Coordinating Innovation (Policy): an Introduction to my PhD Research Topic
By Andreas P Kopp, on 11 August 2020
Andreas Kopp, a final year PhD candidate at UCL STEaPP and UCL IIPP and member of the Digital Technologies Policy Lab, elaborates on his doctoral research project and explains what’s so difficult about governing innovation.
The challenge of innovation policy is coordination
There are no simple, prescribed solutions to such global issues as mitigating climate change or ensuring sustainable urban mobility. Instead, these require long-term contributions of many different economic sectors, governments, public agencies, and individual stakeholders. Increasingly, governments avert to drafting ‘mission-oriented’ innovation policies, i.e. systemic policies that cut across sectors in an attempt to enable the purposeful innovation of technologies towards a desired direction, rather than prescribing a closely defined solution. In other words, governments are ‘tilting the playing field’.
This often results in innovations that are not only technically highly complex, but also re-define human behaviour – so called socio-technical systems. They also span across different policy areas and therefore pose a new challenge for policy makers and policy implementers: they trigger coordination problems across policy domains and across government authorities, as existing policies might contradict each other, or relevant policies and regulations might be missing entirely.
Connected autonomous vehicles and the transition towards automated mobility systems are a good example. They are intended to contribute to the mission of a smarter, more accessible, efficient, less pollutant, and overall more environmentally sustainable transportation system in urban areas. They could, for instance, provide last mile connectivity for the elderly or disabled, and could rapidly deliver urgent goods directly to where they are needed. Shared autonomous shuttles could decrease the amount of individually owned cars, freeing up space in urban centres for parks or playgrounds. They could also be the starting point for the wider use of automated systems which increase reliability and efficiency.
Yet, due to the many different parts and components they include and the far-reaching impact these might have, autonomous vehicles are difficult to govern. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following features:
- Lidar, sensors, GPS, and generally, mapping tools for navigation also store sensitive information, like travel data of individuals, and might infringe on privacy.
- Electric batteries require charging infrastructure and an updated energy policy to hedge against increasing electricity demand, especially during peak travel hours.
- Connectivity tools for communicating with other vehicles or the infrastructure around the vehicle rely on high-speed data transfer and digitalisation which might not be in place across countries yet are essential for maintaining security and safety of the vehicle.
- Finally, new business models ask consumers to change their habits and routines, and also might require new forms of government-firm interaction.
Accordingly, autonomous vehicles affect and are affected by many different policy areas, such as vehicle safety regulations, environmental restrictions, data privacy rules, and infrastructure projects.
Governing Innovation and Innovating Governance?
Governing innovation, hence, means that we also need to innovate governance to adapt to the changing nature of modern technologies and to enable more advanced solutions to the problems that today’s societies face. For all such technologies, the question emerges ‘how and to what extent do different government organisations affect mission-oriented innovation systems and how can they overcome the emanating policy coordination problems?’ This question uniquely connects two mostly separate academic fields – innovation system research and public administration.
My research project ‘Networked Transitions: Policy Coordination in Mission-Oriented Innovation Systems’ tries to answer this question by doing three things: first, it introduces a complementary approach to analyse the role of public sector agencies in innovation processes, adding a new layer to the existing scholarship. Second, it explores how three highly innovative countries – Singapore, Estonia, and Sweden – have been dealing with the coordination of innovation. Third, it shows how stronger networks around a new technology that include public agencies are better suited to handle emerging issues. ‘Networked transitions’ improve the information flow between stakeholders, catalyse collaboration, and accelerate the progress towards fulfilling ‘the mission’.
Adapting governance practices often comes along with new technologies. However, it is by no means self-evident that modern technologies will resolve problems without creating new ones. Autonomous vehicles, for instance, will hardly replace the mobility infrastructure as we know it today – they can’t, and they probably shouldn’t. There are many additional problems associated with this technology that others discuss and try to find solutions to. Still, autonomous vehicles serve as a (very good) example from which we can learn, revealing the complexity of socio-technical innovations, the cross-over between policy domains, and, thus, the need for governance and coordination of innovation (policy).
Curious to learn more about Andreas’ research? He will present two academic papers on his research topic online at the 11th International Sustainability Transitions Conference by STRN hosted from Vienna on 18-21 August 2020, for which you can sign up. Also, follow him on Twitter (@AndyPKopp) or visit www.andreaskopp.org!