Innovation System Research: Where it came from and where it might go

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Lundvall, Bengt-Åke
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When the first edition of Lundvall (1992) and of Nelson (1993), the concept ‘national innovation system’ was known only by a handful of scholars and policy makers. Over a period of 15 years there has been a rapid and wide diffusion of the concept. Giving ‘Google’ the text strings ‘national innovation system(s)’ and ‘national system(s) of innovation’ you end up with almost 1.000.000 references. Going through the references you find that most of them are recent and that many of them are related to innovation policy efforts at the national level while others refer to new contributions in social science. Using Google Scholar (May 2007) we find that more than 2000 scientific publications have referred respectively to the different editions of Lundvall (2002) and Nelson (1993). Economists, business economists, economic historians, sociologists, political scientists and especially economic geographers have utilized the concept to explain and understand phenomena related to innovation and competence building.1 In this paper we argue that during the process of diffusion there has been a distortion of the concept as compared to the original versions as developed by Christopher Freeman and the IKE-group in Aalborg. Often policy makers and scholars have applied a narrow understanding of the concept and this has gives rise to so-called ‘innovation paradoxes’ which leave significant elements of innovation-based economic performance unexplained. Such a bias is reflected in studies of innovation that focus on science-based innovation and on the formal technological infrastructure and in policies aiming almost exclusively at stimulating R&D efforts in high-technology sectors.
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