Towards the societal system of innovation: The case of metropolitan areas in Europe

Serdar Turkeli & René Wintjes


Innovation serves many purposes. In this paper we study new varieties of innovation and innovation policy which address societal challenges in the largest cities in Europe. These metropolitan areas consistently show resounding characteristics in terms of multiplicities of innovation, governance and societal challenges. They serve as 'living labs' and 'lead-markets' for solutions to societal challenges. The identified and analysed cases of social innovation initiatives in these metropolitan areas organize for new resourceful interactions between the demand for social innovations and the capacities to generate multi-domain solutions. It is the context dependencies of these cases of social innovation that open up diverse interest-based possibilities. In this daily life-world context a multiplicity of actors select local-interactive processes. The broad range of actors includes: government research labs, public sector, creative and other service industries, social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, student platforms, and profession-linked open communities. Such interactions represent emerging transformative capabilities for addressing societal challenges, turning local-societal (political/administrative; economic/ financial; technological/social) solutions into multi-level (regional, national, global) opportunities, and a wider range of benefits. In metropolitan areas, these multi-domain and multi-level potentials are activated by organizing societal synergies between "social participative creativity" and "economic innovative efficiency" for any level. Existing concepts of innovation systems do not capture and explain these unique societal synergies, because they only focus on one specific type of innovation and one specific type of sectoral, technological, socio-technical, social or spatio-organizational (national, regional) system of innovation. It requires acknowledging that innovation and innovation systems are not only instrumental for economic benefits in a system-technocratic sense, but also for addressing societal challenges in a grassroots-communicative sense. Therefore we construct an overarching yet deepened concept: "the societal system of innovation", a theoretical-analytical framework based on empirical background. We do not add yet another type of innovation system, but acknowledge the overlaps and linkages between the existing types of innovation systems. The existing types are the special cases of the societal system of innovation with respect to the presence/absence of organizations, where organizational rules and interactional play between them. Over-embedded or lacking interactions among these special-case innovation systems cannot capture evolving contextuality (life-world) for innovation. This shortcoming provides a complementary policy rationale for being critical in the organization of widened interactions (S2S, system-to-system; G2G, grassroots-to-grassroots) and deepened contextuality (S2G, systems-to-grassroots; and G2S, grassroots-to-systems) under the concept, instruments, measurement/assessment of the societal system of innovation.

Keywords: The Societal System of Innovation, Societal Challenges, Metropolitan Areas, Social Innovation, Europe

JEL Classification: O30, O35, O38, O52

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