The progressive evolution of innovation policy towards societal challenges

For many years, policymakers have developed innovation models and policy instruments to target investments in science and technology in order to maximise their economic impacts. More recently, the focus of innovation policy has broadened significantly not only to include innovation for economic growth, but also to address the formidable twin challenges of environmental sustainability and sustainable development. This expanded scope means that policymakers increasingly need to use multiple policy framings to achieve the diverse outcomes many governments are now demanding from their investments in innovation.

Innovation for economic growth

For decades, the National Innovation System (NIS) framework, aimed primarily at fostering economic growth, has dominated innovation policy. Innovation policies within the NIS framework aim to stimulate firms to increase their innovation activities in order to spur job creation, boost competitiveness and increase gross domestic product (GDP) growth. The policy instruments under the NIS model include support for basic research in universities; favourable tax treatment and direct subsidies for R&D in firms; and support for creating linkages between the various actors in the system to build their innovative capacities. Such policies include cluster policies, to stimulate collaboration between firms; research centres, to increase links between firms and higher education institutions; education policies, to support firms’ absorptive capacities; support for high-growth innovative firms; and support for the commercialisation of public research. The NIS framework remains the central framing used by innovation policymakers today. Its continued importance is reiterated in the OECD Innovation Strategy 2015, which stresses that innovation must continue to provide the foundation for new businesses, new jobs and productivity growth, and is an important driver of economic growth and development.

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