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National Innovation System: The System Approach in Historical Perspective

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Godin, B., 2009. National Innovation System: The System Approach in Historical Perspective. Science, Technology, & Human Values 34, 476–501.
Thematic Area
Development studies, Systems thinking-Theoretical framework and assessment
In the late 1980s, a new conceptual framework appeared in the science, technology, and innovation studies: the National Innovation System. The framework suggests that the research system's ultimate goal is innovation, and that the system is part of a larger system composed of sectors such as government, university, and industry and their environment. The framework also emphasized the relationships between the components or sectors, as the "cause" that explains the performance of innovation systems. Most authors agree that the framework came from researchers like Freeman, Nelson, and Lundvall. In this article, the author want to go further back in time and show what the "system approach" owes to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and its very early works from the 1960s. This article develops the idea that the system approach was fundamental to OECD work, and that, although not using the term National Innovation System as such, the organization considerably influenced the above-mentioned authors.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
This article gives a good background to how the concept of national innovation systems developed within the OECD and with affiliated researchers. It discusses how the innovation system has been framed and thus provides an example of how system framing results from measurables and from ongoing discourses. The main components in the innovation system are the social/economic sectors of government, universities, industry and non-profit. The main emphasis is on how these sectors work together to facilitate innovation in a nation´s firms. According to the author, the focus is also mainly on technological innovation.

A national innovation system can also be seen as comprising various subsystems like the research system and the technological system. It forms part of larger systems such as the economic and political systems.
Point of Strength
The article provides a historical account of how a systems framing has been constructed by an international organization in contact with researchers. It provides a number of insights in the process of systems framing.