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Time to Accelerate: Moving Technology by Looking at Innovation Systems

As a Masters student studying Sustainable Business and Innovation, I tend to have more of a policy and social sciences perspective compared to my other student fellows. I see this as a complement to their important work.

Many of those engaged with ESIP are interested in evolving methods and technologies to best provide earth science data and tackle the vital issues of today. This goal resonates with my recent research on how to help accelerate technological innovation. Thus far, a few papers stand out for their systems-thinking based analysis — cited below.

A technological innovation system refers to the structures and processes that affect how innovation develops, diffuses, and adapts. The papers identify three major social structures associated with innovation: actors (knowledge institutes, government, NGO’s, etc.), networks (interactions between the different actors), and institutions (norms, habits, and regulation that are based on the place, society, and historical context in which the innovation is embedded).

Connecting these structures are different processes, often referred to as functions, that include: entrepreneurial activities, knowledge and development, knowledge diffusion, guidance of search, market formation, resources mobilization, and creation of legitimacy.

It may be helpful to define a few of the more vague terms here. Guidance of search usually comes from society in the form of targets or goals that push innovation in specific ways. Then there is market formation, which is the creation of an incubator-type space for new technology in the market. Resources mobilization talks about those pesky needs like access to grants and finance that allow us to do our work. Creation of legitimacy boils down to advocacy for our new tech because those with vested interest in the previous technological regime are unwilling to give way to the newer, potentially better tech.

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You may already see many connections and feedback loops here. If so, you’re right on track because all these functions are interconnected and affect each other and the structures between which they work. When we understand how these structures and functions interact, it is much easier to identify barriers and design instruments to overcome those barriers.

Well, that was a lot of theory. Very important, but sometimes it is helpful to concretize ideas like this. As I was reading, I realized that ESIP performs quite a few of these functions and works as a great example. ESIP’s role helps in driving innovation by facilitating networks and dialogue between researchers and scientists, providing a platform for knowledge generation and dissemination, assisting in creating new norms across sectors, and even a bit of resource mobilization– hello FUNding Friday! (Now I have to give a shout-out to my Education Cluster here, since they’re equipping teachers with new innovations for the classroom. Check out what they’re doing with drones!) ESIP’s position in the system can act as a catalyst in many ways to accelerate technological innovation.

But why should we care about these social structures? As researchers and scientists, we are working within a larger system and have to be cognizant of how our work feeds into that system. With this understanding we can be our own advocates to facilitate larger uptake of knowledge and technology innovation. These papers show there are many ways to do this that vary depending on the different roadblocks we encounter. I believe that ESIP’s goal to connect us is a prime example of how we can strengthen our impact by working collectively.

Obviously, this blog just begins to skim the surface of how to approach technological innovation systems. If you’re interested in the theory, I encourage you to check out the three papers listed below!

-Johanna Bozuwa

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Bergek, A., Jacobsson, S., Carlsson, B., Lindmark, S., Rickne, A. (2008). Analyzing the functional dynamics of technological innovation systems: A scheme of analysis. Research Policy, 37(3), pp. 407­429.

Hekkert, M.P., Suurs, R.A.A., Negro, S.O., Kuhlmann, S., Smits, R.E.H.M. (2007). Functions of innovation systems: A new approach for analysing technological change. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 74(4), pp. 413­432.

Wieczorek, A.J., Hekkert, M.P. (2012). Systemic instruments for systemic innovation problems: A framework for policy makers and innovation scholar. Science & Public Policy, 39, 74­87