Innovation and Transformation in China

Nicky Wunderlich |

Following Professor Schot’s Beijing visit for an exploratory workshop, on behalf of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium, to look at transformative innovation opportunities in China, we feature the Vice President of CASTED’s subsequent blog. Following the event, Professor Yishan Wu gave a breakdown of the proceedings and his thoughts on transformative innovation opportunities and policies in China from the perspective of the Three Frames of Innovation:

Vice President of CASTED, Yishan Wu

“On March 6-7, 2018, the University of Sussex’s Science Policy Research Center (SPRU) and the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development (CASTED) jointly held a two-day seminar in Beijing. The first day was entitled “China’s Transformation and the Three Frames of Innovation Policy” and was an overall introduction to the idea of ​​transformation and innovation policy. The second day was entitled “Low-carbon Transformation of China’s Power System – Case Study of Transformation and Innovation Policy”. About 50 people from Chinese and foreign guests from universities, research institutes, companies, government and industry associations attended the two-day meeting.

SPRU is a world famous think tank. In the latest list of global think tanks released by the University of Pennsylvania in January this year, SPRU ranks third in the world for “science and technology think tanks” and is the UK’s number one.

For this workshop, the Director of SPRU, Professor Johan Schot, personally led the team with five colleagues from SPRU participating in the seminar. Prof. Schot is a Dutchman. He has long been engaged in cross-border collaborations in the field of science and technology; policy research; and the study of the history of technology, with outstanding achievements. In 2015, he was awarded the Leonardo Da Vinci Medal by the Institute of Technology History for his outstanding contributions in the field of technology history.

Below, I briefly introduce Professor Schot’s ideas for transformation and innovation policy.

The three frames of innovation policy refer to the three innovative policy frameworks or phases that have emerged.

Framework 1: R&D and regulation. This framework largely dominated from the 1960s to the 1980s. Its main idea is: R & D can lead to competitive advantage and national prestige; the market will produce externalities, so it needs regulation, and so on.

Framework 2: National Innovation System. This framework dominated in the 1980s until today. Its main ideas are: emphasis on innovation; emphasis on learning (through production, use and interaction, etc.); construction of national innovation system, regional innovation system and departmental innovation system; encourage entrepreneurship and attach importance to the role of the enterprise.

Framework 3: Transformational change. This framework is in the process of development and is still emerging. Its main ideas and judgments are:

—-So far, many social needs and environmental needs have not been met across the globe, there has been a rise in social inequality, climate change and other issues;

—- R & D and innovation do not automatically translate into human welfare;

—-Therefore, we need transformative change, we need sustainable changes. In other words, we need to change the social technology system, not just technological innovation;

—-Change can be bottom-up, initiated by grassroots.

Under Frame 3, there are some typical policy actions:

—-Determine which areas need to be transformed and discuss possible options for the future with various actors;

—- Support diversity, all possible paths to sustainable development should be open;

—-Advocate social innovation, inclusive innovation, innovation, poverty alleviation, etc.;

—-Develop large-scale social experiments, and enlarge the scale of Strategic Niche Management (intermediary or agency);

—-Strengthen foresight ability, adaptability and reflection ability;

—-Advocate constructive technology evaluation and responsible research and innovation (pay attention to public participation);

—- Integrate science and engineering, social sciences, and humanities in the education system;

—-Establish a new institution, specifically to coordinate the different policies, integrate the science and technology innovation policy with other policies (such as energy policy, housing policy, agricultural policy, health policy, traffic policy, etc.) and seek an effective policy combination.

Professor Schot had 22 PowerPoint slides for the morning of March 6th. Above, I only introduced about 4 of these slides. I really don’t have the space to describe the content of the report in detail. Interested readers can read his article on Innovation Policy 3.0 published as a working paper in September 2016.

Here, I want to do a little commentary.

First of all, the idea of ​​transformation and innovation is very good. In the past, there have been more and more novel products coming out of technological innovations, but the main consumers are rich people. Moreover, the depletion of energy resources to the earth will become more and more serious.

On the evening of November 10, 2017, I participated in a “Science + Classic” event held at the National Planetarium. Several guests discussed Carl Sagangen and his classic “Universe” together. When discussing the topic of life outside the earth, I said: “I would rather not have extraterrestrial life. The Earth is the only place suitable for life and reproduction.” The host asked “Why?”I replied:” If there is extraterrestrial life, many people on the earth will not care much about the Earth’s environment. Anyway, after destroying the Earth, they can emigrate to other planets suitable for living. If the Earth is the only place suitable for the reproduction of life, I am afraid that everyone will not dare to destroy the environment without fear. Animals all know that they don’t dirty their own nests, but humans have contaminated their nest (earth) so badly that they may destroy it.” Therefore, this transformation of sustainable development, which Professor Schot has devoted his heart to, is indeed a top priority. Such a grand transformation will, of course, require corresponding new innovations.

Second, I believe that the three frames of innovative are not completely antagonistic. If we think that the first two innovative frames are outdated, they should be abandoned and they are too simplistic and absolute. I think that the three frames only emphasize different aspects. Frame 3 can fully incorporate Frame 1 and Frame 2 instead of replacing it. To make an analogy, we often say that we must strengthen interdisciplinary research, but it does not mean that research on a single subject is not important. Assuming that the development of Discipline A and Discipline B is not good enough and the results are flawless, then even if the boundaries of the two disciplines are opened, there is not much interaction. Similarly, frame 3 can give us a lot of inspiration, but some policy actions corresponding to frame 1 and 2 can still continue.

Once again, several understandings of transformation and innovation have been appreciated by me. However, what I most admire is that “changes can be bottom-up and initiated by grassroots”. Judging from the 40 years of experience in China’s reform and opening up, many reforms (also institutional innovations) have been initiated by grassroots organizations, such as the household contract responsibility system, “Sunday Engineers” and “Science and Technology Commissioners”. In the future, how to strengthen centralization and leadership while boldly emancipating the mind, calling for and relying on the people’s vitality for innovation and entrepreneurship, and encouraging the people’s pioneering spirit and experimentation will be one of the key factors that determine whether China can truly build an innovative country.”

To view the original blog in Chinese please visit here.

Follow Professor Schot on Twitter at @Johan_Schot

Professor Schot’s Message to Chinese students from SPRU’s Chinese brochure on studying at SPRU

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