Developing an Agenda for Transformative Innovation Policy

Thinking & Analysis

Mobilisation of networks towards transformative goals

A dinner hosted by TIPC, and co-funded by EU-SPRI, brought together research networks leads, policy makers and national agencies to consider opportunities for collaboration around a Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) agenda aligned to societal and environmental goals. It built on earlier discussions with members of research networks, including STRN, EU-SPRI, Globelics and Africalics. TIPC founder, Johan Schot, hosted the meeting, calling for global research networks for sustainability transitions and innovation studies to mobilise in pursuit of a new shared research agenda, and for policy makers and funders to play a role in influencing this:

To address the SDGs, the Academy must transform, and as academics we need to rethink the way we do our business. How can we nurture more interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work? The current model of working, underpinned by working individually, in smaller projects and in silos with cross-fertilisation at conferences, is a model of the 20th century. We need to establish new research infrastructure and work together in a bigger way. The EU, and other agencies globally want to prepare for sustainability transitions and as academics, it is no longer enough to do our own thing.

TIPC is a step towards this, bringing together researchers and policy makers to work on shared learning and co-creation of TIP. However, there is further scope to strengthen ties with other networks to capitalise on the shared impact. The dinner meeting highlighted opportunities that this would present, along with obstacles to be overcome, and opened a dialogue for a way forward.

Harnessing plurality

Discussions highlighted the difficulties in establishing a new shared research agenda. While there is value in mobilising communities around common goals and themes, this approach is potentially at odds with scholars taking mutually informed individual approaches. Representatives emphasised, however, that networks can act as platforms to assimilate and mobilise knowledge, particularly for interaction with policy communities. One strategy, for example, might involve deliberate engagement with policy practitioners at annual conferences, such is demonstrated at the TIPC conferences. The challenge laid for building a shared research agenda is how to harness the plurality of perspectives within the networks. Network leads drew attention to the capacity for strengthening partnerships and connections, for aligning TIP enquiry with network research themes, and for using existing forums to promote a TIP research agenda that individuals may wish to subscribe to. Experimentation with evaluation, for example, was a common interest amongst network members.

The time is right for alliances on transformation

The policy makers, multilateral organisations and national agencies present, drew attention to the relevance and timeliness of this dialogue, and the scale of opportunity to work together. Implementation of the European ‘Green Deal’, for example, will throw up the need for new mindsets and practitioners. National, regional and city administrations will also need to work with researchers on systems mapping and the design of transformative policy actions. There is an opportunity for research networks to step up to the task of co-creation for policy experimentation and evaluation, along with the training of civil servants, with scope for initiatives such as EIT Climate-KIC to engage with TIPC and other networks to build capacity.

Speaking different languages

Participants also touched on obstacles to closer collaboration. The current interface between scholarly networks and policy practitioners is not working effectively, with academic thinking sometimes lost in translation to the policy world.  Policy makers called for more systemic links with researchers, arguing that networks need to demonstrate solutions through action that is working on the ground and leading to impact, rather than relying on practitioners to engage with more abstract thinking. The TIPC approach of experimentation and openness to policy makers is very attractive, and resonating globally, but the language being used should enable effective collaboration. Researchers were asked to make a shift to enter the terrains of policy makers, reaching out to officials who would not ordinarily attend academic forums. Finally, researchers need to develop expertise in engaging not only with agencies acting as investors or funders, but also with those politicians who are answerable to societal needs.

Finding and sharing new ways of working together

Funders and national agencies suggested their interests lie in partnerships with TIPC and the other networks, particularly with a view to identifying new ways of working together. An explicit research agenda is secondary to this and would not necessarily align to funding frameworks at any given time.  There is complementarity in thinking, emerging from the Global South and North, and opportunities to learn from each others’ approaches. But some contributors expressed frustration at the way funders facilitate policy interaction – particularly in the South – with investment dependent on satisfying the funders’ agenda, rather than delivering the impact sought by those on the ground. New models for engagement and practice, such as bilateral initiatives between a single agency and research team, can help us to challenge one another on how we work on transformative change. Participants voiced the appetite for a community of practice, linking together policy actors from across the world – and viewing not just innovation, but also education, wealth, industrial, environmental and other policies through a transformative lens.

The opening of a dialogue

TIPC founder Johan Schot thanked representatives at the meeting for their contributions and commented on the broad scope for collaboration and scale of opportunity. TIPC will continue consultation on the development of a shared agenda and has launched a Transformative Innovation Policy Research Network (TIPRN) space (sign up on the website homepage) to facilitate continued dialogues between interested parties. A month on at the beginning of December, around 90 researchers and practitioners had subscribed to this network. Rather than concluding collaboration at the conference, this meeting has started a new, transformative dialogue.

Networks and organisations represented

Attendees at the meeting were affiliated to the following networks and organisations:

  • African Network for the Economics of Learning, Innovation, and Competence Building Systems (Africalics)
  • European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (REGIO)
  • European Commission Directorate-General for Researchand Innovation (DG RTD)
  • European Environment Agency (EEA)
  • European Forum for Studies of Policies for Research and Innovation (EU-SPRI)
  • European Institute of Innovation and Technology Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (EIT Climate-KIC)
  • German Environment Agency
  • Global Network for Economics of Learning, Innovation, and Competence Building Systems (Globelics)
  • International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
  • Kenyan National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI)
  • Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)
  • Research Council of Norway
  • Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (CSIR), Ghana
  • Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU)
  • South African Department of Science and Technology (DST)
  • Sustainability Transitions Research Network (STRN)
  • Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN)
  • Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC)
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD)
  • Utrecht University Centre for Global Challenges (UGlobe)
  • Vinnova, Sweden