6. Assessing the transformative potential of research and innovation policies

Convenors: Douglas K. R. Robinson, Mireille Matt and Jordi Molas-Gallart.

Session type: Full paper session.

Current policy discourse is increasingly attending to the need for research to address the “Grand Societal Challenges” (Cagnin, Amanatidou and Keenan, 2012) that we are facing. The recognition that addressing these challenges will often require profound systemic change has led to research and innovation policy strategies that explicitly seek such change. These transformative policies emphasize the interactions between demand and supply of research and innovation and the need to articulate shared future visions towards which these policies are oriented (Weber and Rohracher, 2012, Borras and Edler 2020). The ambitious and complex character of this approach have in turn led to policy formulations that are experimental in nature and seek to unlock the interactions between new policy experimentation and socio-technical system change (Schot and Steinmueller 2019).

However, the extent to which specific localized experiments, or wider policy interventions can contribute towards systemic change poses a difficult analytical and evaluative challenge. With transformation goals being postulated by a number research funding programmes, including Horizon Europe (Robinson et al. 2020), there is a growing need to develop support tools and approaches that can aid in the characterization, analysis and understanding of how research can contribute to the transformative change envisioned in grand societal challenges and missions.

Although many of the policy proposals that are currently being discussed focus on innovation processes, we argue that research must also be included in the debate on transformative change. The complex nature of grand societal challenges requires that new and diverse knowledge is continuously produced to fuel and drive solutions. Moreover, many of the potential solutions may be at very early stages of development, where knowledge about the pathways linking knowledge production and the implementation of applied solutions are highly uncertain. Thus, the world of research has to be well linked to the discourse on transformative change (Joly et al. 2019).

The main aim of the track is to discuss our understanding about the contribution of research activities to transformative societal impacts. We would like to open the debate and tackle the following issues:

  • How should researchers be enabled to participate and contribute to socio-technical change? Researchers are not necessarily prepared to design and conduct transformative research projects. This, arguably, “new type” of research would induce researchers to develop new routines and strategies enabling them to direct research towards the envisaged transformations. For instance, their work may be informed by scenarios of sustainable and equitable futures and of the change leading to them. Should such futures analysis play a role in the establishment of research priorities and practices. If so, how?
  • To what extent, and how, can the dimensions of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) be used to support transformative research? What is the role and contribution of Open Science to transformative goals? How can the awareness of the potential detrimental effects of research contribute to research and research policy designs?
  • What new ways of conducting and managing research are currently available that incorporate anticipatory considerations? Where are the gaps and how should we as a community fill them? Such gaps will call for new capabilities, both among researchers and research managers. Who should develop these capabilities – the researchers themselves or specialist managers or consultants playing specialized support roles?
  • Which type of evaluation tools could support and induce the transformative role of research? What methods and techniques can generate learning processes, reflexivity and adaptation to help researchers and program managers in this uncertain and complex journey? What is the nature of impact assessment within this context? Where and when should impact analysis and assessment be conducted? At early stages, so as to shape directions in real-time? If so, what are the challenges of conducting and embedding real-time and ex-ante impact assessments in the research process? How to combine ex-ante, real-time and ex-post impact assessment in a transformative research context?

This track calls for contributions that address one or more of these themes, or new ones in-line with the general thrust of the track.



Borrás, S., & Edler, J. (2020). The roles of the state in the governance of socio-technical systems’ transformation. Research Policy, 49(5), 103971. 

Cagnin, C., Amanatidou, E. and Keenan, M. (2012) ‘Orienting european innovation systems towards grand challenges and the roles that FTA can play’, Science and Public Policy, 39(2), pp. 140–152. doi: 10.1093/scipol/scs014. 

Joly, P.-B., Matt, M. and Robinson, D.K.R. (2019) Research Impact Assessment: From ex-post to real-time assessment. Journal for Research and Technology Policy Evaluation. Issue 47. March 2019 

Robinson, D.K.R.,  Simone, A. and Mazzonetto, M.  (2020) RRI legacies: co-creation for responsible, equitable and fair innovation in Horizon Europe, Journal of Responsible Innovation, DOI: 10.1080/23299460.2020.1842633 

Schot, J. and Steinmueller, W. E. (2018) ‘Three frames for innovation policy: R&D, systems of innovation and transformative change’, Research Policy, 47(9), pp. 1554–1567. doi: 10.1016/j.respol.2018.08.011. 

Weber, K. M. and Rohracher, H. (2012) ‘Legitimizing research, technology and innovation policies for transformative change: Combining insights from innovation systems and multi-level perspective in a comprehensive “failures” framework’, Research Policy, 41(6), pp. 1037–1047. doi: 10.1016/j.respol.2011.10.015.