Technical Innovation Systems
Faculty of Geosciences Utrecht University

What is TIS?

The purpose of analysing a Technological Innovation System is to analyse and evaluate the development of a particular technological field in terms of the structures and processes that support or hamper it. The basic steps that are taken are the following:

First, we analyze the structure of the innovation system. These are the actors, institutions, networks and technology that make up the system. Examples of actors are organizations responsible for education, R&D, industrial activities, and consumers. Examples of institutions are supportive legislation and technology standards. Examples of networks are the linkages between organisations in research projects and advocacy coalitions. Technology is part of the innovation system as it enables and constrains the activities of actors in the innovation system. Second, we analyse how the system is functioning. We will use seven system functions that stem from theory and are empirically validated as indicators. We analyse each function, but also the interaction between the functions. Finally, after we have established at what state of development a technological innovation system is, we can analyze the system problems that block the well-functioning of the innovation system.

Even though different innovation systems may have similar components, they may function in a completely different way. Therefore, measuring how innovation systems are functioning is considered as the big breakthrough in innovation systems research. In a number of scientific articles lists of evaluation criteria are presented to evaluate how innovation systems are functioning. These assessment criteria are labeled in the literature ‘functions of innovation systems’. In Hekkert et al. (2007) the following functions of innovation systems are put central:

  1. entrepreneurial activities,
  2. knowledge development,
  3. knowledge exchange,
  4. guidance of the search,
  5. formation of markets,
  6. mobilization of resources,
  7. counteracting resistance to change.

The important difference with the structure of the innovation system is that these systemfunctions are much more evaluative in character. Focusing on functions allows us to address the performance of an innovation system. In other words: the structure presents insight in who is active in the system, the system functions present insight in what they are doing and whether this is sufficient to develop successful innovations.

In addition to quantitative indicators, the functioning of an innovation system needs to be assessed by experts or key stakeholders that are active in the innovation system. However, in this lesson we will limit ourselves to quantitative analysis and desk research.

The reason to evaluate the innovation system by means of expert opinions is that it is impossible at the moment to solely evaluate an innovation system based on quantitative criteria. The reason for this is that technologies and regions are different from each other and that it is impossible to define an optimal configuration of the innovation system. Consequently, benchmarking innovation systems is difficult; what works in one country may not work in another country. Furthermore, the development of an innovation system often depends strongly on the competition in other parts of the world and very often has very technology specific dynamics. For some technologies much more R&D funding is necessary than for others. Therefore, the best way to assess the functioning of the innovation system is by involving a sufficient amount of experts in the evaluation.

However, just asking how the innovation system scores on the different functions is not sufficient. The seven functions are quite broad in their description and a much more detailed set of indicators is necessary to make sure that the answers by the respondents are comparable. The function knowledge development can for example be measured by asking about the quantity, the quality and the direction of research activities. Therefore, very specific diagnostic questions need to be developed to assess the functioning of innovation systems.

In summary, in order to monitor the development of emerging technologies, this lesson offers 5 steps that will be described in detail to perform the innovation system analysis. The first steps describe the mapping of the structure and functioning of the innovation system. After establishing the stage of development, step 4 and 5 identify the main barriers and provide handholds for appropriate policy making.