Strategizing on innovation systems: Alternative scenarios for university-government-industry collaboration on sustainable energy innovation

Sergio Jofre (Invited author)

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    This paper explores the strategic context of the implementation of the European Institute of Technology (EIT) from the perspective of National Innovation Systems (NIS) and the Triple Helix of University-Government-Industry relationship. The analytical framework is given by a comparative study of NIS in the EU and its closer competitors the US and Japan, with emphasis on the particular features and developments of their respective Triple Helix models. Based on the results of this analysis, the paper suggests strategic recommendations regarding the EIT deployment. The work aims an additional contribution to the innovation and Triple Helix literature and research. The study is based on observations and considerations made during an ongoing EU project. Background The increasingly fast pace of economic globalisation has utterly changed the world economic order, bringing together unprecedented opportunities and challenges. This new economic order, demands countries to strengthen their inventiveness and capability to adapt to changing environments, and to quickly react to emerging social needs and preferences, and therefore to innovate more (EC, 2006a). Although the European Union (EU) has already implemented several action plans and programmes aiming at improving its technological and non-technological innovation capability, its performance in the global context is yet week, particularly if compared to rival economies such as Japan and the US (EC, 2008a). A recent initiative to foster Europe’s innovation performance is the establishment of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology – EIT (EC, 2006b; 2008b). The EIT is the first attempt to fully integrate all dimensions of the “Knowledge triangle”; education, research, and innovation. Although inspired by best practice examples observed within the US innovation system such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the EIT deployment does not considers the establishment of a physical institution such as MIT but a supranational network of pre-existing institutions. Whether this strategy will be able to bring the expected outcomes is a question yet to be answer. However, the EIT is still at an early stage of development and transcendental actions can still be taken in order to ensure a successful and sustainable deployment Framing Innovation literature provides a variety of analytical frameworks and multi-lateral collaborations models in which the EIT future deployment can be respectively analyzed, compared and based. However, these references often involve systems with well-defined aggregation levels such as for example geographic boundaries of nations (e.g. Freeman, Nelson, Lundvall, ) and regions (e.g. Cooke, Asheim) , industry sectors (e.g. Malerba) or specific technologies (e.g. Hekkert, Bergek, Jacobsson). In this context, the complex supranational character of the European Union entails a challenging political, cultural, and economic environment for the establishment of a “virtual” institution aiming a deep reform of Europe’s current (and mostly national) education, research and business innovation systems. This impasse remarks the challenge of redefining and reinforcing a supranational innovation system in line with national demands and their particular environments, and calls for new theoretical and empirical developments enabling proper policy actions. The concept of innovation systems assumes that flows of technology and information among people, companies and institutions are crucial to the innovative process. At national level, innovation and technical development are the result of a complex set of interactions between agents producing, distributing and applying different types of knowledge. Literature suggests that the innovative performance of a country greatly depends on the particular arrangement of these agents within the collective knowledge system and the technologies they use. These agents are primarily private enterprises, universities, public research institutes, and the people within them. The linkages between these agents can take the form of joint research and publications, personnel exchanges, cross-patenting, purchase of equipment and a variety of other channels. The particular educational, economic and political environments of countries might in turns define the characterization, role and interaction of agents within the innovation system (Etzkowitz, Leydesdorff). The resultant framework given by the interaction of these environments is driven by university (education), industry (economy) and the government (politics). Understanding the dynamics of their relationship gives an insight into characteristic functions and operations in the innovation system. In the analytical perspective of NIS, the role of these three agents is valuated in terms of the outcome of innovation – value and welfare creation – therefore, the NIS analysis inherently focuses on economy and emphasizes the role of industry over government and university. A complementary analytical concept that regards NIS from a slightly different perspective is the Triple Helix Model of innovation (e.g. Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff), that emphasises the role of university in the innovation system and its co-dependency with and within government and industry. The model supports the hypothesis that universities, governments and industry play an equally important role in innovation and that interdependency and evolution is what defines the systemic outcome over time. In a historical context, most countries have formerly based their innovation systems in a triple helix in which governments did greatly influence the performance and relationship of universities and industries. In this case, boundaries and competences of the three agents were well defined and did not overlap. Nowadays, most countries are in transition to – or fully developing – a triple helix model in which each of the innovation agents takes account of the role of the others and hybrid and tri-lateral networks emerge at the interfaces. The study The study uses NIS as an analytical framework to compare patterns and trends in innovation developments in the US, Japan and the EU. The comparison provides with a qualitative reference to identify strategic issues regarding the innovation systems’ functions. A complementary analysis is based on the characterization of the university-government-industry relationship in order to identify driving factors in the management of education, research and business innovation. A final analysis is conducted in order to develop a strategic approach to the future EIT deployment in the context of a triple helix model entailing considerations at both the national and the supranational levels. Data is gathered from available literature. Conclusions and discussion The findings suggest that there are important disparities among NIS particularly at the level of systemic functions such as knowledge creation, knowledge diffusion, guidance, and human and financial resource mobilization. These disparities are less evident when comparing NIS in Japan and the US alone, suggesting a merging trend encouraged by mutual learning. Conversely, the average innovation performance in the EU is greatly affected by the heterogeneous performance among Member States, notably among those newly accessed. In general terms, in the US and Japan NIS are mature but yet undergoing important reforms, particularly in terms of education, research guidance and entrepreneurship. These reforms are not yet fully implemented in the EU. From the perspective of a University-Government-Industry relationship, the common path observed in the US and Japan becomes more evident. In the EU this relationship varies greatly among States, however, an overall trend is identified. We observe that the predominant EU triple helix model is characterized by a strong link within government and university and a weaker link between university-industry. This finding is in line with EC studies (EC, 2006a) calling for a greater autonomy of national universities and a stronger and efficient collaboration between industry and academy. Crucial factors regarding these issues are the mobilization of human and financial resources and Intellectual Property Rights mechanisms. Finally, our analyses suggest that the future EIT deployment should consider a different supranational Triple Helix model in which leading national universities around Europe take a leading role. Accordingly, we suggest and further describe a strategic approach to implement and deploy such a model. Research activities required to further develop our proposal are also depicted. References EC (2006a) “Putting knowledge into practice: A broad-based innovation strategy for the EU” COM (2006) 502 final, Brussels, 2006 EC (2006b) “Developing a knowledge flagship: the European Institute of Technology” COM (2006) 77 final, Brussels, 2006 EC (2008a) “European Innovation Scoreboard 2007: Comparative Analysis of Innovation Performance” EC Publications Office, Luxemburg, 60p. 2008 EC (2008b) “Establishing the European Institute of Innovation and Technology”, 2006/0197 (COD): EIT 23/EDUC 215/RECH 395/COMPET 406/CODEC 1334, EC, Brussels, January 2008
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2009
    Publication statusPublished - 2009
    EventNordic Climate Solutions Conference : Policy Session, Young Scientist Lounge - Bella Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark
    Duration: 1 Jan 2009 → …


    ConferenceNordic Climate Solutions Conference : Policy Session, Young Scientist Lounge
    CityBella Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark
    Period01/01/2009 → …


    • Innovation
    • Energy
    • Strategy
    • Climate
    • KIC
    • EIT


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