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Innovation policies in the 21st century have evolved in response to complex contemporary challenges, adopting new features with deep transformative potential that project them as next-generation innovation policies. Such policies go beyond improving the functioning of research and innovation systems ...

Innovation policies in the 21st century have evolved in response to complex contemporary challenges, adopting new features with deep transformative potential that project them as next-generation innovation policies. Such policies go beyond improving the functioning of research and innovation systems alone, and aim at deep, system-wide changes in economic and socio-technical systems, through changes in priority-setting and resource allocations, in institutional setups, industrial infrastructures, technologies, production and consumption patterns, etc. to meet societal functions or needs, such as a cleaner environment, mobility, food or housing.

To exemplify, a more systemic perspective has been adopted that broadened the focus from science and research as primary determinants of innovation to economic, technological, and societal determinants of innovation, such as a country or region’s potential to generate and absorb new technologies, human capital, infrastructures and market mechanisms, institutional capacity, regulatory frameworks, etc. The focus on grand societal challenges such as climate change, demographic, health, poverty, and inequality concerns, connected innovation more closely to goals for a sustainable future defined under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework. EU concepts such as responsible research and innovation (RRI) and, more recently, mission-oriented research and innovation concentrate innovation activities around well-defined societal goals and bring together the triple objectives of smart innovation-led growth, inclusion, and sustainability. Smart Specialization Strategies (S3), a core concept of the European Commission’s 2014-2020 Cohesion Policy, embodied a complex place-based approach that aims to make innovation a priority for all regions. Through a bottom-up “entrepreneurial discovery process” with wide stakeholder involvement, S3 paved the way to an innovation policy paradigm that is intricately connected to industrial, educational, and regional development policies.

Growing awareness on the role of government and governance in policy-making and policy implementation invited new interdisciplinary research at the junction between innovation studies and political science, to examine specific political systems’ features that may stimulate or inhibit innovative change. Among them are concepts such as transformational governance, in the sense of government capacity to develop initiatives that can keep up with continuously changing social contexts; multi-level governance in the sense of intricate connections between regional, national, and EU levels; governance patterns in centralized vs. decentralized institutional setups; ways in which authority, legitimacy, trust, and power are built and exerted.

Attracting interest from government policy-makers and public administrations, academic researchers, as well as other innovation stakeholders, ‘next generation’ innovation policies requires not only new design and implementation mechanisms but also new mindsets and institutional cultures that can be both challenging and rewarding for the broader governance systems in which they operate.

The goal of this Research Topic is to explore in-depth the mechanisms by which next-generation innovation policies take shape and get implemented, the socio-economic context in which they evolve, their rationales and transformative change potential, the shifts in funding, and other resource-allocation mechanisms they induce, and the new challenges they raise to public administrations and the broader governance systems they are part of. This exploration may provide new insights and food for thought for academic researchers, policymakers, and public administrations, as well as other interesting innovation stakeholders, in view of stimulating the broader adoption of ‘next generation’ innovation policies. 

For this Research Topic, we invite articles presenting original research, hypothesis and theory, methods, policy and practice reviews, conceptual analyses, case studies, cross-country analyses that address (but are not limited to) the following themes:
• Drivers and barriers to the design and implementation of next-generation innovation policies.
• Governance features that may stimulate or hinder next-generation innovation policies, e. g:
o Governance vision, goals, approach.
o Institutional capacity to manage national and/or regional innovation policies, strategies, or programs with potential for deep transformative change in economic and/or socio-technical systems.
o Preparedness to facilitate and manage multi-level bottom-up and top-down processes, to deal with shared tasks and competencies, and orchestrate interactions among multiple stakeholders.
o Mechanisms for building and exerting authority, legitimacy, trust, and power in centralized and decentralized innovation systems.
• Transformative innovation policies (principles, cases, institutions/actors) addressing the latest challenges such as the ‘twin transitions’ (digital and green), inclusive innovation, the COVID pandemic, etc.
• How to connect large-scale mission-oriented innovation policy with place-based transformative innovation, such as smart specialization strategies?
• R&I funding programs design for transformative innovation.
• Building effective coordination and communication across multiple policy fields and management structures.
• Role of experimentation and a learning-by-doing culture in policy design and implementation.
• Evidence of the actual or potential impact of transformative change brought about by next-generation innovation policies.
• Transformative policies’ evaluation and feedback to the next policy cycle.
• Human capital for the next-generation innovation policies: training the next generation of policymakers, analysts, researchers, etc.
• Role of civil society in decision-making and innovation governance.

Keywords: next-generation innovation policy, transformative policies, innovation systems, multi -level governance, political systems, digital transition, green transition

Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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