure.
EV demand will increase
and charging market
provides opportunities to
develop and exploit
products internationally.
Competition will increase.
Develop new services and
increase marketing intensity.
Participate in projects.
Create agreement on
administrative matters,
interoperability, and
technical protocols.
Users of the
public charging
infrastructure.
(electric)
Vehicle
supplier
Provide Electric Vehicles.
Asset: electric Vehicles.
Charging infrastructure is
necessary for EVs. Maintain
market share in the long
term through diversification
of product portfolio (not
necessarily with EVs).
Different expectations about
technological- and market
developments, and future
consumer demands. EV will
be part of the future
automotive market.
Strategies are focused on EV
and differ due to various
expectations. Introducing a
variety of EVs on the market.
Customers of
EVs.
Energies 2021,14, 5386 7 of 23
Table 1. Cont.
Actor General Role and
Complementary Asset Local Interests Expectations Strategies Dominant
Time-Giver
National
government 1
Orchestrating and
optimizing the public
charging chain.
Achieve national and
international EV
economic/sustainability-
objectives, as part of this, a
suitable public charging
infrastructure should
be developed.
Development of a public
charging infrastructure is a
market task. Unambiguous
market demand regarding
issues and possible
legislative changes.
Reactive role during the
development of a charging
infrastructure. Approving of
a a variety of supportive and
corrective policies and
support for
research funding.
Ratio between
EVs and public
charging points.
1
The national government has no indispensable assets with respect to the public charging infrastructure. However, they inevitably played
a role in shaping the overall ecosystem’s structure, e.g., through legislation, knowledge sharing, and matching various actors.
Table 2. Concepts and characteristic that drive temporal work in innovation ecosystems.
Concept (Definition) Characteristic CPO, MSP, Charging
Station Manufacturer
Energy Company,
Vehicle Supplier Grid Operator Local/Regional
Government
1. Joint innovation
attitude (i.e., actor’s
rationale behind
joint innovation)
The main reason to engage
in joint innovation is: To be profitable To learn and to be
profitable
To safeguard
responsibilities and
compliance with
legislation
To address societal
and environmental
issues
The desired outcome of
innovation is:
The exploitation of
opportunities
The exploration of
opportunities
To address changing
setting and
regulative tasks
The compliance with
societal interests
and policies
Decision making is mainly
focused on: Self-interest Self-interest Self-interest and
social interest
Self-interest and
social interest
The attitude towards
exposing the organization to
dangerous, harmful, or
failing situations is:
Risk taking Considering risks Risk avoiding Risk avoiding
The willingness to consider
new external initiatives and
innovation practices:
High Medium Low Ranging from low
to medium
The mindset to create a
desired situation in the
ecosystem is driven by:
Pro-active behavior Ranging from waiting
to proactive behavior
Ranging from waiting
to proactive behavior
Ranging from waiting
to proactive behavior
2. Temporal structure
(i.e., actor’s temporal
characteristics that
shape local innovation
practices, adapted
from: [6,7,9])
The course of action to
achieve innovation
objectives is to:
Compete for market
share and collaborate to
develop standards
Participate in (pilot)
projects and
collaborate to
develop standards
Participate in (sizeable)
pilot projects and
collaborate to develop
standards
Support and
collaborate to develop
generic procedures
and guidelines
The process of putting
innovation related decisions
or plans into practice can be
characterized by:
Efficient and fast
implementation
Effective
implementation
Coordinated
and effective
implementation
Coordinated and
effective
implementation
The usual period for
planning and performing
innovation activities is
oriented on:
The short-term The mid-term The long-term The mid-term
The main aspects of how
(important) decisions are
made, through:
Opportunity based
decision making
Opportunity based
decision making
Comprehensive and
thoughtful decision
making
Comprehensive and
thoughtful decision
making
The speed of decision
taking is: Rapid Average Slow Slow
3. Challenges of
achieving temporal fit.
(i.e., actor’s challenges
to achieve temporal fit
with co-innovation
actors)
The perceived position of
innovation and entrainment
challenges is:
Mainly external
Either ranging from
internal to external,
or both internal and
external
Both internal and
external
Either ranging from
internal to external,
or both internal and
external
The capability to entrain
internal activities to changes
in the ecosystem is:
Highly flexible Inflexible Inflexible Inflexible
The perceived necessity of a
well-arranged ecosystem
were actors follow justifiable
and obvious innovation
patterns and all actors play
by the same set of rules is:
High Ranging from low
to medium Low Ranging from low
to medium
Energies 2021,14, 5386 8 of 23
4. Results
This section describes the main findings. First, we introduce the setting of the case by
presenting an overview of the actors that formed the basis of the ecosystem. Second, we
describe how the actors engage in organizing their practices, according to the actors’ char-
acteristics. Here, we show three entrainment dynamics: (1) temporal tug-of-war through
ecosystem configuration; (2) temporal dictating through group politics; and (3) ecosystem
navigation through temporal ambivalence. Finally, we explain how this simultaneous
pursuit of synchronization within and across these different coalitions constrains joint
innovation at the system level. Figure 1provides a conceptual overview of the innovation
ecosystem setting and the three different entrainment dynamics.
Energies 2021, 14, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 24
JVP
JVP
JVP JVP
Temporal tug-of-war through
ecosystem configuration
Temporal dictating thr ough
group politics
Ecosystem navigation through
temporal ambivalence
Act o r
En trai n m e n t
dynami c
Figure 1. Overview of the innovation ecosystem setting and the three different entrainment dynamics.
Table 1. Overview of the public charging ecosystem’s actors.
Actor
General Role and
Complementary As-
set
Local Interests Expectations Strategies Dominant Time-
Giver
Local gov-
ernment
Approve location
and placement of
charging stations.
Asset: public space,
i.e., charging spot.
Fulfill charging de-
mands of citizens and
visitors. Preserve strate-
gic parking spaces and
optimal use of parking
spaces.
Growing number of EV
charging spots may aggra-
vate parking pressure.
Public charging market is
organized and self-sus-
taining in the short term.
Variety of supportive poli-
cies in cities and surround-
ing regions. Policies and fi-
nancial incentives for charg-
ing station requests and cor-
responding permits differ.
Ratio between EVs
and public charg-
ing points.
Energy
company
Provide electricity in
order to enable
charging. Asset: elec-
tricity.
Maintain and increase
market share. Flexibility
on the wholesale mar-
ket, balancing electricity
supply and customer
demand, and prediction
of electricity price move-
ments.
EV and charging infra-
structure will become an
essential and valuable ele-
ment in the transition to
future energy systems. EV
may pose a threat to the
b
alance between supply
and demand in the long
term.
Development of forecast
models for dynamic pricing
and peak shaving. Estab-
lishing public charging net-
works to learn about EV
and charging. Lobby for
legislative change to enable
b
alancing.
Consumers of elec-
tricity.
Grid op-
erator
Construction of the
physical connection
b
etween the grid and
the charging point.
Grid stability and safety.
Supply security and
postpone grid reinforce-
ments and investments.
Large scale adoption of
EV may pose a threat to
the grid stability and
Development of forecast
models for smart charging.
Coordinate activities and
safeguard interests in differ-
ent ways.
National govern-
ment.
Figure 1. Overview of the innovation ecosystem setting and the three different entrainment dynamics.
Figure 1shows different complementary actors (represented by the different symbols)
in the development of a joint value proposition (JVP). The ecosystem setting in this study
focuses on the JVP of developing a national public charging infrastructure for EV. The
complementary actors are local governments, energy companies, grid operators, charging
station manufacturers, charge point operators, mobility service providers, and (electric)
vehicle suppliers. The location of each entrainment dynamic is visualized by the grey
dashed arrows. More specifically, temporal tug-of-war is observed across complementary
actors, temporal dictating is observed within groups of actors, and temporal ambivalence
is observed both across as well as within the ecosystem’s actors.
Energies 2021,14, 5386 9 of 23
4.1. Setting the Stage: Exploring Temporal Work in an Innovation Ecosystem Setting
Innovation ecosystems can be characterized by complementary actors that interac-
tively seek to achieve a collective goal. In the case of the national ecosystem the collective
goal is to develop a suitable public charging infrastructure for EVs. Table 1portrays the
various actors that are involved in the development of the charging infrastructure and
shape the dynamics in how they collaborate toward that collective goal.
A first key finding centers on the observation that each actor has a particular position
in the ecosystem. The empirical analysis shows each of the multidisciplinary actors has
a particular motive to engage in the development of the charging ecosystem. In general,
the actors have positive expectations regarding the success of EV and acknowledge for
various reasons the necessity of a suitable public charging infrastructure. Despite actors’
distinct interests, expectations and strategies, Table 1demonstrates that the strategies
are not purely aimed at either hindering or supporting the development of the collective
innovation outcome.
Instead, the strategies are directed at influencing the ecosystem’s configuration in
order to align it to local interests, informed by their distinct dominant time-giver. As such,
the different actors seek to establish an innovation ecosystem configuration that maximizes
the fulfillment of their own interests. A key actor reflected on this configuration as follows:
“It is obvious, the charging infrastructure is vital. Without a charging infrastruc-
ture no EVs. That’s the reason why we started so long ago with the development
of the charging infrastructure. Our position was and still is that the public
charging infrastructure is a matter of public concern. Like other supportive in-
frastructure that is generally made available to enable driving. This is something
that is not achieved by the private organizations. Like parking spots or the road
infrastructure itself, traffic lights, public lighting
. . .
These are all indispensable
matters to support mobility. And we feel that the charging infrastructure also
belongs here. And that’s the point where we [grid operators] started with. In
addition, an EV requires a completely different provision than petrol, gas or
fluid energy system. This means that you have to develop and integrate the
[infrastructure for EVs] differently. And that is smart charging, electric charging
requires smart charging. And combining these two [to enable public charging],
that’s where we started with already back in 2008.” (Innovation manager, grid
operator #1).
However, as these local interests do not necessary align, a setting characterized by multi-
ple misfits arises, including those among interests and strategies which may hinder the
establishment, speed, and outcomes of the joint effort. On the other hand, the actors share
positive expectations and ambitions toward accomplishing the collective goal, which may
mitigate the adverse effects. Hence, these shared expectations enable actors to join the
collective effort and engage others in the ecosystem:
“We are frontrunners in The Netherlanders. That did not happen because either
the private sector or the government that stick to national laws and regulations
started. Instead, that is because there was an enthusiastic group of policy makers
and business managers who decided: “we’re going to start and make it work
together”. But this is key, there should be a government that actively looks for
industry partners to jointly invest and promote the development. [Governments]
should not begin with designing new policy first, and after that looking whether
there is still money available and only then start the development. No, you
have to go beyond this and do it together with the industry.” (Regional policy
maker #1).
Moreover, in their efforts to collaborate and achieve temporal fit, many actors are exposed
to each other’s innovation attitudes, temporal structures, and alignment challenges.
Table 2
serves to map the interrelated concepts and distinct characteristics that underlie actors’
Energies 2021,14, 5386 10 of 23
efforts to organize time in the innovation setting (i.e., temporal work), and hence fuel the
interplay between the participating actors.
As Table 2illustrates, major contrasts exist across the actors. The intended fit toward
the desired collective goals thus entails the coordination across a complexity of interrelated
characteristics. In the remainder of this section, we will elaborate on this interrelatedness
and outline the entrainment dynamics between and within actors in more detail, including
how these dynamics affect each other.
4.2. Entrainment Dynamic I: Temporal Tug-of-War through Ecosystem Configuration
The central point for understanding the interplay between highly interdependent ac-
tors is that our results show that the contrasting characteristics between typical actors exist
(cf. Tables 1and 2), which in turn underlie entrainment tensions that emerge across actors.
We label this temporal tug-of-war through ecosystem configuration. More specifically, our
findings show that actor’s strategies and innovation practices are directed at influencing
the ecosystem’s configuration in order to align it to specific local (temporal) characteristics,
and hence cause tensions (i.e., tug-of-war) that emerge across actors who embrace different
temporal innovation practices. The following example serves to highlight how differences
in actor’s innovation activities and time-giver feed misalignment.
“We use specific guidelines to process an application for a public charging point.
Here we make agreements with the municipality about what we expect from
them. For instance, whether there should be a parking spot reserved, whether or
not we need a sign and if yes who takes care of this, whether or not we need a
civil servant to check the engineering activities on site, what is a good spot for a
charging point
. . .
And we need this to be clear far in advance. And then, if we
receive an application, we can check whether the application is entitled to receive
a public charging point. If so, then we make a further application for a license.
And this is a very long time-consuming process, which differs by municipality.
And then step 2: the grid operator. Here we face significant differences among
grid operators. Again we do a location check [for the grid connection] upfront,
otherwise the application is for nothing. It then goes to the grid operator, and
depending on their internal agreements it requires one simple working process
[ . . . ]
or multiple working processes. The latter is really frustrating for us because
it cost us really much time and it is according to us pointless.” (Business manager,
CPO #1).
The governmental attitude, the duration of their implementation and decision-making
processes, in turn, provide a stumbling block for the CPO. In other words, the CPO’s
process of putting innovations into practice can be characterized by efficient activities and
rapid decision-making. A CPO has to deal with external innovation challenges. In this
respect, the CPOs would like the municipalities to speed up their (internal) processes and
switch to a generic applicable application guideline, so that they, as a private organization,
can be more efficient and more profitable in the short term.
Decision making speed and innovation planning can be interpreted in various ways.
For instance, when a grid operator is willing to discuss critical issues regarding public
charging, it typically means one has to schedule a series of appointments across the entire
upcoming year which, in turn, frustrates the representatives of a commercially driven
company. An innovation manager reflected on these differences as follows:
“CPOs or those decisive organizations versus a grid operator. The entire culture
of a grid operator is totally different, 100% different I would say. A grid operator
may be willing to collaborate, but this means that I as a grid operator schedule
meetings every two weeks for the upcoming two years. And such a decisive
organization then says: WHAT, I have to do something else, but you know what,
let’s settle it next Friday within just 1 h, preferably with a Skype call, and then
it should be done. Of course, this is an extremely different approach. And the
Energies 2021,14, 5386 11 of 23
same goes for CPOs toward local governments [
. . .
]. No, these are two different
worlds in terms of culture and thereby in terms of time interpretations, time they
could invest [in public charging related matters] and the way they talk [about
public charging].” (Innovation manager, grid operator #2).
From yet another perspective, the public organizations involved attach less importance to
decision-making speed. They attach value to comprehensive and thoughtful decisions that
comply with societal interests and policies, and consequently, efficiency is less important.
Despite the fact that public organizations are willing to support innovation to address
societal issues, the innovation implementation process of public actors is typically char-
acterized by high coordination costs, strong risk considerations, and compliance with an
unequivocal policy. Whether the tasks or activities are completed on time, or how (efficient)
individuals perform, or what the final (measurable) results are, are less important to public
organizations and therefore barely emphasized. As one of the respondents mentioned:
“Generally speaking, everyone agreed that the government is slow, and this will
always be the case. We [government] think that we’re much faster than in the past,
in my opinion this is the case. But since technological developments occur rapidly
we as a government will always lag behind. Moreover, as a government you
always have multiple interests to serve.” (Policy maker, national government #1).
In addition to the different innovation practices, many actors appeared to struggle with
understanding each other’s practices, time-givers, and associated efforts. For instance, the
empirical data demonstrates that private actors, such as a CPO or a, MSP, do not speak the
language of a public organization, and vice versa. A private organization is mainly focused
on synchronizing its activities and for them it is difficult to think about the interests of
others. For example, during a project with a municipal organization and a CPO targeted at
the allocation of charging spots a consultant reflected:
“It is difficult for them [CPO] to think about local activities such as the nearby
residents, the road authorities, legal affairs and spatial planning. Of course,
from a CPO’s perspective it would be favorable and commercially attractive
if all the green spaces in the public environment could be adapted slightly in
their favor, so that a charging station could be allocated everywhere and always.
But there are many more issues than the CPO can effectively overlook, and its
proposed solutions are rarely acceptable across all local (i.e., municipal) and
regional (i.e., provincial) policy areas.” (Innovation advisor, consultancy firm #1).
On the contrary, the same applies for a civil servant who wants to trust private actors,
but rarely understands private actors’ underlying interests and impact of the dominant
time-giver. For example:
“As a local government I don’t want to worry about the trustworthiness of a
market player. How should I judge a market player, by his annual sales or
number of sold charging stations? [
. . .
] We don’t have the expertise to do so.
What are the minimal quality requirements of the charging stations, do we have
to determine this? We don’t have this knowledge, and we are therefore not
looking to attain formulation on these points.” (Regional policy maker #2).
This is confirmed by an independent advisor:
“Regarding public charging it is difficult for local governments to figure out what
commercially driven organizations really consider as important. For instance,
what is more important: the charging tariff or the location of the charging spot?
In other words, what to do if the charging tariff per kilowatt-hour increases with
1 Euro cent when one can charge directly in front of the door instead of 100 m at
the end of the parking space? This is something that a local government does not
understand.” (Innovation advisor, consultancy firm #1).
Energies 2021,14, 5386 12 of 23
4.3. Entrainment Dynamic II: Temporal Dictating through Group Politics
We now turn to a distinct group of actors as level of analysis. Our data shows that
actors establish distinct groups of actors (i.e., coalitions) in which they seek to safeguard
their main local goals and thereby synchronize their innovation practices to a single
dominant time-giver that is perceived to be most relevant to their interests. We identified
this entrainment dynamic as temporal dictating through group politics. For this dynamic,
actors establish distinct groups (e.g., through exploiting existing interest groups or setting
up new forms of coalitions). As such, actors somehow try to dictate the configuration of
the innovation ecosystem.
In addition to the first entrainment dynamic and accompanied tensions that are
between the actors, actors pursue different ways of safeguarding interests, while engaging
in an innovation ecosystem setting and being guided by a dominant time-giver:
“We initially entered into a cooperation with parties that adopted the same
mindset. Those who also thought that the [public charging] infrastructure should
be a public matter. [
. . .
] So we combined these parties in [The grid operators’
load coalition]. And we then establish [The grid operators’ load coalition] with
the aim to develop and install a public charging infrastructure. However we are
currently not allowed to expand this infrastructure. The national government
[dominant time-giver] doesn’t want that anymore, they prohibit us from doing so.
In view of this, we have stopped with installing
. . .
but what we’ve installed has
to be maintained and kept operational.” (Innovation manager, grid operator #1).
A second example shows how commercially driven private-actors synchronize their in-
novation practices toward their dominant time-giver (i.e., users of the public charging
infrastructure) through a coalition called eProtocol:
“We started eProtocol a couple of years ago to send out a common message: it
is very important for [EV] drivers that they can drive around with cards [that
allow for charging anywhere and anytime]. We [MSPs and CPOs] take care of the
payments later, let’s ensure that [EV] drivers reach their destination first. Because
it is the interoperability [among MSPs and CPOs] that has been established in
this way. In the Netherlands we did this very well with multiple parties, it is just
important that we do not bother the [EV] driver.” (Business manager, MSP #1).
In addition, our data shows that a group of actors simultaneously acknowledges the
importance of the interdependency structure, yet also perceives the temporal differences
and tensions across the complementary actors. As such, a group of actors seeks to enhance
the joint innovation process and development of the collective goal—the development
of a public charging infrastructure. In other words, the interdependency structure and
collective goal appears to trigger subgroups of actors to organize their efforts in ways that
also meet the temporal and strategic demands from actors outside their subgroup, hence
acknowledging the need to achieve a collective fit at the ecosystem level. A representative
of the coalition for grid operators illustrated this as follows:
“The connection [to the electricity grid] has to comply with certain requirements,
and I believe that we attempt to promote creativity among market participants.
And this is where [The grid operators’ load coalition] provides the platform
through which various grid operators can collectively agree upon a solution that
we accept.” (Coalition representative #1, grid operators).
Despite the mutual tensions existing across grid operators and other actors, the latter
appreciate the grid operators’ joint efforts to address these challenges. For example, a
business manager of an energy company stated:
“But a difficulty I do have is in the collaboration with the grid operator. And
that is something that the grid operator knows, so this is something I can easily
say. The difficulties involve the large bureaucratic organization. And not in a
negative sense, bureaucracy has also its advantages: standard processes and well
Energies 2021,14, 5386 13 of 23
designed. But, these processes are not designed for this [realizing public charging
points] processes but for realizing household connections. [
. . .
]. What I do know
is that [The grid operators’ load coalition] has been working on this issue.
[ . . . ]
.
[The grid operators’ load coalition] envisages to launch a website dedicated
for public charging points for which we run a different process than we have
for a household connection. This enables us to make agreements with the grid
operator about, for instance, the steps [in this process] and how to design these. I
regard this as a smart approach, at least to organize this process differently from
a grid operator’s perspective. Thus [The grid operators’ load coalition] performs
this on behalf of the grid operator, but it is not ready yet.” (Innovation manager,
energy company #1).
Despite these efforts, the data also demonstrates that such groups of actors are likely
to remain loyal to their dominant time-giver and organize their actions following the
characteristics of their own temporal innovation practices, and still organized around local
interests (see Tables 1and 2). In response, actors tend to challenge their own group of
actors as they prefer different speeds and actions that they consider as necessary to meet
demands from complementary actors.
4.4. Entrainment Dynamic III: Ecosystem Navigation through Temporal Ambivalence
While safeguarding their main local goals and synchronizing their activities to a
single dominant time-giver (entrainment dynamic II), actors tend to deviate from the
group of actors. That is, actors pursue specific efforts to simultaneously navigate through
the temporal differences and similarities within the innovation ecosystem. We label this
entrainment dynamic: ecosystem navigation through temporal ambivalence. The following
example illustrates this entrainment dynamic and points to the differences among the
group of grid operators, who have teamed-up to defend their position and interests in the
public charging system. Two interviewees:
“The national government prohibits us [to develop a public charging infrastruc-
ture], we are not allowed to do that. You see that [name grid operator #3] has a
creative solution for this issue [
. . .
]. But then organized under a pseudo split-off
[a CPO, called X]. We didn’t choose for this, if the national government doesn’t
want it [grid operators developing the charging infrastructure] then we won’t
do it. It is all or nothing. [
. . .
]. The national government should support it.
But [CPO-X] is a market player, with a market model, an ‘odd man out’. The
legitimacy of [CPO-X] is being contested, because [CPO-X] is still part of [grid
operator #3]. And that is the legal grey zone between a grid operator and com-
mercial activities, and they are in the middle of this grey zone. Is this allowed, or
not? But we [grid operator #1] didn’t decide to do this.” (Innovation manager,
grid operator #1).
Likewise:
“Our mission is always energy, whether it is for a traffic light or a charging
point, it should be managed properly. A quick and inexpensive realization of
a connection to the grid, preferably also sustainable. This does not mean that
we also participate in the charging station business, like [grid operator #3]. But
we do participate in pilot projects, for instance in our service area. Imagine if
[public charging] become a big deal, it will have an impact on the electricity grid.
If we cooperate in a pilot-project, we cannot run away from a little investment
in some hardware [charging points]. So in our service area one can find some
charging points here and there, which we have used to contribute. And we do
this for testing purposes, not because we see a business opportunity. And that’s a
significant difference between us and other grid operators. We consider [activities
grid-operator #3] as market-distorting, and that’s the reason why we don’t do
such activities.” (Account manager, grid operator #2).
Energies 2021,14, 5386 14 of 23
While doing so, however, inconsistencies arise between the espoused collective efforts,
based upon what they as a group of actors think they do and have identified as to be
important, and the actual efforts of a single actor to influence, sustain and/or redirect other
actor’s temporal innovation practices and strategies. In particular, tensions within a distinct
group of actors tend to arise. For example, from the perspective of fellow grid operators:
“I have mixed feelings in this matter. It has a strange effect on our position. But
on the other hand, if there was a functioning [public charging] market, there was
no room for [CPO-X]. What I mean, in essence they are a grid operator. As a
market party you are capable to do exactly the same thing and you can respond
more quickly. But, apparently, there is room [in the public charging market]. It
has a distorting effect, and then they [CPO-X] also claim a position in the arena
that belongs to market parties.” (Coalition representative #1, grid operators).
Furthermore:
“In the short-term, nobody is taking the lead but they do [grid operator #3 with
CPO-X]. This is quite opportunistic in the short-term. If there is a demand and
nobody stick their necks out for this. On the other hand, in the longer-term this
does not favor the [public charging] market for EV, because it does
. . .
it could
have a distorting effect. My opinion is that we as grid operators and also [CPO-X]
should not act like this.” (Coalition representative #2, grid operators).
A second example demonstrates the tensions within the group of (electric) vehicle suppliers,
representing the car manufacturers. More specifically, the coalition that voices the needs
and interests of vehicle suppliers sought to establish a financial fund for developing the
public charging infrastructure. However, they failed to do so, due to disagreement among
these (electric) vehicle suppliers. One of the associated managers noticed:
“This [fund] captured the [financial] contribution of the car manufactures. But
there was just a lack of agreement, and I understand this. It does make sense. If
we [as a brand] do financially contribute to the fund, and for instance, Toyota
does not but suddenly introduces a new plug-in hybrid vehicle [
. . .
] they do
profit with their vehicles [from our investment]. Unless we decide that different
brands [vehicle suppliers that do not contribute] are not allowed to request
charging stations. But in this case you are still not able to manage that users [from
a different brand] are not going to charge [at our station]. This is what played a
part in the decision of car manufactures. Why should I invest financial resources
in the fund if we don’t do this together? It was our view, we join if all EV and
plug-in hybrid brands join. And if then only a couple of them are willing to do so,
we decided to withdraw from the fund.” (E-mobility manager, (electric) vehicle
supplier #1).
Or, as a coalition representative observed:
“Look, they [car manufactures] know a bit from each other what is going to
happen, who has which types of vehicles in the pipeline
. . .
And that brings
us to the issue that one says: I’m currently the only one [who has chargeable
vehicles]
. . .
I introduce the most to the market so I’m the one who has to invest
the most. But in 1.5 years another one has 15 new [chargeable vehicles] while
I’ve developed a charging infrastructure. So there was a significant difference in
terms of speed. [
. . .
] [Car manufacturer Y] does not want to have any to do with
the traditional sector, and seek to deviate in different manners. I understand this
because it is part of the strategy. They took active part in the discussion about the
fund, but eventually decided to not invest, also because they are developing their
own charging infrastructure. This is unfortunate but considering their position I
do understand it.” (Coalition representative #1, (electric) vehicle suppliers).
Moreover, besides defending main local interests, several actors are also likely to navigate
differently to achieve fit with other actors embracing other temporal structures. In this
Energies 2021,14, 5386 15 of 23
respect, the previous examples demonstrate how like-minded actors establish a distinct
group of actors with its own temporal structure. However, such a subgroup is also likely
to attempt to meet competing temporal structures and transcend the group members’
temporal structures. Thus, actors tend to ignore established timing norms and/or challenge
its dominant time-giver, either to accomplish fit with complementary actors or to gain more
power in the ecosystem.
Notably, our findings also suggest that ecosystem navigation through temporal am-
bivalence, may reinforce tensions across actors and complicate the innovation ecosystem.
This effect occurs when actors, as part of a distinct group of actors, juggle between am-
bivalent forms of achieving temporal fit, even if this conflicts with their typical temporal
structure. For example:
“But we [co-innovating actors] make things very complex, also because we want
to organize it [the innovation ecosystem] very well. On the contrary, if you don’t
[organize] it, like we [CPOs and MSPs] did with eProtocol, then we wouldn’t
have the momentum that we [co-innovating actors] have at this moment. I find it
very difficult, the aspect that complicates [the innovation ecosystem] the most is
the interference by government and industry. This collaboration should be good,
the role of the grid operator, if this role becomes clear lots of things are going to
change. These are actually the only things that currently stand in the way. One
can see the grid operator in general, with [The grid operators’ load coalition] or
without [The grid operators’ load coalition], actually aims to play a key role in
this setting. The question is: why actually? And this hinders the development [of
the public charging infrastructure] extremely.” (Business manager, CPO #2).
In this respect, a regional policy maker experienced the following:
“I blame the grid operators that they structurally feel they must exercise the
control over the charging point. Initially, they aimed to do everything: selling
electricity and providing charging services and developing and connecting charg-
ing stations. There was just one single party that was knowledgeable and that
was the grid operator. I found these charging stations quite expensive. These
were structurally more expensive than we had in our tenders. And I’m starting
to think, our charging stations performed quite well, they provided power and
everything went well. But then cheaper, that I think it is something that the
market could do. But we lack the confidence that you do something together and
thereby agree upon [mutual issues]. So, the grid operator wants to control [the
innovation ecosystem] and that’s the issue. First, via [load coalition] and they
aim to do it now with [CPO-X, grid operator #3].” (Regional policy maker #1).
These examples demonstrates that actors’ different approaches to engage in temporal work
create group tensions, but also provide an equivocal signal toward other co-innovating
actors. As a consequence, actors may be reluctant to entrain (aspects of) their innovation
practices to competitive temporal practices or even tend to redirect the entrainment of
their internal practices to a new dominant time-giver located outside the ecosystem. In
addition, one of the respondents observed how tensions within a group of actors give rise
to a negative image of a specific group of actors:
“The goodwill among a large part of the CPOs is very poor. Currently, there are
parties that put lots of effort into hindering others, instead of enhancing their own
business case. That is a waste of energy and not in the interest of EV.” (Regional
policy maker #2).
One of the CPO’s business managers mentioned the collaboration issues with the grid
operators and explained their efforts to curb their power by avoiding collaboration:
“We have to jointly express what we want with electric driving and, in fact, it
results in an expansion of the current electricity grid, but how to address this
from a social perspective? What do we want with [public charging], and how
Energies 2021,14, 5386 16 of 23
to organize this together? And if we don’t [organize] this, I’ve a commercial
opportunity, because my opportunity is: how to avoid the grid connection?
That’s the only question that market parties are asking themselves. How can we
achieve that we don’t fill the pockets of grid operators. [
. . .
] Thus, the money
that we together invest in the [public charging] infrastructure goes directly to the
grid operators’ pockets. And they just reinvest this, in the past with [The grid
operators’ load coalition] and now with [CPO-X, grid operator #3], in the [public
charging] market to operate as an organization. In a certain sense, this market is
a sick [collaborative] system.” (Business manager, CPO #3).
Moreover, while actors themselves may think they are balancing between achieving tem-
poral fit within groups of actors and across actors, other actors in the ecosystem are likely
to judge these efforts predominantly in a black and white manner. Hence, the empirical
results imply that actors on the one hand have difficulties to act according a clear and
univocal role. While on the other hand, the co-innovating actors tend to experience the
actions of complementary actors as confusing or illegitimate:
“In order to enable [the potential of joint innovation] it should be simple and
there should be a normal market functioning. [
. . .
] Nobody has entered the
market yet, that’s the whole issue. There is nobody that can solve these issues
properly. One can say that [CPO-X] has entered the market. But they also depend
on laws and regulations. And people also question what [CPO-X] actually is. Is
it a stated owned company or what kind of party is it? This is confusing, there
should be a clear level playing field, with laws and regulations, and then there
should be market mechanisms in place to unlock the potential of [the innovation
ecosystem].” (Business manager, MSP #1).
From another perspective, the policy advisor perceived the same confusion about the lack
of efforts by car manufacturers:
“Initially and from our perspective, we thought that: okay, hundreds of millions
have been spent on tax benefits available for EV drivers, the least car manufactur-
ers can do is something in return [for the charging infrastructure]. But apparently
this is too simplistic, because the interest of the [coalition of vehicle suppliers] is
not to enable electric driving. Instead, the interest of [this coalition] is to sell as
much vehicles as possible.” (Policy maker, national government #1).
4.5. Entrainment Dynamics Undermine Joint Innovation
Our findings demonstrate that the actors’ attempts to shift between the pursuit of syn-
chronization within groups of actors and across all actors gave rise to multiple entrainment
dynamics and associated tensions. These tensions, in turn, fueled unintended outcomes
and shaped a collaborative setting in which collaborations within groups of actors were
generally superficially and rarely transparent, while collaborations across actors were
characterized by fragmented attempts to achieve fit and self-interest. In turn, the interplay
between various highly interdependent actors attempting to coordinate different temporal
structures and time-givers constrained the realization of the collective goal at the ecosystem
level. As one of the independent consultants reflected:
“Instead of struggling for an unattractive dry tea biscuit, organizations should
collaborate to change the tea biscuit into a much more valuable cream cake.”
(Innovation advisor, consultancy firm #1).
Moreover, various actors acknowledged that the creation of a well-functioning and viable
joint innovation setting requires strong commitment and univocal signals from both the
co-innovating actors as well the groups of actors. When several complementary actors
reflected on the functioning of the innovation ecosystem and the collective outcome in
terms of a suitable public charging infrastructure, they observed that self-interest and
misalignment across complementary actors still prevailed and thus undermined the joint
Energies 2021,14, 5386 17 of 23
innovation process. As a result, the magnitude and the development speed of the charging
infrastructure was considered to be suboptimal. Hence, many actors emphasize the impor-
tance of a clear level playing field and legislative changes. However, from the perspective
of the national government, which can be assumed to be responsible for (creating a) level
playing field, this is not as simple as it appears to be:
“All [co-innovating] actors are different, and all of them also have different needs
because they are continuously developing. Again, it is our [governmental] task
to remove barriers and to identify where the system does not work. But the story
of ‘we want a level playing field and then everything will work’
. . .
The level
playing field that suits you, that is for [someone else] desperately bumpy.” (Policy
maker, national government #1).
5. Discussion
This study set out to explore and understand how interdependent actors collaborate
toward a collective goal, thereby drawing on the temporal work literature [
6
,
9
,
10
,
17
,
20
].
An in-depth case study of an innovation ecosystem served to describe and explain the
interplay between interdependent actors centered on a collective innovation goal. As
such, these actors attempt to coordinate different temporal structures and time-givers,
when these actors seek to optimize their position vis-a-vis other complementary ecosystem
actors through various forms of temporal work. We identified three specific entrainment
dynamics: (1) temporal tug-of-war through ecosystem configuration; (2) temporal dictating
through group politics; and (3) ecosystem navigation through temporal ambivalence. More
specifically, our findings show how actors, in their efforts to combine and shift between
innovation practices, give rise to entrainment tensions across as well as within subgroups
in the ecosystem. Moreover, these tensions manifest themselves simultaneously and tend
to reinforce each other, ultimately constraining the realization of the joint goal. Our study
serves to advance extant theories of temporal work and innovation in four ways.
First, our study responds to various calls to study the complex interplay underlying
collectives of organizational actors that (fail to) accomplish temporal work [
12
,
17
21
,
28
30
].
In this respect, previous studies on temporal work have focused on organizational efforts
to influence temporal structures and assumptions shaping strategic action (e.g., [
6
,
9
,
12
,
13
]),
and the importance of entraining these actions to ensure a state of temporal fit and enhance
firm performance [
14
,
17
,
18
,
20
]. However, few studies have considered temporal work and
entrainment in more complex systems of interdependence [
12
,
22
] or the dynamic forces
facilitating or inhibiting the interplay between interdependent innovation activities of
multiple organizations [
12
,
17
,
19
21
]—despite the growing importance of such systems
for innovation [
2
,
3
,
5
,
35
]. In this study, we moved beyond these conventional units of
analysis and unraveled the interplay of multiple organizations in their joint innovation
efforts toward the development of a path breaking innovation. Here, our study offers
a detailed understanding of the dynamics of temporal work and demonstrates how the
interplay between complementary actors produces tensions that may undermine the joint
effort. As such, this study sheds new light on the complexity in the context of an innovation
ecosystem, and especially how complementary actors drive and impact the large-scale yet
collective innovation system’s efficacy and outcomes.
Second, our study illustrates the richness of tensions that actors face when they cope
with competing temporal perspectives, while being nested in a system of interdependence.
Consistent with previous research, our results show that these tensions are inherent to the
juxtaposition of multiple demands and strategic decisions on innovation in temporally
complex domains [
3
,
11
,
17
,
19
,
20
]. We also extend the literature by demonstrating that a
system of interdependence, specifically one that is characterized by high levels of uncer-
tainty arising from joint innovation, fuels particular tensions across (groups of) actors [
22
].
These tensions are grounded in different temporal innovation practices, variation in and
elusiveness of time-givers, and different positions in the system. In particular, our results
explain that such tensions entail temporal work that is not focused on bridging, transcend-
Energies 2021,14, 5386 18 of 23
ing or reshaping competing temporal structures in the first place [
6
,
17
,
19
21
]. Instead, each
actor’s temporal work mainly aims at influencing the ecosystem’s configuration, in order to
safeguard individual interests aligned to their familiar temporal structures and time-giver
(i.e., which we labeled temporal tug-of-war through ecosystem configuration). Our results
demonstrate that the misfit across actors’ innovation practices constrains the realization
of the collective goal and thereby reduces individual performance benefits. We thus theo-
rize that, in settings where an actor constrains the benefits of their co-innovating actors,
temporal work is perceived as detrimental, fueling tensions across actors and thereby
undermining the joint innovation goal. As such, our study serves to identify particular
tensions arising in joint innovation [
11
,
18
,
21
,
28
] and demonstrates how these tensions can
achieve (mis)fit.
Third, various tensions arising across actors may cause these actors to engage differ-
ently in temporal work, that is, give rise to competing temporal structures for achieving
fit or reducing misfit with other actors in the system [
6
,
12
,
13
,
17
,
19
,
20
]. In particular, our
findings illustrate the existence of within-actor tensions and how these undermine the
interdependence structure. Within-actor tensions, that is, tensions within groups of ac-
tors, emerge from differences between coalitions of actors’ efforts to engage in temporal
work, seeking to achieve fit with other groups in the system (i.e., which we label ecosys-
tem navigation through temporal ambivalence). In line with previous studies [
17
,
18
], we
demonstrate that (such coalitions of) actors tend to safeguard their own main interests,
entrain their activities to a single dominant time-giver, and thereby optimize their power
to enact or resist temporal change from other groups of actors, notably through so-called
nested systems (i.e., which we label temporal dictating through group politics).
The theoretical rationale that drives actors to establish a nested system of like-minded
actors is as follows. While the rise of a nested system initially allows for shared temporal
work by a subpopulation of actors, it inherently impedes the overall interdependency
structure needed to collectively achieve fit between all actors. Moreover, actors comprising
a subpopulation (or group of actors) are likely to prefer different speeds and/or sets of
rhythms [
18
], but they also differ in their temporal approach to achieve fit with competing
temporal structures [
22
]. In this respect, our findings demonstrate how like-minded actors
engage in shared temporal work and are likely to use particular temporal innovation
practices to bridge competing temporal structures and transcend their own temporal struc-
tures. Moreover, actors tend to systematically ignore established timing norms or challenge
the dominant time-giver, in order to entrain to and accomplish fit with complementary
actors’ specific innovation practices. The dynamic interplay between actors explains how
within-actor tensions emerge, yet also demonstrates how these actors address complex
interdependencies to facilitate the realization of the joint innovation goal.
Fourth, while the mutual appreciation of interdependencies may serve as a mechanism
to organize temporally complex domains and bridge competing perspectives [
6
], any major
mismatches in approaches to temporal work may cause tensions within groups of actors,
which, in turn, fuel tensions across (those groups of) actors that further undermine the in-
terdependency structure. Hence, the nested structure and actors’ differentiated approaches
to accomplish a temporal fit provide an equivocal signal toward other complementary
actors, and thereby fuel the temporal complexity of the ecosystem [
11
]. That is, when
actors juggle between ambivalent forms of achieving temporal fit, they may give rise to
skepticism among other actors. As a consequence, the latter actors are likely to be reluctant
to entrain their innovation practices to the ecosystem’s time-giver or may even redirect the
entrainment of their internal practices to a new dominant time-giver located outside the
ecosystem. Therefore, our findings suggest that actors engaging in a complex constella-
tion for joint innovation need to address the emergence of multiple temporal approaches,
because these may give rise to tensions within and across actors.
Our findings also have important implications for the innovation ecosystem litera-
ture [
2
,
5
]. Innovation research has emphasized the ecosystem’s alignment structure—the
mutual agreement among the actors regarding the reciprocal positions and activity flows—
Energies 2021,14, 5386 19 of 23
as being key for an ecosystem’s efficacy to materialize the focal value proposition [
1
,
2
,
35
,
37
].
Despite the key importance of ecosystem alignment, little is known about the complexity
of an ecosystem’s alignment structure and how differentiated actors’ behavior impacts
this structure. By analyzing the interplay across actors with distinct temporal structures,
we offer a new view on the complexity of an ecosystem’s alignment structure, and as
such contribute to emerging research on innovation ecosystems [
2
,
5
,
47
]. More specifically,
we unravel the alignment structure and show how a nested structure, which inevitably
involves multiple time-givers and temporal structures, complicates the actors’ alignment
efforts. In other words, we demonstrate that complementary actors that are all critical to
creating the collective innovation outcome in the first place shape distinct entrainment
dynamic, which are likely to jeopardize the overall alignment structure.
5.1. Boundary Conditions and Future Research
The generalizability of the results should be interpreted with caution. Firstly, this
research project was conducted in the context of a single ecosystem involving particular
actors. This study, while strong in internal validity, is thus unable to establish a high level of
external validity. In this respect, our study can inform future work that tests and refines our
theoretical explanations to further establish their generalizability. Similar case studies in
different settings (e.g., in other countries with other characteristics) could serve to explore
whether our findings also hold in other settings.
Secondly, we explored the dynamic interplay between co-innovating actors that at-
tempt to coordinate various temporal structures and time-givers. While we uncovered
various complex relationships and tensions across actors, it would be interesting to explore
how it temporarily unfolds in ecosystem settings, and how these relationships and tensions
change over time. A process study could serve to uncover when and how time-givers
become dominant and how time-givers erode in joint innovation settings, for instance as
the path-breaking technology becomes more established and widely accepted.
Thirdly, our study suggests that the failure of the transition to EV will also cause the
failure of the development of the public charging ecosystem, and vice versa. It will be
of interest to consider whether our empirical results can be replicated in other emerging
(ecosystem) contexts and what boundary conditions are required to extend the general-
izability of the research findings. Other joint innovation formats, for example involving
actors that have to maneuver their innovation practices and entrainment efforts across
joint innovation settings, may give rise to additional insights to temporal work in such
settings. For instance, why do certain timing norms become time-givers, and how do other
time-givers take over in joint innovation settings?
Finally, an innovation ecosystem comprises multiple actors that often cross various
sectors, however drawing the precise boundaries of an ecosystem is virtually impossible.
While we carefully selected the actors involved, shifting the boundaries of the ecosystem
and researching ecosystems with more (groups of) actors or with less (groups of) actors
may provide useful insights to extend our findings. In this respect, it would be interesting
in what ways and/or forms other nested systems show clear similarities and/or differences
in the way the larger system of interest functions.
5.2. Managerial Implications
Innovation ecosystems raise many new challenges for the managers of the participat-
ing organizations, especially when they attempt to bridge competing temporal perspectives
and cope with potentially diverging local goals. Our empirical findings suggest a number
of practical recommendations to business practitioners, policy makers and other actors
seeking to reach temporal fit engaging in innovation ecosystems.
First, business practitioners and policy makers have to become aware of major dif-
ferences in temporal innovation activities and need to develop an open mindset toward
learning how to achieve temporal fit and effective collaboration. In this respect, any com-
Energies 2021,14, 5386 20 of 23
plex constellation for innovation requires actors to dynamically balance between meeting
competing temporal structures and safeguarding their local goals and temporal structure.
That is, a major challenge for business practitioners and policy makers is to achieve
temporal fit with complementary organizations that embrace conflicting interests, temporal
structures, and time-givers. However, the elusive and competitive nature of co-innovating
collective innovation outcomes may create a vulnerable collaborative setting prone to
sub-optimal performance. To enhance the overall efficacy of the collaborative setting, the
co-innovating organizations should make every effort to avoid one solely complying with
its own interest and temporal structure. Hence, it is vital that managers try to understand
the role of their organization within the ecosystem, the impact of local actions on the
viability of the entire system, and how their complementary assets enhance the overall
functioning of the system (see e.g., [37] for a hands-on tool).
6. Conclusions
In this article, we argue that a more complete understanding of an innovation ecosys-
tem’s functioning arises from considering how actors coordinate their innovation practices
across multiple temporal structures and time-givers. By drawing on an in-depth case study
of the development of the Dutch charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, we highlight
the complex dynamics that the various actors face when they collaborate toward a collec-
tive goal. Our findings suggest that ecosystem actors generate three kinds of entrainment
dynamics: (1) temporal tug-of-war through ecosystem configuration; (2) temporal dictat-
ing through group politics; and (3) ecosystem navigation through temporal ambivalence.
Notably, these dynamics manifest themselves simultaneously and tend to reinforce each
other, ultimately constraining the realization of the joint goal.
This study serves to advance extant theories of temporal work and innovation in
several ways, as previously outlined. These insights are highly relevant in today’s in-
terconnected world in which many organizations need to coordinate interdependencies
across different activities, organizations, and industries—for example in rapidly evolving
energy ecosystems. Future work should test and refine these dynamics in other cases,
to further establish the validity and generalizability of the main findings and also ex-
plore other collaborative mechanisms for leveraging technology development in emerging
innovation ecosystems.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, W.P.L.v.G., B.W. and S.A.M.D.; methodology, W.P.L.v.G.
and S.A.M.D.; formal analysis, W.P.L.v.G., B.W. and S.A.M.D.; investigation, W.P.L.v.G.; resources,
W.P.L.v.G., B.W. and S.A.M.D.; data curation, W.P.L.v.G.; eriting—original draft preparation, W.P.L.v.G.;
writing—review and editing, W.P.L.v.G., B.W., S.A.M.D. and A.G.L.R.; visualization, W.P.L.v.G.; su-
pervision, B.W., S.A.M.D. and A.G.L.R. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of
the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Abbreviations
CPO Charge Point Operator
DSO Distribution System Operator
EV Electric Vehicle
JVP Joint Value Proposition
MSP Mobility Service Provider
R&D Research & Development
Appendix A. Interview Protocol
A. Introduction
B. Interviewee background
Energies 2021,14, 5386 21 of 23
1. Can you tell me about yourself? Ask about:
a. Personal (professional) background
b. Present function and role in the organization
c. Main (daily) tasks and objectives of these tasks
C. Organization
2. Can you tell me about the organization? Ask about:
a.
Organization’s vision, mission, strategy (incl. objectives) and organiza-
tional structure
b.
Organization’s core capabilities, performance and recent (major) devel-
opments
c. The importance and definition of innovation and ecosystems
d.
Innovation strategy/policy, innovation processes, and joint innovation
approach
e.
Organization’s interest, perspective and strategy/policy regarding en-
ergy transition and electric mobility
f.
Temporal innovation practices, planning horizon, decision making
processes/speed
g.
Attitude/approach to new external initiatives and (joint) innovation
practices
h.
Organization’s capabilities/attitude to achieve (external/internal) fit in
joint innovation
D. Innovation ecosystem and characteristics
3.
Can you tell me about the development of the public charging infrastructure?
Ask about:
a. Organization’s involvement and complementary asset(s)
b.
Public charging infrastructure related innovation activities and approach
c.
Ecosystem mapping: joint value proposition/shared goal, actors, roles,
interests, complementary assets of perceived ecosystem members
d.
Impression of the ecosystem’s functioning, incl. organization’s desired
configuration
e.
General enablers/barriers to develop the public charging infrastructure
4.
Can you tell me about the interaction/dynamics between the ecosystem
members? Ask about:
a. Joint innovation process
b.
Perceived strategic behavior/innovation practices of co-innovating
organizations
c.
Dynamics between ecosystem members/how members reinforced or
counteracted each other (incl. examples how dynamics are reflected)
d.
Organization’s mindset/efforts to accept differences and characteristics
e.
Organization’s synchronization opportunities/strategies (ask about
coalitions)
f. Barriers/enablers to achieve fit with co-innovation organizations
g.
Anticipated/implemented innovation strategies and practices to ad-
dress (mis)fit
h. Consequences of (mis)fit and strategic reactions
i.
Perception/expectations of future innovation initiatives/actions on
organization as well as ecosystem level
j. Next steps, view on required actions to create a viable ecosystem
E. Completion and further remarks
Energies 2021,14, 5386 22 of 23
Appendix B. Coding Scheme
Concept Definition Illustrative Quotes
Temporal tug-of-war through
ecosystem configuration
Tensions that emerge across actors who embrace different temporal
innovation practices and strategies. Practices and strategies aimed at
influencing the ecosystem’s configuration to safeguard individual interests
synchronized to their familiar temporal structures and time-giver.
(I)
(II)
(III)
( . . . )
Temporal dictating through
group politics
Dynamics that emerge when ecosystem actors seek to establish coalitions
aimed to dictate the configuration of the ecosystem. Coalitions in which
actors seek to safeguard their main local goals and thereby synchronize
their innovation practices to a single (for the coalition) dominant time-giver.
(I)
(II)
(III)
( . . . )
Ecosystem navigation through
temporal ambivalence
Tensions that emerge when actors of dominant coalitions tend to deviate
from the group of actors. That is, coalition actors pursue ambivalent
practices to bridge co-innovating actors’ temporal structures.
(I)
(II)
(III)
( . . . )
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