Innovation Policy for the Future

Nicky Wunderlich |


“Grand challenges such as climate change and growing inequality call for transformative changes in our society. Innovation will play a major role in coming up with solutions. The identified UN sustainable development goals can serve as direction, but a big and important question is: How to design, implement and govern innovation policies that can help form a desired future? A new policy framework is in emergence and will also affect policies for a sustainable bioeconomy.

 The UK has a central role in the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium whose quest is to deliver a new innovation policy framework that can help solve grand challenges. Schot was in Oslo in December 2016 and gave the key note Research & Policy Agenda For a World in Transition at the NORSI conference at BI.

The wickedness of grand challenges

The grand challenges, often called wicked problems, are complex and hard to solve. These problems have innumerable causes, do not have one right answer, and there are no templates to follow in how to tackle them. The fact that the various wicked problems often are interconnected, adds to the challenge. Despite of these overwhelming and intricate characteristics, we still need to combat the grand challenges.

Transformative change in society

At a system level, the backbone of our society are socio-technical regimes. These are specific sets of stable rules that affect institutions and infrastructures. They color how we define problems, our expectations and actions. They are systems maintained and reproduced by humans and social groups, and they affect policy and how we govern our society. The existing systems based on fossil fuels, mass production and consumption appear to be on collision course with a sustainable
society. In order to achieve a transformative change or a deep transition in society, multiple socio-technical systems must go in the same direction (Schot & Kanger 2016).

Three frames of innovation policy

When considering the last 50 years of innovation policies, Schot and Steinmüller (2016) suggest to group these years’ policies into three different analytical frames; the first one R&D & Regulation was dominant from the 1960s to the 1980s, the National Systems of innovation has been dominant in the 1990s until today, while the third frame Transformative change is in emergence. Each frame reflects its contemporary social and economic circumstances, and each frame typically evolves as a response to insufficiencies linked to the previous frame.

R&D & Regulation – in this frame, innovation policy is about growth by stimulating knowledge production (research and development) and high tech solutions through incentives. Experts, scientists and engineers are the innovating actors. In this frame the logic is based on a linear invention – innovation – diffusion model and it is assumed that the market system steers the diffusion. Governmental intervention is only needed in the case of market failure.

National Systems of Innovation – this frame departs from the identification of system failures such as lack of cooperation and coordination between the various actors within the innovation system. A broader range of actors are involved in innovation such as universities, networks, users, governments, and market actors such as small medium sized companies and entrepreneurs. The linear model is replaced with a more interactive and complex model with feedback loops. The policy activities are various, including those found in the previous frame, to platforms stimulating interaction, educational efforts for absorptive capacities and stimulation of entrepreneurship. Any innovation is encouraged since it fosters economic growth and competition.

Transformative Change – in this frame innovation policy is shaped by the need to solve social and environmental challenges. R&D and innovation do not always lead to human welfare. Instead the overall goal is to influence socio-technical regimes so they can lead to transformation in structures and institutions. Broad societal participation is highlighted, therefore the innovation actors can be anybody including companies, governments and civil society. Policy interventions are about opening up processes that generate a diversity of solutions and support in setting up experiments.

A consortium for transformative innovation policy

With the aim to examine innovation systems to explore innovation policy for the future, the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium was established in late 2016. The consortium partners are the University of Sussex (UK), The Research Council of Norway, The South-African National Research Foundation, Colombian Administrative Department of Science, Technology & Innovation (Colciencias), Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA), Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes). They have all committed resources, time and expertise to shape and deliver a new innovation policy framework that can help solve societal challenges. The programme is now in a pilot phase and will consist of theoretical and historical analysis of innovation policy, as well as studying selected case-studies.”


Schot, Johan & Kanger, Laur (2016). Deep Transitions: Emergence, Acceleration, Stabilization and Directionality. [Working paper] Available at

Schot, Johan & Steinmüller, W. Edward. (2016). Framing innovation policy for transformative change: Innovation policy 3.0. [Working paper, draft 2]. Available at

Schot, Johan (2016). “Research & Policy Agenda For a World in Transition” NORSI Conference, December 15th, 2016, BI Oslo [Key note presentation].

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