A growing concern about the “grand societal challenges” such as climate change and inclusion is appearing within the science, technology and innovation academic and practitioner community. The clearest expression of this shift is perhaps expressed by the emerging interest in the “transformative change” literature and in particular transformative innovation policy, which stresses the transformative role of policy in addressing socioeconomic challenges, such as the sustainable development goals compiled by the UN. This is not a minor issue as environment, ageing, migration, are global challenges or so-called wicked problems that require joint efforts but also regional responses.
In response to this, the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) based at the University of Sussex in the UK took the initiative in 2016 to launch the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) to provide a framework for these transformative innovation policies and is working in different contexts and countries in order to experiment with this concept. Colombia is one of the countries participating and I have been part of the team that was early this month in Bogota sharing ideas and participating in training with Colombian regional policy makers and academics. The transformative innovation approach is rooted in the idea of socio-technical transitions and strategic niche management literature. Nevertheless in Colombia regional innovation policy can play a key role in facilitating transitions and evolutionary economic geography and smart specialization strategies could contribute to this process as they share some commonalities.
In particular, both approaches share directionality as opposed to horizontal-based approaches such as (national/regional) innovation systems. Therefore, they give a role to policy for shaping the direction of innovation. However, whereas transformative innovation policy seeks to give answers to these socio-economic challenges by transforming socio technical regimes, smart specialisation strategies focus more on developing paths based on the own regional capabilities, which might or might not be addressing grand challenges.
Although in a different way, both approaches stress experimentation. Based on the strategic niche management literature, transformative innovation policies put bricolage and experimentation at the front of the innovation process whereas smart specialisation strategies incorporate the notion of entrepreneurial discovery processes (EDP) to regional policy. Both also give importance to the incorporation of non-dominant actors to those experimentation processes such as the so-called civil society, but whereas smart specialisation has not developed yet the formulas to incorporate civil society to the EDP, transitions experimentations really stress the role of human agency in the niches emergence.
Despite these differences, both approaches share also some other common roots, such as the importance of dealing with conflict and consensus in the experimentation processes and the role of government and especially policy-mixes for such processes.
However, in contrast to smart specialization, the development of regional policy for transitions thinking is still at a very early stage. As pointed out in a recent paper by Boschma et al. (2017) there is much room for combining evolutionary economic geography literature and transitions through for example the geography of niches and experimentation in regions. Nevertheless the role of regional policy for transformation still remains largely unexplored.
Addressing grand challenges and transformative innovation is a very important topic for Colombia, where the regions have now a window of opportunity for shaping transformation as well as other worldwide regions might have. This transformative policy framework and consortium is an umbrella for developing this new approach and experiment with regional policy as well, in order to contribute to path creation but without forgetting the role of ‘place’.
(Edurne would like to acknowledge to Matias Ramirez from SPRU and James Wilson from Orkestra for their contributions to this post).