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What is systemic innovation?

Midgley, Gerald; Lindhult, Erik


Erik Lindhult


The term ‘systemic innovation’ is increasing in use. However, there is no consensus on its meaning: four different ways of using the term can be identified in the literature. Most people simply define it as a type of innovation where value can only be derived when the innovation is synergistically integrated with other complementary innovations, going beyond the boundaries of a single organization. Therefore, the term ‘systemic’ refers to the existence of a co-ordinated innovation system. A second, less frequent use of the term makes reference to the development of policies and governance at a local, regional or national scale to create an enabling environment for the above kind of synergistic, multi-organizational innovations. Here, ‘systemic’ means recognition that innovation systems can be enabled and/or constrained by a meta-level policy system. The third use of the term, which is growing in popularity, says that an innovation is ‘systemic’ when its purpose is to change the fundamental nature of society; for instance, to deliver on major transitions concerning ecological sustainability. What makes this systemic is acknowledgement of the existence of a systems hierarchy (systems nested within each other): innovation systems are parts of economic systems, which are parts of societal systems, and all societies exist on a single planetary ecological system. Collaboration is required across organizational and national boundaries to change the societal laws and norms that govern economic systems, which will place new enablers and constraints on innovations systems in the interests of sustainability. The fourth use of the term ‘systemic innovation’ concerns how the people acting to bring about an innovation engage in a process to support systemic thinking, and it is primarily this process and the thinking it gives rise to that is seen as systemic rather than the innovation system that they exist within or are trying to create. It is this fourth understanding of ‘systemic’ that accords with most of the literature on systems thinking published between the late 1970s and the present day. The paper offers an overview of what systems thinkers mean by ‘systemic’, and this not only enables us to provide a redefinition of ‘systemic innovation’, but it also helps to show how all three previous forms of innovation that have been described as systemic can be enhanced by the practice of systems thinking.

Book Type Authored Book
Journal Research memorandum (University of Hull. Business School) ; 99
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Book Title What is systemic innovation?
ISBN 9781906422363
Keywords Ethics of innovation, Innovation policy, Innovation systems, Sustainability, Systemic innovation, Systems thinking


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