The Consortium's Beginnings

Johan Schot |

"Transformative Innovation Policy is…innovation as a search process...informed by experience, and the learning that accompanies experience and a willingness to revisit existing arrangements to de-routinse them".

(Framing Innovation Policy for Transformative Change: Innovation Policy 3.0, Schot and Steinmueller 2016)

Many science, technology and innovation policy (STI) documents contain the mission to address economic, social and environmental needs. However, the reality is that it remains unclear how to do this. The Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) aims to explore this question. Its goal is to research the world in transition, and experiment with new policy options for navigating through its challenges to help abate and alleviate the trends we see today.

Questioning the powerful and prevailing concept that there is a pre-ordained path leading from investing in science, technology and innovation to economic growth, Transformative Innovation Policy seeks to enable sustainability transitions. This is a new third frame for policy-making, also known as Innovation Policy 3.0. This is juxtaposed next to two earlier frames, coined for shorthand as, ‘R&D’ and ‘National System of Innovation’. These are outlined in the positioning paper that informs the Consortium’s approach and aims. The third frame anticipates being part of the policy mix. Innovation Policy 3.0 denotes that policies aim for a transformation of the energy, healthcare, food, mobility, water and other socio-technical systems that form the material backbone of modern societies. Using new transition models and allocating innovative opportunities to a wider range of actors, which include mobilising civil society, users, firms and governments, this framing seeks to enable the development of sustainable socio-technical systems that promote social progress and are less ecological destructive and more inclusive for human flourishing across the globe.

The first stage of the Consortium has been inception visits to the founding member countries – Norway, Colombia, South Africa, Sweden and Finland – to provide an opening overview to each countries’ policy mix and to examine where there might be the seeds of transformative change. We explored a wide range of new practices from Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI); inclusive and social innovation instruments; to public procurement practices aimed at innovation and social development; to demand and challenge-led innovation programs. This phase has also been as much about setting the context for the consortium itself. Therefore, the two day visits with the country’s lead organisations have been about scene-setting and concept development. The essence of the Consortium is the coproduction of research and knowledge. This should not be confused with the notion of applied research. On the contrary, it is simultaneously developing, in context, knowledge to inform policy design and implementation. The ambition is mutual learning for all partners that is interwoven into the process and practice.

The inception trips were also about building productive relationships, communicating and understanding the different 'ways of seeing' the Consortium and the associated research papers from which TIPC is conceived. Organisational and individual learning, as described, is one of the central and unifying themes between members. This is one of the drivers and motivations for the co-production of knowledge we experienced across the Consortium’s partners. It is this that fundamentally lays behind the founders’ decision to become part of the vital pilot stage. The principal rationale is the incentive to be part of an answer giving a 'solution' to the incumbent global economic system which is failing so many and exacerbating social and environmental problems. This central purpose is shared, notably, by the widely recognized United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, which Transformative Innovation Policy could help meet. Members have a shared desire to seek a fresh, transformative approach that reaches out across the boundaries of their own organisations and nation-states. By examining their own identity, they recognise themselves as microcosms of the assumptions, routines, practices and processes that may have to be examined and altered to achieve new methods and outcomes.

An element of the initial visits centered around challenging assumptions and stereotypes across all functions to examine the culture that surrounds innovation policy frameworks. For STI policy to help provide a guiding way out of inequality and environmental degradation, it needs engaged policy-makers, researchers and ethnographers willing to experiment with new methods, cross-overs and participation from across disciplines. It needs multiple-players and multiple-paths. To tackle conceptual and methodological tensions to reach these new policy approaches and results, we need also reflection, reflexivity, realignment and conviction. Characteristics, thus far, well demonstrated by the founding members of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium. All joint partners on this, to some degree, unknowable journey that seeks to innovate innovation itself.

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