Moving innovation policy from a competition to a transformative change agenda

Schot, Johan (2015) Moving innovation policy from a competition to a transformative change agenda. In: 2015 Annual EU-SPRI Conference, 10-12 June 2015, Helsinki, Finland.

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This paper will develop the argument why innovation policy needs to get out of the ghetto of a too narrow focus on science and technology. The main reason is that the world is in transition. This shifting con-text for innovation puts completely new demands on innovation policy. In the first paper of the paper I will discuss the various dimensions of the world in transition. I will not only deal with the current economic crisis, the digital revolution, globalization, and the emergence of new consumer markets both in the West and the Global South, but also discuss a number of persistent problems in the modern way of provisioning basic needs and argue why this is not sustainable in the long run. The conclusion of this section will be that we need to move away from a costly “business as usual approach” to these problems, and that it is time to ad-dress these issues head on through an innovation policy lens which aims at transformative change (and less at gaining a competitive advantage). In the second part I will discuss the opportunities and limitations of innovation policy addressing these challenges. Innovation will be positioned as a core characteristic of modern capitalist societies. It will be argued that we are in the need of a new social contract for an inclusive capitalist society and economy in which we keep our ability to innovate, yet also find new ways of directing and embedding innovations into socially desirable directions from the outset. It is not only firms and the state who are key stakeholders for a future innovation policy, but also consumers as users need to be involved, as well as citizens and civil society. If we accept that the core problems of the world in transition can and should be addressed through innovation policies, the next question is which will be addressed in the final part of the paper is what such as policies should look like? I will argue that innovation policy should do two interrelated things: stimulate in-vestment and provide direction. It should stimulate investment throughout the entire innovation chain, from invention, to innovation and diffusion. We need to think far beyond support for R&D and the prioritisation of specific research avenues. What is necessary is support for the constant tinkering and re-making of systems, and the development of new services and organisational models to meet social as well as economic challenges. We need to ensure that all actors benefit, not only firms but also the state and the public. Second-ly it should provide direction to innovation, which is not always easy. It should begin with the opening up of innovation portfolios, allowing consideration of a greater diversity of options, without falling back all-too-easily on polarised “for” or “against” arguments. Instead, innovation policy should allow for more exploration and experimentation outside the narrow boundaries often set by incumbents, with scientific advice based on a wider range of perspectives, and nurture a policy making process which provides an opportunity for various stakeholders to challenge dominant and less-dominant views. Innovation policy involves fundamental political questions, which present crucial areas for democratic deliberation. So innovation also has the potential to reinvigorate the future of our fragile democracies.How then can innovation policy help to provide direction? I would like to propose four options –not as a comprehensive set but as a way to fire the imagination: firstly, foresight; second, experimentation; third-ly, through innovative institutions, and fourthly, fusing a wider range of expertise. All four avenues will be elaborated on the in the paper. For Foresight it will be argued that the non-linear nature of technical change means new developments will inevitably occur in ways which could not be foreseen. To overcome this problem, foresight should be organized as a continuous effort across the entire innovation chain from invention to wider diffusion –involving both social as much as technical processes. We need to use foresight more effectively as an instrument for giving voice to a wide range of expectations and aspirations about the future and for orientating and directing investment decisions. For experimentation, it will be argued that we need to experiment more and on a larger scale with new emerging technologies. There is no lack of demonstration projects and pilots with new technologies. However, they are often organized in an ad-hoc fashion, focus on technical challenges, and then leave it to the market to commercialize and standardize solutions. They are often not geared towards exploring and exploiting how new technologies present opportunities for addressing societal challenges, and then how to capture value in a later stage of the innovation chain. We need to allow for bigger experiments, build more connections between them, and focus on experimenting with societal impacts too. Perhaps innovation policy should provide consortia of actors, including market, state and civil society ones, a licence to experiment with new solutions on a much larger scale than is currently the case, and for a suitable, longer time period. For the third stream which focuses on new institutions, it will be argued that we need to bring together state, business, academic and wider societal actors to facilitate discussion and negotiation on the direction of innovation. In our current system we have on the one hand policies and programs for the promotion of new technological opportunities through R&D support and tax credits, for example, via the policies of Innovate UK. On the other hand, there are policies for discussing, controlling and regulating the negative impacts of technology. What is missing are institutionalized processes to facilitate societal learning and create a culture in which responsibilities can be shared. For the fourth stream of fusing a wide range of expertise, it will be argued that socio-technical change needs education and training programs which go beyond specialist career paths and develop a next generation of leaders who understand the need to work in interdisciplinary teams and are able to combine technological and social aspects in order to innovate.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: Extended abstract published in The book of abstracts for The 2015 Annual Conference of the EU-SPRI Forum. Innovation policies for economic and social transitions: developing strategies for knowledge, practices and organizations (ISBN: 9789513883171)
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
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Depositing User: Nora Blascsok
Date Deposited: 30 Sep 2016 15:28
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2016 15:28
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