Science, technology and innovation (STI) policy is shaped by persistent framings that arise from historical context. Two established frames are identified as co-existing and dominant in contemporary innovation policy discussions. The first frame is identified as beginning with a Post-World War II institutionalisation of government support for science and R&D with the presumption that this would contribute to growth and address market failure in the private provision of new knowledge. The second frame emerged in the 1980s globalising world and its emphasis on competitiveness which is shaped by the national systems of innovation for knowledge creation and commercialisation. STI policy focuses on building links, clusters and networks, and on stimulating learning between elements in the systems and enabling entrepreneurship. A third frame linked to contemporary social and environmental challenges such as the Sustainable Development Goals and calling for transformative change is identified and distinguished from the two earlier frames. Transformation refers to socio-technical system change as conceptualised in the sustainability transitions literature. The nature of this third framing is examined with the aim of identifying its key features and its potential for provoking a re-examination of the earlier two frames. One key feature is its focus on experimentation and the argument that the Global South does not need to play catch-up to follow the transformation model of the Global North. It is argued that all three frames are relevant for policymaking, but exploring options for transformative innovation policy should be a priority.

Keywords: Transformation, Sustainable Development Goals, R&D, National systems of innovation, Innovation policy


  • An emergent third framing of transformative innovation policy is distinguished from two earlier framings (R&D; national systems of innovation).
  • Key features of the third frame are a need for socio-technical system change.
  • Public policy should focus on anticipation, experimentation, participation, and directionality.
  • It is argued that it is impossible to address the Sustainable Development Goals through the existing frames.
  • Transformative innovation policy has practical implications for policy that deserve wider consideration by the innovation studies community.

For more information, visit the project page of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium.

This publication is cited as: Johan Schot and W. Edward Steinmueller. ‘Three frames for innovation policy: R&D, systems of innovation and transformative change.’ Research Policy, 2018, 47 (9), 1554-1567.

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