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Innovation Policy as cargo cult: Myth and Reality in knowledge-led Productivity Growth

  • Economics


This paper questions the current emphases in innovation policy on a particular interpretation of US performance which emphasises R&D intensive high technology producing sectors, spin-offs from the science base and private sector venture capital. Whilst recognizing the important role they may play it is argued that it has been greatly exaggerated to the neglect of other key factors. One is the importance of the diffusion and use of ICT as a general purpose technology beyond the ICT and other R&D intensive high-tech producing sectors. A second is the dominant role which performance transformation in existing firms plays in driving industry level productivity compared with the direct role of new entrants. A third is the diversified role played by universities in knowledge exchange which extends beyond a narrow focus on spin offs and licensing to encompass the creation of human capital and a wide range of formal and informal business interactions. Finally there is the major role that public R&D procurement policy has played in the US in the effective provision of public rather than private sector venture capital. The paper provides a broad overview of evidence on each of these factors and considers some broad implications for innovation policy which might be drawn on the basis of that review. In particular it concludes by arguing that the crafting of innovation policy in the context of any specific national innovation system requires a careful consideration of the structural features of that context and the particular opportunities and challenges facing policy practitioners in it. An imperfect interpretation of the experience of one country's system is unlikely to be an appropriate guide to innovation system failure or success elsewhere.

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