Thursday, August 19, 2010

Connectivity: internet flows, airline flows and our internet usage

Ethan Zuckerman on TED this year has some really interesting observations on social networks. His focus was primarily on how we create with filter bubbles. We stay within our own interest boundaries. Maybe the old economy and the new economy have something in common - it hard tomove outside your milieu. Actually Zuckerman suggests its easier to get stuff across the globe than move outside your digital bubble. He has some great diagrams of the lack of international news carried by US media. He highlights wiki entries geo-coded which shows that they mostly relate to the USA, Europe, Brazil and Australia.

Ethan says we focus on the infrastructure of globalisation - he uses the example of airline routes rather than the content of the wiring - the number planes or passengers moving between places.

On a related subject, recently, I came across the work of Chris Harrison. His images reveal the city to city connectivity of global society. Unsurprisingly, there is huge activity within the USA and then between the USA and Western Europe. Take the time to look at his images.

Essentially, connectivity maps are the same if we talk of flights or bits and bytes.

Zuckerman could be onto something. Perhaps there is a growing difference in our trade behaviour and our person to person connections.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chis Freeman

I have heard on the grapevine that Professor Chris Freeman who headed SPRU for many years and with the late Keith Pavitt establish Research Policy died on the weekend. His wiki page has the same information.

The work of Chris Freeman is rightly held in high respect. In recent years I have been tracking down early work of the OECD on science and innovation. Chris' writings of the 1960s still read well today. More insightful and clearer than much of what the journals currently publish on the subject.

For those with an interest in science policy and consequential indicators, his work on 'the problems of science policy' (1968) is an informative read and one that reveals that for the last 40 years we haven't gone much beyond filling in his agenda.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Architecture #4: Delight, Beauty and Happiness

You are probably wondering how it is possible that an innovation system could be analysed on its properties for aiding delight, beauty or maybe a more popular word of late - happiness. I had (until recently) been pondering the same thing for over a decade. Some ideas appear to offer intriquing possibilities without any possibility of resolution. So it was with this one. More than a decade ago I regularly had coffee with an architect friend in Canberra who first introduced me to the eloquent summary of architecture as firmness, fitness and delight. At the time I was searching for a language that invoked a 3Dness to the structural studies of economies and 'architecture' seemed like a useful word. At the time I couldn't envisage anything more that just 'form' in various guises.

However, curiously, as I have been reading Alain de Botton's book on architecture, this third piece of puzzle has begun to clarify itself for me. On page 71 (of my version) he states:

... However, there might be a way to surmount  this state of sterile relativism with the help of John Ruskin's provocative remark about the eloquence of architecture. The remark focuses our minds on the idea that buildings are not visual objects without any connection to connects which we can analyse and then evaluate.Buildings speak - and on topics which can be readily discerned. They speak of democracy or aristocracy, openness or arrogance, welcome or threat, a sympathy for the future or a hankering for the past.

SO of  what do innovation systems speak?
Do they speak of openness and inclusion or merely the trendy and wealthy?

Do they speak of just economies or societies and communities?

#1. Of what do innovations systems speak
       - democracry - maybe, economies - definitely, but societies and communities - I'm less certain.

Today 'innovation' is invoked as the panacea for the ills of our economies but not of our societies.

Should we start asking questions about who innovation is for etc. This has been the realm of science and technology studies but I am beginning to think that we need to urgently dialogue this in Schumpeterian side of the literature as well. Is creativity just for new products and services? What of the poor and disadvantaged even in advanced economies - those that don't go to schools with all the latest technology etc? What of innovations and their effects on the disabled communities. Some innovations improve their lives and others make it harder.

Are schools just to produce clones of a previous era or can we envisage something more?

#2 What of happiness.

In recent years there has been a flood of literature.

One observation (stated in Graham 2005 in World Economics p45)
Easterlin, in his original study, revealed a paradox that sparked interest in the topic but is, as of yet, unresolved. While most happiness studies find that within countries wealthier people are, on average, happier than poor ones, studies across countries and over time find very little, if any, relationship between increases in per capita income and average happiness levels. On average, wealthier countries (as a group) are happier than poor ones (as a group); happiness seems to rise with income up to a point, but not beyond it. Yet even among the less happy, poorer countries, there is not a clear relationship between average income and average happiness levels, suggesting that many other factors—including cultural traits—are at play.

Other factors that are important are: social connections, social services such as education and health etc.

This is another TED video.

#3 - Conclusions

If we want to speak of innovation - particularly 'national innovation systems' then isn't it time that we move beyond a purely narrow economics context. All we are doing is replacing one discourse which emphasised monetary policy along with labour and natural resource exploiting development paths with a technological creation one.

The science and technology studies literature which has developed largely in parrallel with the innovation literature already emphasises culture and gender issues amongst others - isn't it time that there was greater informed cross readings.

Interestingly, there was a conference ths year that seems a step in the right direction from the perspective of innovation systems and happiness.

Innovation and Inequality: From Pharma and Beyond

Workshop in Pisa, Italy, 15-16 May 2010, Conference organisers: Mariana Mazzucato and Luigi Orsenigo

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Architecture #3: Function

As I continue my series on structure concepts, the second characteristic of architure is 'functionality'.
But what could function mean in a social setting?
Given that we are here thinking of the more limited organising princple of 'innovation systems' then the first type of function which comes easily to mind is that it is to produce innovations. Sounds simple enough and there is plenty of literature related to measuring that. However, an interesting paper by Edquist and Zabala (2009) provides some valuable insights.

Edquist, C. and Zabala, J. (2009) 'Outputs of innovation systems: a European perspective' Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy (CIRCLE) Lund University. WP 2009/14

So we could understand the functioning of an innovation system on the basis of the success it has in producing outputs as measured against these dimensions. The paper makes an early attempt at conducting a comparison across these categories for European countries.
A paper that more directly addresses the idea of functions was published by Hekkert back in 2007. These authors compared different approaches that had been taked to the question of 'function'. They concluded with a list of seven:

  • entrepreneurial activities
  • knowledge development
  • knowledge diffusion through networks
  • guidance of the search
  • market formation
  • resources mobilization
  • creation of legitimacy/counteract resistance to change
from: Hekkert (2007) 'Functions of innovation systems: A new approach for analysing technological change' Technological Forecasting & Social Change 74 (2007) 413–432.

This list clearly represents a higher order of  'system' activity than the economic outputs measured in the Edquist paper - perhaps all of which are measures of the first function - entrepreneurial activities.

Finally, we might come up with a definition of function in terms of what occurs in a particular place. In this sense function might be narrowed to a single value structure (I avoid the word chain because as I may have already said in this blog a chain is far to linear a concept for use in today's economy). Within such a structure what role does each region play? To know this we would need to know not just what a region makes in a general sense but what it does in very particular sense.

A paper in this vein that I haven't seen referred to that much is by Feser (2003) who that the idea that occupational data can tell us much about what regions do. As Feser states 'Industry cluster analysis has long focused on value chain relationships and innovation flows to characterise groups of linked industries. A neglected dimension of interindustry linkage is the utilisation of joint labour pools' (p1953).

Feser, E. (2003) 'What Regions Do Rather than Make: A Proposed Set of Knowledge-based Occupation Clusters' Urban Studies, Vol. 40, No. 10, 1937–1958, September 2003.

One challenge is that while such macro studies are useful we still need to know what a particular innovation system makes - what is the strategy for a particular place. For example in piece of work I am just finishing with Adam Holbrook on the Vancouver economy it is again clear that while is on the semi-periphery, Vancouver's cost structures are too high for manufacturing but seeming the geographic dynamics place it too far away for large corporations to really develop a base. The strategic response is for the clusters to consist of small and very small businesses which engage in rent seeking IP selling behaviours.

Perhaps what would be really uiseful at this stage is for an organisation like the OECD to establish an innovation studies wiki. Authors could up load citations to their work and a few findings with a suitably structured matrix. Each region specific case study could then be geocoded on a map. If for no other reason such a tool would be valuable to understand which places are heavily studied and which places are understudied.

Back to the blog

After a few months away from the blog I am hoping to get right back into it.

I have been travelling and also working on some papers particularly to do with innovation system in Vancouver Canada, the relationship between a product's modularity and the international trade configurations as well as papers on networks and the need for innovation policy that cuts across the entire economy.

Anyway hope you enjoy the blog.