Putting knowledge to work: The innovation challenge

How should Europe go about managing the transition to a knowledge-based economy? What challenges are associated with this task in the context of EU enlargement and economic globalisation? What will the creation of a knowledge-based economy mean for the EU’s Member States, its companies and its citizens? These were among the key questions explored by the DIME network of excellence, comprising 53 partner institutions in 21 countries. Covering a broad range of public policy issues, the network was particularly strong in the field of innovation, one of several policy areas in which DIME produced concrete policy recommendations.

DIME’s investigative activities focused on three broad domains, each representing a different aspect of the transition to a knowledge economy:

  • Dynamics of individual and organisational knowledge in a regional context.
  • The creation, accumulation and exchange of knowledge in networks, sectors and regions.
  • Dynamics of knowledge accumulation, regional cohesion and economic policies.

Bringing together numerous researchers in Europe and beyond, the network generated several publications, conferences and seminars in these domains. Of specific relevance to policy makers are the results of a DIME seminar held in Brussels in April 2011, entitled ‘Policies for the Innovation Union’. The event highlighted the project’s implications for higher education, cohesion and entrepreneurship.

Recommendations for policy makers were offered in each area as follows:

  • Higher education - The DIME seminar participants concluded that Europe’s universities should place greater emphasis not only on entrepreneurship, innovation and technology transfer management but also, if not primarily, on conducting high quality research and training future innovators. While a positive synergy effect was observed in universities cooperating with businesses, the seminar stressed the importance of universities remaining independent from economic and political influences. Institutions of higher learning should be free to define their own research programmes, the researchers noted. It was agreed, however, that universities (and not just businesses) should be asked to innovate and moreover to secure the quality standard of the knowledge produced.
  • Cohesion - the DIME researchers emphasised the need to counter ‘regional research exclusion’. It was noted that within the context of the EU’s Innovation Union flagship initiative, the European Commission has a mandate to stimulate international cooperation among research entities in weaker regions. ‘Geographical proximity’, the researchers pointed out, is a core element of innovation and plays a crucial role for regional development. Policy makers - and not just those dealing with innovation – are therefore encouraged to include all regions in the research process and exploit the potential of spill-over effects.
  • Knowledge-intensive entrepreneurship - the DIME seminar confirmed this to be a source of economic growth and competitiveness, and urged policy makers to focus on it accordingly. Barriers to entrepreneurship should be removed, especially those (such as scarcity of finance) facing successful firms that are trying to grow. It was observed that “across Europe there are many countries with very high numbers of entrants, but without any significant dynamics of growth.” Instead of concentrating on helping new entrepreneurial ventures, it was suggested that “policies should focus on removing the barriers to growth for those entrants which are successful.” On a more general level, the researchers urged policy makers to move beyond a linear model of innovation and adopt a more systemic view that captures the global dimension. In this field, as in many other related topics, further data and research is needed in order to fine tune the diagnosis and policy implications. The AEGIS project, funded under the EU’s 7th Framework Programme is the direct outcome of DIME’s conclusions. See: http://www.aegis-fp7.eu/

Another noteworthy example of DIME’s contribution to research on innovation policy is seen in a paper presented at the project’s final conference last year in Maastricht - ‘Transition policy and innovation policy: friends or foes?’1. The paper outlines options for achieving greater alignment between innovation policy (focused on growth) and transition policy (focused on sustainability). Arguing that insufficient attention has been paid to alignment between these policies, the authors warn that misalignment might hamper sustainability transitions, thereby undermining one of the European Union’s basic goals.

The paper describes a potential conflict between the two policy priorities, noting that “transition policy focuses on stimulating the new and phasing out the old whereas innovation policy often focuses on sustaining the old”. Greater policy alignment could be achieved if transition policy were made the overarching goal, the authors contend. In the absence of this prioritisation, however, steps can and are being taken to promote alignment and avoid conflict, the paper notes, citing the greater importance now being given to sustainable development in innovation policies anchored in the Innovation Union.

As a network of excellence, DIME succeeded in deepening Europe’s understanding of many of the major themes emphasised in Europe 2020, especially innovation. Policy makers throughout the European Union may benefit from the consortium's findings.


1 Floortje Alkemade, Simona Negro and Marko P. Hekkert. 2011. Transition policy and innovation policy: friends or foes? See: http://final.dime-eu.org/files/Hekkert_Alkemade_Negro_C5.pdf

DIME - Dynamics of Institution and Markets in Europe (duration: 1/5/2005 – 30/4/2011) was a network of excellence funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.

See: http://www.dime-eu.org/

Contact: Prof. Patrick Llerena, pllerena@cournot.u-strasbg.fr