Capturing and explaining the effects of academic research and development - The case of nanotechnology
Licentiate thesis, 2010
This thesis explores how the effects of academic research and development (R&D) can be captured and explained, and examines how these effects come about in the case of nanotechnology in Sweden. This includes the understanding of what obstructs the effects and how policy can reduce obstacles.
The research questions are explored in two papers. The first one suggests a systemic conceptualization for capturing and explaining the effects of academic R&D by enriching the technological innovation system (TIS) approach with a classification of activities sprung from academic R&D. A literature analysis underpins the conceptual framework and identifies a wide range of impacts. In particular, impacts on less tangible processes in a TIS, such as influence on the direction of search, legitimation and development of positive externalities are recognized.
The second paper is a case study on the nanotechnological innovation system in Sweden and utilizes the conceptualization as an analytical framework. A wide variety of academic R&D activities are identified, aimed at many functions, such as ‘influencing the direction of search’ of actors in the system, enhancing the ‘legitimation’ of the field, strengthening ‘knowledge development and diffusion’ as well as ‘resource mobilisation’ in terms of, e.g. human capital. However, the impact is constrained by, e.g., uncertainties regarding environmental and health effects, markets and institutions. Policy can reduce the strength of these mechanisms by supporting knowledge development on potential environmental and health risks, facilitating the formation of nursing markets and funding verification and scaling up of production.
The thesis raises methodological issues related to delineating the TIS for a generic technology or knowledge field, the sequence of conducting the study and overall reflections on the viability of the analytical framework. It also enables a more informed policy perception of the impact of academic R&D that takes the diversity of impacts, the influence from the surrounding environment and possible time lags into account. The importance of a concerned policy actor with a holistic competence transcending traditional policy boundaries is also stressed.
The thesis suggests further research to develop the conceptualization, to explore mismatches in policy tasks and policy regimes and to extend the analysis from dealing with impacts in terms of growth to also include the direction of a TIS.