1. The Economics of Innovation and New Technologies


Pierre Mohnen
René Wintjes

The economic analysis of new technologies and innovation is at the heart of the UNU-MERIT research portfolio, and is guided by specific questions such as: What is innovation? How can it be measured? Why do firms, households, countries innovate? What is the impact of innovation on economic activity? Why should, and how can, innovation be promoted? What are new promising technologies and how can developing countries manage the adoption of new technologies?

Technological change and innovation has traditionally been measured by research and development expenditure, patents, publications and the appearance of new products, services or production techniques on the market. New measures, or combinations of the old measures, could increase our understanding of innovation. Innovation can be of different types, requiring different measures and approaches to model and tackle it. For instance, innovation can also be non-technological, institutional or organisational.

Innovation can have different impacts on the economy, from productivity growth to employment, wages, profits, income inequality and well-being. These effects may differ across sectors, countries, levels of development and phases of the business cycle. Examining the potential direct and indirect effects of innovation will determine the need for government intervention.

In order to device the right innovation policies, it is important to find out what determines the direction and magnitude of innovative activity: competition, scale effects, complementarities, prices and so on. Once societal objectives are defined, determinants are understood and impacts are measurable, the type, magnitude and combination of innovation policies can be examined. It is important to conduct ex ante and ex post evaluations of innovation policies.


    Examples of ongoing research projects and topics:

    • Ad Notten, Hugo Hollanders, Fabiana Visentin and Serdar Turkeli are working on the BIGPROD project. The main aim of the project is to arrive at a better explanation of the inconsistent and conflicting interactions of technological and market processes currently observed in the global economy. By utilising new “Big” data sources and processes, which will result in new metrics and economic indicators, BIGPROD aims to provide input to improve on the existing econometric models used for productivity analysis.
    • Pierre Mohnen and Tania Treibich are involved in the H2020-funded project GROWINPRO (Growth, Welfare, Innovation, Productivity) involving 13 other institutions under the leadership of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna. The project is meant to investigate the causes of the growth slowdown and to propose an integrated policy package able to sustain an inclusive and welfare-enhancing process of growth, resilient to climate change and population aging. We shall investigate topics such as the direction of innovation activities, the diverging patterns of growth, employment and specialisation across countries and sectors, the microeconomic drivers of productivity change, the links between innovation and structural change and the policies that address societal challenges. The basic macro model underlying the analysis is the agent-based model.
    • In line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) n. 5 (Achieve gender equality), Fabiana Visentin and Jacques Mairesse, in collaboration with Michele Pezzoni (GREDEC, Université Côte d’Azur) and with the support of  the French Institute of Physics of CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche), are investigating the gender productivity puzzle in Science. The project aims at understanding the reasons behind the widely documented and unexplained productivity gender gap in science. It focuses on the role played by factors such as the institutional setting, individual and team characteristics in explaining the productivity gender gap. The uniqueness of the study relies on using novel longitudinal datasets complemented by survey data on family duties and administrative appointments conducted on a large sample of CNRS French physicists. The accuracy and the richness of the data will allow us to go beyond the descriptive approach that is mainly used in the current studies identifying important determinants of the gender gap.
    • Related to research theme 2, several researchers (e.g., Neil Foster, Bart Verspagen and Önder Nomaler) work on specific aspects of 4th Industrial Revolution technologies. This includes modelling work on so-called perpetual growth, indicator work using patents and trade data, and the assessment of automation risk for jobs.
    • Related to research theme 3, Lili Wang and Önder Nomaler are working on mapping technological trajectories of new and emerging technologies, including the interaction between science and technology. This makes use of bibliometric and patent data, and often uses the perspective of network theory.
    • PhD students are involved in the following topics: analysis of the effect of the introduction of mobile money in African countries, evaluation of the effects of science parks on innovation and productivity in China, the role of informal entrepreneurship in employment dynamics in Sub-Saharan Africa, characteristics of local, regional and global value chains of South African based IT enabled service providers.

    • Interreg Euregion Meuse-Rhine IMPACT: International Meeting in Performing Arts & Creative Technologies. This project aimed to set up the first cross-regional, cross-sectoral, research and development, production and dissemination cooperation cluster in the field of new technologies and the performing arts.

1. Economics of Innovation and New Technologies
2. Structural Change and Economic Development
3. Economic Complexity and Innovation
4. Governance and institutions
5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Sustainability Transitions
6. Migration and Development
7. Social Protection
8. Population, Development and Labour Economics