Orientation Failure? Why Directionality Matters in Innovation Policy and Implementation

Blog by Mariam Tabatadze and Benjamin Kumpf: “…In the essay “The Moon and the Ghetto” from 1977, Richard Nelson brought renewed attention to the question of directionality of innovation. He asked why societies that are wealthy and technologically advanced are not able to deal effectively with social problems such as poverty or inequities in education. Nelson believed that politics are only a small part of the problem. The main challenge, according to him, was further advancing scientific and technological breakthroughs.

Since the late seventies, humanity has laid claim to many more significant technological and scientific achievements. However, challenges such as poverty, social inequalities and of course environmental degradation persist. This begs the question: is the main problem a lack of directionality?

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked renewed interest in mission-driven innovation in industrial and socio-economic policy (see below for a framing of missions and mission-oriented innovation). The focus is a continuation of a “normative turn” in national and supranational science, technology and innovation (STI) policies over the last 15 years.

The directionality of STI policies shifted from pursuing predominantly growth and competitiveness-related objectives to addressing societal challenges. It brings together elements of innovation policy – focused on economic growth – and transition policy, which seeks beneficial change for society at large. This is important as we are seeing increasingly more evidence on the negative effects of innovation in countries across the globe, from exacerbated inequalities between places to greater inequalities between income groups…(More)”.