Countries should consider Transformative Innovation Policy for a more sustainable and resilient future post-COVID, says OECD

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Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) has been highlighted by the OECD as a novel and emerging approach that can help governments looking to redirect economies and societies, post-COVID, towards more equitable, sustainable and resilient futures.

TIP thinking is cited in the new Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook 2021, a biennial publication, which aims to inform policy makers and analysts on changes in global Science Technology and Innovation (STI) patterns and their potential implications for national and international policies.

According to the report, the pandemic underscored the importance of science and innovation, but also revealed gaps in the system that need filling to improve future resilience and preparedness.

The authors suggest that the health crisis and inequalities it has accentuated – along with the green transitions goals contained in many countries’ recovery and stimulus packages – will accelerate the policy shift towards a more ambitious agenda of ‘systems transformation’ orientation. Greater inclusiveness may become as important a goal for STI policy as supporting national competitiveness and economic growth.

TIP is presented as one way of addressing these needs, with leaders and analysts encouraged to revisit their policy theories in order to ‘build back better’ (p.199).

The authors draw on constructive and participatory technology assessment, responsible research and innovation, socio-technical transitions and ‘transformative STI policy’ as examples of novel and emerging frameworks and concepts that could be more widely deployed to help policy makers promote sustainability transition.

The report makes specific reference to the ‘Three Frames’ paper, a cornerstone of research for TIPC, which underpins the mission of members to mobilise innovation towards societal and environmental challenges.

Ed Steinmueller, SPRU Professor and co-author of the paper, observed:

‘Building back better’ is an umbrella term, whose consequences hinge on what ‘better’ means. For us, ‘better’ is tied to fundamental changes in the methods by which we deliver basic human needs such as energy, transport, food, health and housing and the underlying rules or heuristics that guide these methods.

Elisabeth Gulbrandsen, Special Advisor at The Research Council of Norway, a founding member of TIPC, said:

I find it quite remarkable how the STI-Outlook questions both policy and research in profound ways through the ‘lens’ of COVID-19 activities. The differentiation between short-termism and long-termism permeates the report demonstrating how neither policy, nor the heart of STI-policy, research and higher education, are fit for coping with long-term, Grand societal Challenges. New figurations and practices of excellence are needed: ‘Science is indeed a meritocracy but there is an urgent need to redefine those merits and what constitutes excellence in all its different guises.’ (p. 90)

The report also calls for ‘dynamic capabilities’ to improve policy resilience and aid the implementation of new frameworks and practices (p. 201).  These include reflexive organisational learning and adaptation, exposure to more diverse knowledge and values, and the ability for STI organisations to leverage the knowledge and competences of multiple actors across businesses, universities and civil society.

Over the past three years, TIPC members have sought to address such capabilities, particularly the need to engage with new actors, contexts, and methods in order to further orientate activities towards the SDGs. The Consortium has co-created new knowledge through exchange and learning, and will be developing a TIP policy lab to capture concepts, tools, insights and learning materials to support continued capacity development.