13. Agility, tentativeness and resilience: how to govern innovation systems and STI policies in times of crises and transformative change?

Convenors: Carsten Dreher and Matthias Weber.

Session type: Full paper session.

The accelerating pace and sometimes disruptive character of technological, economic and social change has led not only to calls for more agile innovation systems but also for a more agile and proactive role of government in addressing emerging challenges (Mergel et al. 2018). These calls have become even more pressing with the COVID-19 pandemic calling for swift responses from science, research and innovation.

More agile and proactive governance is also needed in longer-term but highly complex and uncertain change processes, such as those associated with system transitions in energy, mobility or food supply, which are addressed by Sustainable Development Goals in general, and by climate and other mission-oriented policies in particular (Wanzenböck et al. 2020).

In line with insights from the agile management literature, agility needs to be balanced with the stability of organisational and institutional environments (O’Reilly and Tushman 2013). In addition, governments must follow transparent democratic processes and scrupulously follow the law,. Yet, they are also expected to master crises and prepare society for unexpected developments. This has been demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but is equally valid for the climate crisis, albeit at a different time scale.

This field of tension has given rise to experimental approaches in various policy fields, including STI policy. System transformations often require a coherent interplay of demand-side and supply-side policies. Experimentation in protected spaces is necessary to learn about their interaction, and specific governance modalities make these policy mixes effective (Huitema et al. 2018). Recent experiences have indicated that policy coordination – horizontal, vertical, multi-level and temporal – is difficult to realise and tends to require caution and tentativeness (Kuhlmann et al. 2019)

These demanding requirements point to the need to rethink how STI and related policy interventions are justified, designed, assessed, implemented and evaluated. The changes will not only affect the political-administrative system, but also the interactionsbetween public administration, stakeholders and users.

This track calls for contributions on experiences with agile, tentative and resilient governance approaches in STI policy and adjacent policy fields. Next to conceptual contributions on the meaning and dimensions of agility, we are particularly interested in empirical contributions on experiences with (supposedly) agile practices in government and public administration, covering the entire policy cycle.

Among the questions to be addressed are:

  • What does agility in the context of STI policy mean, and how does it relate to other definitions of agility in different disciplines? Are there similar concepts in use in different countries?
  • What levels, dimensions, characteristics and criteria of agility in STI policy can be distinguished? And how can they be operationalised in terms of indicators?
  • What particular challenges for agile STI policy can be identified? And what options do exist to address them?
  • What experiments with agile practices have been made in different countries? And how open are different political cultures to agile practices in public administration and policy-making?
  • How have specific policy initiatives and programmes implemented the need for more agility? What mechanisms for more effective policy learning have been established?
  • How have different countries reacted to the need for agile policy responses during the COVID-19 pandemic? And have any precautions been taken to be better prepared for future crises?



Huitema, D., Jordan, A., Munaretto, S., Hildén, M. (2018). Policy experimentation: core concepts, political dynamics, governance and impacts, Policy Sciences, 51, 143-159

Kuhlmann, S., Stegmaier, P., Konrad, K: (2019). The tentative governance of emerging science and technology—A conceptual introduction, Research Policy, 48/5), 1091-1097

Mergel, I., Gong, Y., Bertot, J. (2018). Agile government: Systematic literature review and future research. Government Information Quarterly, 35(2), 291–298.

O’Reilly, C. A., Tushman, M. L. (2013). Organizational ambidexterity: Past, present, and future. Academy of management Perspectives, 27(4), 324-338.

Wanzenböck, I., Wesseling, J., Frenken, K., Hekkert, M.P., Weber K.M. (2020). A framework for mission-oriented innovation policy: Alternative pathways through the problem–solution space, Science and Public Policy, 47(4), 474-489