Dr. Shawn Cunningham is a process consultant working in the field of innovation and competitiveness improvement of the private sector. He supports a range of institutions, leaders and advisors around on topics such as making decisions under conditions of uncertainty or complexity, strengthening organisations or conducting learning processes through ongoing search, discovery and adjustment. He has conducted diagnoses and supported improvement processes in various industries and locations around the world.

He is a Research Associate at the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation in Pretoria. He is a faculty member of the University of Stellenbosch Business Schools Executive Education unit. He serves as an advisor to several think tanks, universities, development organisations and government departments both locally and abroad.

Main fields of expertise

  • Advisory support to leaders in government, business and academia to make decisions despite complexity and uncertainty
  • Private sector promotion and meso organisation development
  • Science, Technology and Innovation systems promotion
  • Industry modernisation, technological capability development
  • Improving Innovation Systems and Industry Competitiveness from the bottom up
  • Local and regional economic development
  • Creative Cluster and value chain promotion
  • Meso level Organisational Development and change management
  • Knowledge Intensive Business Services
  • Process consulting, discovery and process facilitation
  • Expert development and coaching

Working experience

2008: Partner in Mesopartner
2015-current: Part time Faculty Member (Innovation, Strategy & Technology Management), Stellenbosch Business School, Executive Education
2010-current: Research Associate (Innovation Systems & Policy) at the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa
2003-2007 - Senior expert in the GTZ South Africa Local Economic Development and Business Development Services Programme
2001-2002 - Worked in South African development agency NAMAC (National Manufacturing Advisory Centre Programme)
1996-2001 - Own business in the IT sector. Involved in trade promotion, business chamber management and entrepreneurship promotion.

Main areas of research, practice and advisory service:      

Improving innovative, leadership and change capabilities in organisations

Assisting leadership teams and organisations to make sense of their environment and own behaviour, formulate strategies to become learning organisations that harness their tacit and explicit knowledge to become more innovative. Build technological and strategic management capability of public, private and academic organisations.

Building search, discovery and exploration capability in teams

Assisting teams from a range of economic and technological development organisations to conduct search and exploration activities to better understand opportunities for change, adaptation, innovation. Build the capacity of teams to engage with a range of internal and external stakeholders to build technological and organisational capability. Design, support and build capacity for process consulting and change within and between organisations.

Strengthen decision making for strategy, policy and development practice

Coaching of leaders to improve the learning capability of their organisations, assist leadership to develop better options despite complexity to enable decision making, policy formation, organic change and healthy organisations. This might involve social research methods such as Sensemaker, Social Network Analysis or process consulting.

Close the gap between industry and the academia

This involves identifying unique problems in industry that can be addressed by universities, researchers and industry working together. This kind of diagnosis can originate from a university or from industry.

Personal background

PhD. (Business Administration), 2009, Potchefstroom Business School, North West University, South Africa.MBA (2001, North West University, South Africa)

Born in 1973. Shawn lives in Pretoria, South Africa.



Visit my personal blog page where I share some ideas, new insights and experiences

View a list of publications 

Retain me as an Innovation Coach




Blog series: Organisational knowledge and innovation  
Read 3 blog posts by Dr Shawn Cunningham on knowledge and innovation  
Unlocking knowledge in organisations to enable innovation  
Although we know intuitively that knowledge is important for innovation, we often reduce this required ‘knowledge’ to highly technical concepts and specifications. When managing an organisation there are many other kinds of knowledge elements that must be combined, not only to…  
Blog series: Building Technological Capability  
Read 5 blog posts by Dr Shawn Cunningham on building technological capability  
Stimulating Innovation Systems by moving from Innovation to Innovation Systems  
Most practitioners working in innovation make a distinction between product, process and business model innovation. It is important to recognise that there are fundamental differences in these three approaches in terms of who leads innovation, and the effort of innovation.  
Comparing the priorities of private sector localisation with public sector localisation  
In working with the metal sector to strengthen local supply chains, I have come across both public sector and private sector driven localisation. There are some interesting similarities’ and important differences between these two approaches.