Towards Transformative Innovation Policy for Norway

Laur Kanger |

"A rich tapestry of the three frames of innovation policy are present in Norway. We need to let them know how to talk to one another."

Johan Schot, Director of SPRU

As Elisabeth Gulbrandsen, Research Council of Norway (RCN)’s Special Adviser and chair of TIPC, aptly puts it: “We are between ‘the no longer and the not yet’.” As many governments and communities across the world contemplate their own ‘grand challenges’, questioning the impact of their current economic, societal and environmental situations, so too is Norway.

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The Norwegian’s increasingly urgent challenge is to steer its economy towards other profitable industries to divert reliance from a hegemonic oil sector. The decline in oil prices, and also productivity, of the past ten years gives Norway the opportunity and impetus to develop new directions. As a central strategic actor in the country’s innovation system, the RCN are pivotal in guiding this. In recent times, they have moved toward Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) policy design within projects showing characteristics from the ‘frame-three’ thinking of Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP). An illustration of this played out during the 2014 bidding process for the National Centre for Digital Life. Here the need for collaboration between participating actors became pertinent and of greater value than just competition. The necessity for a long-term, sustained vision was also nurtured. Developing an approach to RRI has been crucial. The Norwegian ‘Framework of Responsible Innovation’ (2015), part of a potential TIP ‘toolkit’ has done this with its four guiding principles:

  • Be ‘Anticipatory’ to capture positive capacities and foresee societal implications before they occur,
  • Engage in ‘Reflexivity’ to examine the hidden assumptions and areas of ignorance with a broad range of stakeholders, including scientists themselves, to identify possible crossover learnings and to give activities directionality,
  • Seek ‘Inclusivity’ to open up to more actors, bringing in alternative stakeholders to expand contribution to the science and technology sector and its results,
  • Be ‘Responsive’ by using the acquired knowledge to provide, where required, alternative governance. Accept the learning and implement in the process.

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It was from four of their programmes that the ‘Framework of Responsible Innovation’ emerged - the Research Programme on Biotechnology for Innovation (BIOTEK2021); the Research Programme on Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (NANO2021); the Initiative for ICT and digital innovation (IKTPLUSS); and the Programme on Responsible Innovation and Corporate Social Responsibility (SAMANSVAR). Other such potential TIP ‘frame-three’ initiatives a country may implement along with RRI include, for example, Strategic Niche Management, Transition Management or Inclusive Innovation. 

The closing questions to take into the next phase of TIPC would be - how may Norway’s own ‘grand challenges’ (faltering oil prices, higher public spending, decline in productivity) benefit further from a frame-three approach? By applying TIP (along with a policy mixes featuring the two other frames) how can new economic, societal and environmental results be achieved? How can these then be evaluated and measured? How can the results be implemented and scaled-up? As TIPC evolves to the next stage, we can expect these answers, and inevitably more questions, to become illuminated.

Johan Schot & Laur Kanger on Transformative Innovation Policy in Norway

"I think the approach TIPC has is good – the focus on experimentation and process. It needs more figurations than solutions. Figurations are trans-discursive and invite across boundaries - I don't think we should clarify these too much. They indicate directions but they are not solutions. We are faraway from the solutions and I think this realization is valuable.  We are 'between the no longer and the not yet' and that's where we are and have to stay! It is a citation from feminist pedagogy. Also I think, like Andy Stirling (from SPRU) says, 'opening up and broadening out the politics of the possible'. We have a tendency to struggle for closure - too fast. I think this may be a cultural challenge. We expect of ourselves to come up with solutions. It is difficult to tolerate not giving the answers, not being the 'expert' all the time and instead taking some time for learning, reflecting and experimenting. That is the very valuable thing about the consortium. As Johan says, we are not aiming to give lots of recommendations, we are not going to write big reports. We are going to do the co-production, the co-creation of policy and research. This is really valuable and I am curious about how this experimenting will feel!"

Elisabeth Gulbrandsen, Special Adviser, Research Council of Norway

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