Public policy for open innovation: Opening up to a new domain for research and practice

Introduction to Special Issue by Antonio Bob Santos et al: “Open Innovation (OI) emerged as one of the most important research topics in management and economics literature in the last decades, especially when understanding research and change phenomena (Martin 20122019). The concept, originally advanced by Chesbrough (2003), reflects and articulates changes of the global learning economy emerging from the development of digital technologies, ubiquitous innovation, intellectual labour mobility, and the growth of markets for knowledge resources and processes. More recently, Chesbrough and Bogers (2014: 17) redefined OI as “a distributed innovation process based on purposively managed knowledge flows across organizational boundaries” in which the implied notion of the business model could apply to a multitude of organisations and assume a variety of forms (cf. Caraça et al., 2009Zott et al., 2011). OI has been analysed in different dimensions, such as inside-out and outside-in knowledge flows, across levels of analysis (not only company level, but also individual and ecosystem level), and from different perspectives (such as regional/territorial and national/international) (Bogers et al., 2017Dahlander and Gann, 2010West et al., 2014).

OI is also a hot topic in actual business life, with a growing number of companies adopting a more fluid approach, namely what concerns to the knowledge valorisation and collaborative innovation practices. Research has accordingly also put a lot of attention on corporate aspects of OI with a particular focus on how to leverage external knowledge, management of OI networks, and the role of users and communities in OI (Randhawa et al., 2016Vanhaverbeke et al., 2014West and Bogers, 2014). Even though it may constitute an important boundary condition for OI practices, there has been a reasonably limited focus on the role of public policies in OI (Bogers et al., 2018de Jong et al., 2010Santos, 2016). Nevertheless, recent studies show that the adoption of OI can be stimulated through the existence of public policies favourable to a context of knowledge sharing, collaborative R&D and innovation, knowledge exploitation and valorisation, mobility and qualification of human resources or supporting innovative ideas (Beck et al., 2020Masucci et al., 2020; Mina et al. 2014; etc.).

All-in-all, a more elaborate focus on the role of public policy in OI is merited, and this is what this special issue provides. Pro-OI innovation policy can be understood as a general posture and the deployment of a specific set of instruments that seek to keep learning processes distributed and knowledge transfers unhurdled, while ensuring self-intended behaviours do not compromise the expansion of effective opportunities for the broader societal constituents. In this special issue the papers extend the portfolio of insights in a variety of ways.

The papers included in this special issue illustrate the breadth of roles that public policy can play in promoting OI practices and in the possible initiatives and instruments that can be applied to this end. The papers also hint at some of the challenges facing public policy to strengthen OI, e.g. with a view of measuring desired OI activities and effects, dealing with local and contextual factors that affect OI-related outcomes, and selecting and reaching appropriate target-actors (SMEs, business accelerators, public research institutes, universities) and contexts (science parks, clusters, regions)with the potential to engage in OI practices but with little or no current practices to build on. We learn that there is great scope for further research to help policymakers navigate the landscape of possible OI-promoting policies and actions and in supporting the design and implementation of effective public policy for OI….(More)”.