Research Network summary
This research network explores the conceptual, methodological, empirical, and policy dimensions of the recent shift from knowledge-intensive to “transformative knowledge regions”. By doing so, it seeks to renew the understanding of knowledge as an asset in regional development in light of on-going sustainability transitions. The network brings together scholars of the geography of knowledge and sustainability transitions, as well as established and early career researchers.
Aims and ambitions of the Research Network
In the year 2000, the European Commission launched the Lisbon Agenda seeking to make Europe “the most competitive and the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world” (European Council 2000). This agenda had significant impact on regional development strategies, such as smart specialisation (Trippl et al.2020), which focuses on the support of knowledge intensive sectors, organisations and activities, e.g. research and development.
Twenty years after launching the Lisbon Agenda, the EU Green Deal policy (European Commission 2019) requires reconsidering profoundly the role of knowledge in regional development, as well as its dynamics of generation and use within and across places from a critical and renewed perspective. While the Lisbon agenda sought to enhance the intensity of knowledge creation and sharing to foster innovation driven by market competition and selection, the current Green Deal policy defines expected directions for innovation that should transform the economy and the society towards more sustainable ways of production, consumption and living. This is the background and starting point of this RSA research network.
The network aims at exploring the shift from knowledge-intensive to “transformative-knowledge regions” to renew the understanding of knowledge as an asset in regional development in light of ongoing sustainability transitions. Thereby, the network strives to:
- further conceptualise sustainability transitions and innovation directionality challenges from an
explicit knowledge perspective,
- discuss new (or further develop) methodological and empirical avenues to study the spatiality of
transformative knowledge, its modes of generation, use and implementation, and
- disseminate results to regional development practitioners, e.g. through a policy forum.
The Lisbon Agenda has influenced today’s European economies and the policy thinking that is mobilised to achieve sustainability goals. However, the general research and policy understanding, which relates to the constant increase of the knowledge intensity in Europe and its regions, now needs to be complemented by an understanding of knowledge that is actually transformative. This means going beyond the policy proposals of the Lund Declaration (2009), claiming to make the EU a leader in science and technology innovations dedicated to the contemporary Grand Challenges (e.g. climate change, demographic change, inequality). Making knowledge actually transformative implies the conceptualisation and support of a knowledge ecosystem that is not merely about technical solutionism, but also about changes of practices, imaginaries and rationales, subject to democratic and citizen legitimacy as well as of political power or influential denialism. Beyond scientific knowledge, more hands-on, practical and place-based knowledge is needed to deal with the various local manifestations of current grand challenges.
This shift to a more transformative paradigm has raised new important research issues regarding how to give direction to science, research and innovation through “mission-oriented” policy that is not submitted to, but actively shapes markets in society (Boon et al. 2022; Mazzucato, 2021). From a sustainability transitions view, numerous scientific contributions have underlined the necessity to broaden the scope of innovation. This goes along with production and technology issues, but also with the introduction of a social innovation approach, an emphasis on socio-technical and institutional changes and the involvement a broader range of actors such as public bodies, civil society and NGOs (Boon et al., 2020; Coenen & Morgan, 2019; Morgan, 2018; Schot and Steinmueller, 2018).
The aforementioned issues have made recent inroads in regional studies and economic geography (e.g. Flanagan et al., 2022; Tödtling et al., 2022; Uyarra et al., 2019), by building on the research agenda of the geography of sustainability transitions (Truffer and Coenen, 2012; Truffer et al., 2015). A particular focus was on niche innovations and their diffusion across space (e.g. Hansen and Coenen, 2015; van Winden and Carvalho, 2019), on the multi-scalarity of sustainability transitions (Miörner and Binz, 2021), on the legitimation, and on the dynamics and agents of regional “green path creation” (Boschma, Frenken and Truffer, 2017; Grillitisch and Hansen, 2019; Gong et al., 2022). While these studies implicitly challenge conventional innovation rationales, they hardly address knowledge as an explicit research matter. Most often, knowledge is considered as an implicit vector of change associated with technology and as co-evolving with other resources in innovation systems.
Against this background, the proposed research network strives to reconsider established conceptualisations of knowledge and regional development by clarifying the characteristics and configurations of regional knowledge in sustainability transitions (cf. research questions 1.1 – 1.4., special session 1). Knowledge intensity at the micro (niche, firm, individual) level is no longer sufficient. Knowledge needs to feed into and drive sustainability transitions by contributing to identifying, justifying and institutionalizing solutions to complex grand problems, for example expressed in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Jeannerat and Crevoisier 2022). This goes along with a widening of actors with the capacity to develop transformative knowledge, for example by addressing change in behavioural routines and societal values through social innovation (Rabadjieva & Butzin 2019), and by shaping places of transformative knowledge generation. The shaping and constitution of such spatial transformative knowledge ecosystems is addressed in the research questions 2.1. – 2.5 (event 1 – thematic workshop).
In the search for new knowledge concepts and approaches to regional development, it is important to align to the scientific achievements (incl. research methods) about the nature and geography of knowledge. Although developed in relation to the knowledge economy and innovating organisations, they may also be useful for studying sustainability transitions. For instance, the need for transformative knowledge does not entail a need of changing the fundamental understanding of knowledge as a social, practice-based, time-spatial situated phenomenon, provided by scholars within economic geography and organizational studies (Amin & Cohendet, 2004; Asheim & Gertler, 2005; Brown & Duguid, 1991). However, by building upon key findings of this studies, the network will explore new or further developed methodological approaches to study the spatiality of transformative knowledge, to account for the new actors (e.g. civil society), places (e.g. living labs, real laboratories) and expected qualities of knowledge (e.g. action-oriented) in sustainability transitions (cf. research questions 3.1. – 3.3, event 2 – thematic online workshop).
The exploration of transformative knowledge ecosystems intends to build upon the approach of “territorial knowledge dynamics” (Crevoisier & Jeannerat, 2009; Jeannerat & Crevoisier 2015). Territorial knowledge dynamics conceptualise the multi-scalarity, the combination of differentiated types of knowledge and learning, and the involvement and contribution of actors across varying institutional contexts. They were the underlying rationale to study knowledge and regional change in multiple empirical studies (including Butzin & Widmaier 2015, Halkier et al. 2012, Strambach & Halkier 2013, James et al. 2015, Vale & Carvalho 2013, Vissers
& Dankbaar 2015). Therefore, a dedicated event will address empirical results and case studies of transformative knowledge ecosystems (cf. research questions 4.1. – 4.3., event 3 – thematic workshop).
Furthermore, the strong policy relevance (e.g. the European Green Deal, mission-oriented or transformative innovation policies and Sustainable Development Goals) in the suggested transformative knowledge regions concept calls for policy related research questions and further discussions (cf. research questions 5.1. – 5.4,
event 4 – policy forum).
Proposed Plan of Events and Activities with Indicative Dates
To achieve the aims of the proposed research network, the following research questions will be discussed during four thematic events and two special sessions in RSA conferences. All these events will be open to all interested participants.
1. From intensive to transformative knowledge dynamics (Special session 1)
1.1. What are the distinctive features of transformative knowledge dynamics (in comparison to the knowledge-intensive dynamics related to the knowledge economy, such as scientific, research-based knowledge or technical engineering)?
1.2. Which knowledge conceptualisations would be useful for studying the types of knowledge, learning and communities that are involved in sustainability transitions? For example, is the knowledge base typology of analytical, synthetic, and symbolic knowledge (Asheim & Coenen 2005) applicable also for studying transition processes?
1.3. What are the connections and possible symbiotic effects between knowledge-intensity and transformative knowledge?
1.4. What is the role and contribution of different types of knowledge dynamics in different phases of sustainability transitions?
2. Transformative knowledge ecosystems (Event 1 – Thematic workshop)
2.1. In which ways does transformational knowledge creation connect to space? How do transformative knowledge actors connect within and across space and places?
2.2. How should we understand a transformative knowledge ecosystem? Which configurations of regional knowledge ecosystems, including their variety of actors, learning communities and multi-scalar connections, seems especially suited for realizing transitions?
2.3. Do the knowledge ecosystems in regions with high performance in sustainability transitions have distinct transformative capacities compared to regions with lesser sustainability performance, for instance regarding involvement of citizens, households and neighbourhoods?
2.4. Are the institutional thickness and complexity of urban areas compared to peripheral and rural areas an advantage or a weakness in terms of transformative knowledge creation and ecosystems?
2.5. What would be a typology of varying territorial transformative knowledge ecosystems?
3. Methods to empirically study transformative knowledge (Event 2 – Thematic online workshop)
3.1. How can we empirically study transformative knowledge dynamics and transformative knowledge ecosystems (and their geographies)?
3.2. How can the complexity of knowledge ecosystems be represented (modelled) in research designs?
3.3. Would it be feasible to apply innovation biography methodology (Butzin & Widmaier, 2015) in the making of “transition biographies”, i.e. mapping the regional/urban pathways towards sustainability transition and the underlying knowledge dynamics and major events in industries, science, politics, culture and society? How to link those to current and new methods (e.g. Strambach & Pflitsch 2020) in the study of sustainability transitions?
4. Empirical results and case studies (Event 3 – Thematic workshop)
4.1. What is the role of and contribution of specific industries and sectors such as foundational services and infrastructures (energy, water, communication, schools, welfare, agriculture) for transformative knowledge creation and broader regional sustainability transitioning?
4.2.What are the new challenges for research and education institutions as well as start-up to be actually transformative?
4.3.How do different types of regions (e.g. urban and rural) perform in sustainability transitions, how is their knowledge ecosystem configured and what is their capacity for transformative knowledge creation?
5. Policy implications (Event 4 – Policy forum)
5.1. How can the generation and implementation of transformative knowledge be supported by policy makers?
5.2. How can transformative knowledge ecosystems be supported?
5.3. What is the role of research and education institutions for placed-based transformative knowledge policy?
5.4. What is the role of politics, political values, and governance directions in different phases of sustainability transition?