A Story of Regionalization

The Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) agency, Colciencias, in Colombia were one of the first globally to begin working with the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School to create a workable STI policy approach that had a transformative potential guiding towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Subsequently, Colciencias became a founding member of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) taking TIP principles and embedding them in their national strategy. This led to the creation of the 2018 ‘Libro Verde’ or ‘Green Book’, which acted as a conduit for the development of Transformative Innovation Policy across the country’s regions. A central element of the new approach was to focus on taking the TIP rationale to used and adaptated to the individual circumstances of each area, using each context’s strengths and challenges to an advantage, to work towards reaching the SDGs in their region.

Libro Verde was the result of three years of discussion, collaboration and coproduction between Colciencas, SPRU and TIPC.   It marked a radical departure from previous thought on innovation, and attempted to layout a roadmap that moved away from the Frame 2 – the ‘National System of Innovation’ and, instead looked to build a Frame 3, transformative innovation system.

LibroVerde was a global milestone. It was the first time a national government had taken steps towards creating an innovation system that was inclusive, open, experimental and participatory to attempt to directly solve societal challenges such as inequality and environmental degradation, rather than only concentrating on economic factors.

The complex work of decentralised, regional implementation began. Regional agencies translated TIP into transformative action, and thus, transformative social change.  Implementing TIP involved a radical change of the incumbent innovation system.  It meant changing the role of the policy maker from constructor to facilitator, thus allowing multiple pathways of innovation to emerge, accommodating regional differences and incorporating previously marginalised stakeholders.  It became an essential component of Colombia’s post-conflict resolution and reconstruction following its fifty-year civil war.

In order to achieve transformative social change, the first step was an exploration of these decentralised pathways of innovation at a local and grassroots level to establish context-specific projects.

In particular, TIPC and Colciencias explored the social coalition of residents, academics, students and environmental activists that are defending the socio-environmental system of the Bogota wetlands. It is often social movements or grassroots organisations that are able to operate outside of the norm, challenge incumbent ideas, and provide alternatives.

Orientations for policy making on regional TIP in Colombia

In June 2017, Colciencias invited regional councils of STI – CODECTIs and regional academics to join the effort to understand, formulate and implement a Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) to address social, economic and environmental challenges faced by Colombia and their regions.

As a result, seven groups from Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Tolima, Bogotá, Medellin and Atlántico embarked on a journey to realise the meaning of TIP and discover existing initiatives with transformative potential within their territories. The initiatives accounted for differences in the way their spatial specificities shape how they emerged, unfolded and created paths towards transformative change.

The new role of CODECTIs, civil society’s participation in regional decision making around STI and the launch of the Green Book “Libro Verde 2030”, constituted a critical juncture for regions to adopt a more inclusive, reflexive and contextual innovation policy. This policy orientation aimed to facilitate the regional understanding of TIP, its potential and the underlying challenges of implementation. Seven cases of emerging regional initiatives provide the lessons on how to approach, use and implement concepts relating to TIP in various settings. They also provide a glimpse on how to evaluate transformative innovation initiatives.

The examples vary: from broader participation of regional actors in the process of policy making in Cali; to creativity labs in rural schools in Ibagué; to the scale-up of Vive Labs programme in Bogotá; to the introduction of transformative elements in the evaluation of regional policies in Medellín. Further, there was an examination of the co-creation process for regional policies, and the role of the Higher Education Institutions in Transformative Innovation Policy in Antioquia, and there was an analysis of the alterations in patterns of food production and consumption as an alternative socio-technical system in the food sector in Atlántico.

The TIP guidelines continue to inspire regional policy makers, academics and civil society towards alternatives approaches to regional policies and programmes that address complex problems using STI.  Regional teams provide insights into policy directionality, bottom-up, experimental and grassroot approaches to formulation, implementation and evaluation of regional TIP.