Triggering transformative change through innovation? New approaches in innovation policy and the limits of future change Presentation 19.09.2018: 2nd STS Austria Conference “Innovation and Societal Transformation: Science, Democracy, and Sustainable Futures”

Conference Presentation: Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, 2nd STS Austria Conference “Innovation and Societal Transformation: Science, Democracy, and Sustainable Futures”

Abstract Petra Schaper Rinkel:

In innovation policy research, new concepts are rapidly developing that are aimed at transformative social change.  In the recent past it was the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) [1], the research & innovation policy orientation towards the Grand/ Societal Challenges[2] and the conceptual combination of technological and social innovation. What these analytical frameworks have in common is that both research and innovation should be oriented towards social and ecological needs.  In the European research landscape, these concepts are present as such in political discourse and research, but the effects on innovation pathways and their real impact in research, policy and society are more than controversial. Critics wonder whether RRI are the emperor’s new clothes, or if there is not even an emperor (yet), but the emperor is constructed by clothing him (RRI) [3].  In summary, it can be shown that the primary focus on growth and competitiveness remains in place and that the goals that refer to social needs and planetary boundaries are additionally addressed and are thus subordinated to the prevailing rationalities.

Current approaches are missionoriented research and innovation[4], the concept of a Transformative Innovation Policy[5] and the alignment of research and innovation with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations[6] to support a social change towards ecological sustainability and to reduce social inequality.

The paper analyses three dimensions that contribute to the fact that the concepts of the recent past have lead to rhetorical modernisation in innovation policy, but have only a very limited impact in terms of their claim to transformation. One is the conceptual problem of anticipating the interaction between disruptive technological innovation and radically different socio-political futures (cf. „ontological expansion“[7]). The lack of radical thought experiments leads to a narrowing of the analysis of potential societal futures. The second dimension is the insufficient consideration of disruptive developments and the non-questioning of the basic norms of growth and competitiveness. And the third dimension is the analytical and practical focus on policy and the neglect of politics and polity.

The hypothesis is that transformative concepts can only have the intended impact if they combine analytically disruptive technological change and radical socio-political change as thought experiments (e.g. post-democracy and populism in conjunction with advanced artificial intelligence, genome editing and automation, or post-capitalism and de-growth). This would be an analytically necessary but not sufficient condition for transformative concepts.



Burgelman, J.-C., Chloupková, J. und Wobbe, W., 2014, Foresight in support of European research and innovation policies: The European Commission is preparing the funding of grand societal challenges, European Journal of Futures Research 2(1), 1-7 < >; auch veröffentlicht in: Eur J Futures Res.

European Commission, 2018, Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL establishing Horizon Europe. COM(2018) 435 final – 2018/0224 (COD), Brussel: European Commission.

Lund Declaration, 2009, The Lund Declaration: Europe must Focus on the Grand Challenges of our Time, Swedish EU Presidency: Swedish EU Presidency.

Mazzucato, M., 2018, Missions. Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union. A problem-solving approach to fuel innovation-led growth, Brussels: European Commission.

Rip, A., 2011, Science Institutions and Grand Challenges of Society: A Scenario, Asian Research Policy 2, 1-9.

Rip, A., 2016, The clothes of the emperor. An essay on RRI in and around Brussels, Journal of Responsible Innovation 3(3), 290-304 < >.

Schomberg, R. v., 2013, A vision of Responsible Research and Innovation, in: Owen, R., Heintz, M. und Bessant, J. (Hg.): Responsible Innovation, London.

Schot, J. und Steinmueller, E., 2016, Framing Innovation Policy for Transformative Change: Innovation Policy 3.0, im Auftrag von: SPRU Science Policy Research Unit, U. o. S. B., UK: SPRU Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex: Brighton, UK.

Tuomi, I., 2012, Foresight in an unpredictable world, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 24(8), 735-751 < <Go to ISI>://WOS:000308075800002 >; auch veröffentlicht in: Technol. Anal. Strateg. Manage.

United Nations, 2015, Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development, New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.



[1] Schomberg (2013)

[2] Lund Declaration (2009), c.f.: Burgelman, et al. (2014)

[3] Rip (2016). With regard to Grand challenges, cf. Rip (2011)

[4] Mazzucato (2018)

[5] cf.Schot/Steinmueller (2016)

[6] United Nations (2015); European Commission (2018)

[7] Tuomi (2012)