A Complexity-Theoretic Perspective on Innovation Policy

Koen Frenken


It is argued that innovation policy based on notions of market failure or system failure is too limited in the context of current societal challenges. I propose a third, complexity-theoretic approach. This approach starts from the observation that most innovations are related to existing activities, and that policy’s additionality is highest for unrelated diversification. To trigger unrelated diversification into activities that contribute to solving societal challenges, government’s main task is to organize the process of demand articulation. This process leads to clear and manageable societal objectives that effectively guide a temporary collation of actors to develop solutions bottom-up. The combination of a broad coalition, a clear objective and tentative governance are the means to cope with the inherent complexity of modern-day innovation.


Innovation policy; complexity theory; evolutionary economics; entrepreneurial state; temporary innovation system; societal challenges; tentative governance

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.20377/cgn-41

Copyright (c) 2017 Koen Frenken

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