Learning and innovation is considered the engine of technological change and economic growth. Hence knowledge and innovation policies lay much of the foundation for the future welfare development of most industrialised countries.
It is therefore important that they develop sensible, coherent strategies in this area, as well as a set of policy measures that meet the specific needs of each country’s industry and social structure.
To develop such strategies, policy makers need a clear idea about how innovation takes place in society. And having taken part in research and innovation policy development both in Norway and in Europe for some 16 years, I know that that is not an easy task.
The systemic approach to learning and innovation
Innovation policies in the European countries are increasingly influenced by the so-called systemic approach to learning and innovation. It is also part of the policy discussions of countries as diverse as South Africa and New Zealand.
According to this view technological advance and competence building is characterized by constant interplay and mutual learning between different types of knowledge and actors, including firms, institutes, universities, sources of financing, relevant public agencies and more.
In short: The old linear model depicting science as the engine driving innovation is dead.
This new systemic view of technological change and competence development also forms the basis of, for instance, the EU Trend Chart on Innovation.
According to this way of thinking public authorities may encourage innovation by strengthening learning and by developing efficient networks for the distribution of knowledge and personnel. The general framework conditions for innovation, including taxation, physical infrastructure, public institutions, laws and regulations must also be taken into consideration.
This is why we now witness a new interest for the so-called third generation, “holistic”, innovation policy, i.e. an innovation policy that also includes policy areas that are not directly targeting innovation in companies as such, including educational policies and environmental measures.