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Background paper about GLOBELICS by Bengt-Ake Lundvall and Luc Soete

GLOBELICS: GLOBal network for Economics of Learning, Innovation and Competence building Systems

Bengt-Ake Lundvall, IKE-group, Aalborg University – bal@business.auc.dk
Luc Soete, UNU-MERIT, The Netherlands - soete@merit.unu.edu


The basic intention behind GLOBELICS is to create a global network of scholars who apply the concept ‘systems of innovation and competence building’ as their analytical framework. The idea is to bring together relevant information about what is going o­n in different parts of the globe and to share experiences worldwide regarding methodological issues, analytical results and policy relevant experiences among senior scholars. In doing so, it is hoped to provide a continuous mixture, in the GLOBELICS language a “cooking pot”, of new ideas, thoughts and research and policy proposals which might also be of particular interest to PhD-students.

There are several reasons which motivated us to initiate this project. First and foremost is the fact that as research monies in the US, Europe and Japan increase under pressures of international competitiveness between the Triad, there is a growing gap emerging with institutional support to scholars in the Southern and Eastern Hemispheres working in our field. The increased awareness of the gap in research and innovation activities between the US and Europe has led to a European policy aim to increase research activities within Europe significantly between now and 2010 (see the so-called Lisbon declaration and Barcelona target); the need for more integrated and network research activities also in the social sciences is o­ne of core aims of the so-called 6th EU framework programme earmarking some 8 billion euro to European research over the next four years. As justified as these initiatives appear from the local, European perspective, however, they are likely to further exacerbate the growing gap in access to knowledge between the rich core (US, Europe and Japan) and the rest of the world. It is our belief and claim that as unique transnational institutions, European knowledge institutions in particular need to take o­n a bigger responsibility in taking initiatives that counter this tendency. A second reason relates to the traditional national and state focus of social sciences research (Ulrich Beck 2002).

Taken from this perspective, the many contributions to the literature o­n “national” systems of innovations have been invaluable in bringing to the forefront the importance of such “state” institutions in inducing or hindering processes of national competence building in a variety of countries. The attempts at comparative learning that such detailed studies have contributed have formed the basis for the current hype of innovation policy benchmarking exercises being carried out both within the EU and across the EU, the US and Japan. There is in our view a crucial need to broaden this framework not just geographically but also content-wise to incorporate the rapid rise in globalisation pressures and the corresponding weakness of global governance mechanisms. Third, as economists, we believe that there is a strong need to get our priorities right. Our involvement in numerous national and EU policy reports, advice and studies over the years might marginally have contributed to some improvements in policymaking and the academic understanding of the process of welfare increase associated with innovation and knowledge accumulation more generally, as well as its national distribution. However, compared to the utility of such research in the South, our personal utility has been marginal in the other meaning of the word. Hence, at the more personal level, we feel there is a strong need for scholars in the field of learning, innovation and competence building to start focusing o­n those parts of the globe where better insights might matter rather than continue to focus o­n o­ne’s own rich periphery.

The analytical focus of the network we propose within GLOBELICS is upon innovation and competence building systems. The concept of GLOBELICS expresses to some extent the radical, alternative, and resistance thinking of the network we hope to develop.Alternative not so much in the ideological sense, but in terms of priority setting of current policy issues and debates. The analytical approaches are inspired by different disciplines and subdisciplines such as:

- Economics of knowledge and innovation

- Development economics and economic geography

- International business studies and organisation theory

- Theories o­n competence building in labour markets and in education systems

International comparative analysis aiming at locating unique systemic features as well as generic good practices will be stimulated within the network. The research will aim at enlightening policy making in the fields of industrial policy, innovation policy, regional policy, labour market policy and education policy as well as informing management of knowledge and innovation at the firm level.

The activities

Globelics will be established as a worldwide network. Connected through regular meetings (annual conferences and Ph.D. courses) and through an ICT-infrastructure (home-page, electronic publishing and ICT based fora o­n specific topics). A dense European network with all the leading European institutions will be linked to regional nodes in respectively: Latin America (Rio), Asia (Beijing), Africa (Johannesburg) and Eastern Europe (Moscow). Gradually the network will bring in all major institutions around the world that pursue high quality research and research training in the area and who are interested to join.

Globelics will organise annual conferences bringing together senior scholars Ph.D. students. A programme for research training will also be established. Globelics will constitute a framework within which specific projects involving international collaboration around comparative research are first initiated and where their results are subsequently discussed.

The organisation

Globelics will be established as an association (legally as a Danish ‘forening’) with formal membership. Members can be institutions as well as individuals. There will be a membership fee for institutions as well as for individual members. Membership will give access not o­nly to the network as such but also to the web-site, to electronic publications and to conferences and workshops, including the training of Ph.D.s.

During the formative period, Bengt-Ake Lundvall and Luc Soete provided day-to-day leadership of the network. Oversight of the global as well as regional networks and training academies is currently in the hands of a provisional Globelics Scientific Board of Globelics. Current members include:
Dr. Jose E. Cassiolato, Brazil,
Dr. Gabriela Dutrenit, Mexico
Prof. Christopher Freeman, U.K.
Dr. Shulin Gu, China
Dr. Manuel Heitor, Portugal
Prof. Chen Jin, China
Prof. K.J. Joseph, India
Prof. David Kaplan, South Africa
Prof. Bengt-Ake Lundvall, Denmark
Prof. Maureen Mc Kelvey, Sweden
Prof. Frieder Meyer-Krahmer, Germany
Prof. Richard Nelson, U.S.
Dr. Jorge Niosi, Canada
Prof. Luc Soete, Netherlands

More Information: www.globelics.org

Appendix o­n the theoretical background of the initiative (Bengt-Ake Lundvall):

The concept ‘national systems of innovation’ goes back to Friedrich List (List 1841). In its modern version it was used for the first time in the middle of the eighties (Lundvall 1985) to capture the interaction between private firms and knowledge institutions. The analytical focus was from the very beginning o­n interactive learning and non-market relationships of a network type. National systems of innovation were presented as analytical objects in the following five years by Christopher Freeman (1987), Richard Nelson (1988) and by Aalborg economists (Andersen&Lundvall 1988, Lundvall 1988).

In the beginning of the nineties OECD, UNCTAD and other international organisations as well as national governments (Finland was perhaps the first country where the prime minister regularly referred to the development of the national system of innovation in his speeches) started to use the concept as an analytical tool and as a framework for policy analysis.

Today, research and policy activities explicitly referring to national systems of innovation can be found in most countries and a rapidly growing number of studies of specific national systems of innovation have been produced. OECD co-ordinates a number of studies and in Latin America and Asia there are several more or less coordinated regional efforts. In the spring 2001 there will be a workshop at Aalborg University o­n African innovation systems.

The basic idea with GLOBELICS is to establish a worldwide network that supports these different initiatives. The idea is to bring together interesting information about what is going o­n and to share experiences regarding methodological issues, analytical results and policy relevant experiences.

Toward the wider concept of National systems of competence building and innovation

The concept ‘national systems’ developed by Friedrich List (List 1841) took into account a wide set of national institutions including those engaged in education and training as well as infrastructures such as networks for transportation of people and commodities (Freeman 1995). The modern revival of the concept some 12-15 years ago gave rise to different more or less broad (often implicit) definitions of innovation systems.

The US-approach (Nelson 1988) linked the concept mainly to Hi Tech- industries and put the interaction between firms, the university system and national technology policy at the centre of the analysis. Freeman (1987), in his analysis of Japan, introduced a broader perspective that took into account national specificities in the organisation of firms – he emphasised for instance how Japanese firms increasingly used ‘the factory as a laboratory’. The Aalborg approach (Lundvall 1985 and Andersen&Lundvall 1988) also took the broader view. But none of these approaches gave education, training and labour markets the central role that they deserve.

There have been broader approaches that give more attention to labour markets and training systems. Regulation school economists have been among the first to introduce the human resource dimension when pursuing comparative analyses of national systems (Boyer, Amable&Barre 1997). Also, in the parallel work o­n ‘national business systems’ pursued by Whitley and others there is a some emphasis o­n national specificities in human resource development systems and labour markets (referred to as the ‘labour system’ in Whitley 1996).

Innovation systems – three alternative perspectives

We can thus identify at least three different ways of delimiting the innovation system. The first is the innovation system as rooted in the R&D-system, the second is the innovation system as rooted in the production system and the third is the innovation system as rooted in the production and human resource development system (Lundvall m.fl. 2002). There are several reasons why the last perspective is to be preferred.

Several OECD-countries that are characterised by a low-tech specialisation in production and exports are among the countries in the world with the highest GNP per capita. To focus o­n the rather small part of the economy engaged in formal R&D-activities would give very limited insights regarding the growth potential for these countries and the same would be true for low-income countries.

A second reason has to do with the fact that empirical studies o­nly partially support the original hypothesis in Lundvall (1985) about innovations systems as primarily constituted by inter-firm, user-producer relationships. It is an obvious alternative to broaden the perspective o­n regional and national systems and to see them as constituted also by a common knowledge base embedded in local institutions and embodied in people living and working in the region.

The final and perhaps the most important reason for taking the broader view has to do with the developments toward a ‘learning economy’. This hypothesis points to the need to give stronger emphasis to the analysis of the development of human and organisational capabilities. In the national education systems people learn specific ways to learn. In labour markets they experience nation specific incentive systems and norms will have an impact o­n how and what they learn.

This article comes from GLOBELICS