The article engages in a critical discussion of the related variety/regional branching argument and foregrounds a more differentiated perspective on regional industrial path development. It contributes by (i) sharpening the definition of key concepts, namely specialisation and diversity, related and unrelated variety; (ii) discussing their relevance in local and nonlocal spaces; (iii) scrutinizing related variety as the source for regional branching; and (iv) developing a conceptual framework capturing the opportunity space for regional structural change that unveils the relevance of path upgrading, path importation, path branching, path diversification and new path creation as different forms of new path development.
Grillitsch M., Asheim B. & Trippl M. (2018) Unrelated knowledge combinations: the unexplored potential for regional industrial path development. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 11(2), 257-274.
Professor at the Business School/Centre of Innovation Research
University of Stavanger, Norway
The interview transcript
Hi welcome to coffee break with researchers.
Today I’m having a coffee break with Björn Asheim
Professor at the business school and center for innovation research at the University of Stavanger in Norway.
He is an expert in economic geography, innovation studies and regional innovation systems.
Hello Björn, thank you for accepting my invitation to a coffee break.
How are you doing?
I’m doing fine, thank you
I am having a Colombian black coffee. Which one are you having?
I always have an Americano in the morning.
Today I would like to talk to you about this recent paper, which discusses the importance of combining unrelated knowledge for economic diversification and new paths for industrial development.
Could you please tell me what the paper was about?
The paper focuses on unrelated knowledge combination and new path development written together with Markus Grillitsch and Michaela Trippl.
It tries to present a strong argument for a need to try to achieve transformative activities, which represent a more radical forms of new path development and that requires a long term of innovation policy to be supported.
And how is this possible?
First of all, you have to have a long term thinking, let’s say ten year programs. We have seen examples of that in these regional innovation policies that have been very successful. OECD calls Sweden the most resilient economy in Europe precisely because of these long-term programs.You need long-term programs to do something that goes beyond a differentiation that only does some modest changes, what evolutionary economic geography called related variety. You do something different but not very far from what the region has been doing so far.
This is a short term thinking and medium term thinking that are important but you also have to address the more long-term challenges of more radical changes.
How can you achieve more radical changes?
One example used here in the article is looking at what can be achieved by applying key enabling Technologies. So we have one concrete example where we demonstrate how you can make silk of hermes quality by the waste of making orange juice. That is transformed into textiles by the help of analytical knowledge base. Then you need the traditional knowledge base – synthetic of the textile industry to make the cloth. Then you also have the aesthetic qualities, it also incorporates the symbolic knowledge base to make it usable in the fashion industry. And there you see one example of how unrelated knowledge in the form of knowledge bases are combined.
How would regions need to redefine their innovation policies based on these findings?
The most important thing is to have this long-term thinking. I think it is necessary to have some sort of a national and regional collaboration because in most countries the big funding is either national and sometimes supra-national in the EU. Then you have design innovation policy so that it is not only top-down but also buttom-up. So the region can decide on how they should prioritize the uses or which kind of industry they should try to support. And that is the design of the Swedish centers of expertise programs. They have this top-down and bottom-up design, which also fits very well with smart specialization thinking.
Could please tell me what was your main motivation in doing this research? The motivation was to try to go beyond the short and medium term thinking when it comes to the types of new path development, which has been dominating the academic literature but also policy-making due to this strength of evolutionary economic geography that points to the potential of related variety and regional branching. You branch out of what you have but not very far away.
Thank you very much again for this nice conversation and I hope to see you next time in a coffee break.
Have a nice day, bye bye.
I hope so too. Perhaps in a nice cafe in Vienna, bye.Tags: economic diversification, industrial path development, regional structural change, related and unrelated variety, specialisation and diversity