Innovation as a Solution to Societal Challenges

This is the title of the conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of CIRCLE (Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy) at Lund university, Sweden held on November 27th. The conference was opened by the founding professors of the centre, Charles Edquist and Björn Asheim and its current director Ron Boschma. With an impressive list of panelists, the presentations and discussions revolved around several key issues (the economic crisis, globalisation of innovation, climate change and innovation policy), the four research areas of CIRCLE.

The panel about how to recover from the economic crisis discussed extensively the nature of the crisis and its consequences. The focus was particularly placed in Schumpeter’s Mark I and Mark II on creative destruction and creative accumulation. Perhaps there has been too much attention lately on the former, and too little on the latter. Åsa Lindholm Dahlstrand underlined that experimentation in entrepreneurial innovation systems is crucial for overcoming the crisis, and that we need to move away from the entrepreneurship literature focus on the entrepreneur as an independent heroic actor towards a systemic focus of entrepreneurship. For his part, Martin Andersson reminded us that technological development patterns have skill biases, and therefore create social imbalances. Inequality might be an inescapable and non-desirable effect of innovation. The discussion on the social consequences of technological progress turned into the direction of mobility of talent, and the problems of lack of openness in Europe.

This linked nicely with the subsequent panel on the globalisation of innovation, which focused on global dynamics. Simona Iammarino argued that we know already a lot about how multinationals conduct innovation, but we know too little on the geographical anchorage of innovation performed globally. Cristina Chaminade complemented this by pointing at the need to develop a multi-level approach that would help explaining the conditions under which innovation networks combine knowledge.

The panel on climate change was devoted to discuss change in socio-technical systems from the evolutionary economics perspective of co-evolution, and the transitions literature perspective. Frank Geels suggested the need to bring back the classics like Marx, Schumpeter and Keynes to understand change, and the need to bring politics and power into the equation. Koen Frenken for his part, re-took the co-evolution notion of Richard Nelson saying that we have wrongly assumed that demand means always consumers, supply means always the firms, and institutions are always governments. Reality is much more complex than that, and this is shown in issues of climate change. Maryann Feldman questioned the assumption that cities are greener than suburbs, and underlined the complexities of turning cities into smart in sustainable ways.

The last panel asked how can innovation studies help? and was a panel focusing on innovation policy. In my presentation I argued for the need to introduce a ‘governance’ approach in studying change in socio-technical systems because many collective problems and solutions are addressed by NGOs, public-private partnerships, philanthropies, and other various agents of change, not only public policy-makers. Besides, there is very little real transfer of knowledge between academia and policy-makers. Johan Stierna remind us of Max Weber’s distinction between the ethos of civil servants and the ethos of politicians, and the difficulties thereof. Viktoria Mattsson commented on the importance of coordination in innovation policy rather than creating new instruments. Franco Malerba explained his current work constructing industrial-sector models to explain the conditions under which transformations and technological leadership takes place. Sylvia Schwaag-Serger said that sometimes policy-makers know the problem but not the solution, other times they know the solution but not the problem, but most of the times they know both the problem and the solution, but they still cannot make them work together. This was a great way of finishing this exciting day, reflecting on how innovation studies can be part of the equation in making these three situations work, and the need of translational work between the analysis-oriented world of academia and consultants on the one hand, and the action-oriented world of policy-making and governance on the other.

Link to the conference website:

My own picture: Inside the Atomium, Brussels, Belgium.


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