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Science Policy Research Unit sets out to redefine innovation policy as it marks 50 years

September 07, 2016

A new international effort to develop and disseminate 'transformative innovation policy' around the world will be launched by the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex this week.

SPRU is marking its 50th anniversary by announcing a new global consortium of scientists, experts and policy officials to address global challenges, such as access to food and energy, rising inequality, and climate change.

SPRU is celebrating 50 years at the forefront of thinking on science, technology and innovation with a major conference from 7-9 September 2016. The conference is based on the overarching theme of 'Transforming Innovation'.

SPRU believes that innovation policy has the potential to help tackle some of the world's most central challenges, such as sustainable development and inequality and it has developed a research strategy that is focused on long-term transformative change and innovation across different sectors, societies and structures.

The conference provides an opportunity for academics, policy makers and civil society actors to come together to will explore the nature, determinants and direction of innovation and its contribution to meeting current and future global challenges such as climate change, economic growth, sustainability and security.

Rooted now in the School of Business Management and Economics, SPRU is focused on responding effectively to these interconnected challenges by fundamentally rethinking how we organise, govern, direct and accelerate innovation so that it contributes to long-term sustainable development, economic progress and social justice.

With this objective, at the opening session on Wednesday (7 September), a new initiative - the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) - will be launched. The Consortium will bring together global actors to examine and research innovation systems as well as explore the future of innovation policy.

Alongside SPRU, the founding organisations are; Colciencias, the Government of Colombia's Department of Science, Technology and Innovation; the National Research Foundation in South Africa; and Forskningsradet: The Research Council in Norway, with a further cohort anticipated before the end of the pilot phase in 2016/17.

Professor Johan Schot, Director of SPRU said: "At the same time that we celebrate this significant milestone for our organisation, we see that the world is facing an increasing number of crises and persistent problems.

"The modern way of provisioning our basic needs is not sustainable in the long run, and is already causing climate change, profound societal turmoil, tensions and conflict on an unprecedented scale.

"It is clear that we cannot globalise our current ways of providing food, energy, mobility, healthcare and water.

"TIPC aims to analyse our current world - which is in deep transition - and develop a new, shared rationale and vision for innovation policy."

The Consortium's key objective is to examine and expand on current innovation frames and approaches to assist in solving urgent social and economic issues of our time. TIPC also seeks to engage in policy design and experimentation, training and skill formation. The project involves building new platforms for a mutual learning process between the Global North and South and between research and policy.

"Science, technology and innovation fundamentally contribute to promoting progress in Colombia. They provide solutions to the great challenges we face in building a long-lasting and stable peace. Our country has initiated a transformation phase which requires rethinking the ST&I policies of today - in order to rise to the occasion of this historic challenge," remarked Alejandro Olaya Davila, Deputy Director of Colciencias.

Yet, how do we ensure that the 'right' innovations occur? The TIPC is based on a new framing of innovation (Innovation 3.0 ) that recognises that negative impacts or externalities of innovation can overtake positive contributions. This frame focuses on mobilising the power of innovation for addressing a wide range of societal challenges including inequality, unemployment and climate change. It emphasises policies for directing socio-technical systems into socially desirable directions and embeds processes of change in society.

Anne Kjersti Fahlvik, Execute Director Division for Innovation, the Research Council of Norway, commented: "The directionality that the grand societal challenges provide is increasingly accepted by our research and innovation systems. Advanced and better science, technology and innovation are pointed to as the way forward. Yet, we also experience how the grand challenges entail challenges to ourselves as a research funding organization.

"The challenge of addressing Grand Challenges - to cite a well-known title - has come to stay and is inviting us out of our comfort zone. At The Research Council of Norway many of us have been inspired by SPRU to venture out and experiment these last years. We are excited by the prospect of future "crossover" collaborations for continued learning and development - as envisioned by the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium."

Dr Aldo Stroebel, Executive Director, International Relations and Cooperation, National Research Foundation, said: "As a leading science granting council, the National Research Foundation of South Africa values this strategic partnership.

"Different types of innovation play a role at various stages, and it is an opportune time to explore successful innovation experiments for a potentially different framework for development. A key challenge for innovation policy in emerging countries like South Africa is to encourage inclusive growth and support research addressing major social challenges - an important focus of the consortium.

"Managing for success through a focus on the factors that enhance impact is a joint objective of the programme, for a robust framework of engagement. SPRU's leadership in this endeavour is clear and respected."

In addition, VINNOVA - the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems, TEKES, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation and The Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development - CASTED, also signed an expression of interest to join the Consortium.

Across his entire career, SPRU's founder Chris Freeman embraced an 'economics of hope'- a principle which embodies a positive view of our potential to direct innovation, creativity and new technologies towards more sustainable and inclusive futures. It is with this ethos that the new Consortium will look to shape innovation over the next 50 years and beyond.
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University of Sussex

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