A pioneering paper outlining the theoretical foundations of TIPC has been published by the prestigious journal Política de investigación, stimulating interesting debate around the future of science, technology and innovation policy.  Written by Profesor Johan Schot, Founder and Director of TIPC, and prominent SPRU colleague Professor Ed Steinmueller, the paper develops the cutting-edge perspective on “Three Frames for Innovation policy”.  The paper, which is open access, began life as a working paper in 2015 and led to the creation of TIPC. It has also generated rich debate amongst innovation scholars.

In the paper, Schot and Steinmueller posit an understanding of the past seventy years of innovation policy through three frames. The first two frames, Research & Development (R&D) and National Systems of Innovation, have dominated discourse. Their focus is predominantly on economic growth, with the inherent assumption that this growth will eventually lead to social and environmental benefit.  Considering social challenges, such as growing inequality and the threat of man-made climate change that we face today, Schot and Steinmueller dispute that these two framings alone are sufficient to meet such challenges.  Instead, they argue for fresh thinking and exploration of a new, emerging frame: “Transformative Innovation Policy” (TIP).

TIP inverts the logic of the two prior framings and instead uses social and environmental challenges as a starting point for innovation policy. The premise being that economic growth and societal well- being will then follow. Such a framing, it is argued, is better equipped to assist in meeting today’s “grand challenges” that are encapsulated by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Schot and Steinmueller argue that, in order for this to happen, fresh thinking around TIP is required.  Experimentation, participation, directionality, and anticipation, as well as a focus on socio-technical system change, are all required in order to flesh out the framing of TIP.  Schot and Steinmueller reflect on some of the implications for possible policy in the article.

The paper has been key in influencing TIPC partners and associates, as well as other international agencies and policymakers.  It has, however, also attracted criticism from other innovation policy studies scholars, notably Elisa Giuliani and Jan Fagerberg, who have both voiced their concerns in the edition of Research Policy that the 3 Frames paper is debuted. The critiques take issue with two elements of the paper: firstly, the implication that science, technology and innovation policy has historically not been concerned with sustainable and economic growth; and, secondly, that the TIP framework does not adequately focus on businesses and firms.

To the first note, Giuliani and Fagerberg both point out that innovation policy and innovation scholars have long recognised the need for sustainable transformation.  Giuliani cites Freeman, Perez and Soete as deeply influential scholars, who all had equality, environmentalism and sustainability as issues very close to their heart.  Fagerberg goes further, and argues that there are sufficient insights from these scholars in existing literature to find answers, and questions the necessity of a new framing.  Both Giuliani and Fagerberg use the example of “mission-oriented innovation policies” that identify specific targets and set a direction for innovation policy.

Secondly, Giuliani and Fagerberg argue that the TIP framework is too vague around policy implications for firms and businesses.  Fagerberg notes that businesses and firms have historically been key innovators and so must be at the centre of any innovation policy framing.  Similarly, Giuliani stresses that businesses and firms have historically been “noxious” and active barriers towards the goals of sustainability and equality. Policy must therefore tackle firms head on, working out how they can be challenged in order to promote sustainable transitions and to stop harmful and negative consequences.  Both question the general lack of focus on firms within the TIP framework, without which transformation cannot be achieved.

Schot and Steinmueller’s reply to Giuliani and Fagerberg is that they do not contest that science, technology and innovation policymakers and scholars have been deeply concerned and involved with environmental and social issues before, but rather they contest the way in which previous innovation policies have sought to solve them – namely, through economic growth, and a focus on R&D spending, building systems of innovation and fostering entrepreneurship.  Inequality, sustainability and other challenges are addressed through generating economic growth and is seen as a pre-condition for addressing these other challenges. It is this that differentiates TIP: the explicit starting point is social and environmental issues, which once addressed will illicit economic growth although, as Schot and Steinmueller point out, this will be a very different kind of economic growth model.

Schot and Steinmueller also dispute the idea that firms must be central to innovation policy.  Under the TIP framework, key actors must be expanded so that previously uninvolved groups can participate in the co-creation of a new framework. While firms must play an important role in this, policies needs to draw on unconventional actors that could provide fresh insights and innovative ideas for transformative change, such as social movements, cities, community groups, and grassroots organisations.  Furthermore, Schot and Steinmueller point out that mission-oriented policymaking can only fit with TIP if it is implemented in an open-ended way; usually, Mission-Oriented policymaking is driven from the top-down, only includes a small set of actors, and is too focused on realising pre-set strategic goals.  TIP, on the other hand, is aimed at enabling transformative changes of socio-technical systems through an experimental approach. It goes beyond specific targets and instead seek to fundamentally change the way in which innovation systems in our societies operate.

Schot and Steinmueller end their rebuttal by stressing that they do not see TIP as a framework that could – or should – replace other innovation policies.  Instead, “we pay due respect to them among others by locating them in historical context. We think Frames 1 and 2 are still very valuable, but that we do need to rethink them in order to address the SDGs and to respond to our current historical context in which certain issues such as climate change and inequality have become more urgent.”

What are your thoughts? Join the debate: Read the paper, responses, and rebuttal to make up your own mind

The Paper:
Three Frames for Innovation Policy: R&D, National Systems of Innovation, and Transformative Change, Schot & Steinmueller, Research Policy (2018) http://www.johanschot.com/publications/three-frames-innovation-policy-rd-systems-innovation-transformative-change/

The Critiques:
Mobilizing innovation for sustainability transitions: A comment on transformative innovation policy, Jan Fagerberg https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048733318301999

Regulating global capitalism amid rampant corporate wrongdoing—reply to “Three frames for innovation policy”, Elisa Giuliani https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048733318302002

The Response:
 New directions for innovation studies: Missions and transformations, Schot and Steinmueller https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048733318302014