Author: GEIST

New directions for RIS studies and policies in the face of grand societal challenges

by Franz Tödtling, Michaela Trippl and Veronika Desch

The regional innovation system (RIS) approach has become a widely used framework for examining the dynamics of innovation across space as well as for crafting policies aimed at promoting the innovation capacity of regions. The dominant focus of RIS studies and regional innovation policies has been on technological innovation that drives competitiveness and economic growth. In light of persistent environmental and social challenges such as climate change, health problems, and growing inequalities, this narrow understanding of innovation appears to be obsolete. This article claims that the RIS approach requires critical rethinking and reassessment to provide a solid basis for informing the next generation of regional innovation policies. We explore how RIS scholarship and policies could benefit from engaging more deeply with an alternative understanding of innovation. Inspired by recent work on responsible innovation, mission-oriented and transformative innovation policies, we develop the notion of ‘challenge-oriented RIS’ (CORIS). In contrast to conventional understandings of RIS, this approach embraces a broader and more critical understanding of innovation, captures the directionality of change, opens up to new innovation actors and novel coordination mechanisms between various stakeholders and territorial scales, and pays more attention to the application side and upscaling of innovation within the region and beyond. Acknowledging that regions vary in their capacity to fashion transformative change and challenge-oriented innovation, the paper outlines new directions for place-based innovation policies.

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Cite as: Tödtling F., Trippl M. and Desch V. (2021) New directions for RIS studies and policies in the face of grand societal challenges. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(01), GEIST Working Paper series.