7 April 2016

Special Issue: New theoretical and policy perspectives on regional innovation systems Regional Studies, Regional Science Special Issues

The regional studies community has a long history of engaging in policy issues and conducting research at the confluence between theory and practice, and certainly around regional innovation policy. Since the early 1990s, a number of theoretical ideas made their way into policy, particularly (but not exclusively) at the European level. A prime example here is the regional innovation systems (RIS) concept, coined by a number of regional economic geographers in the 1990s (Cooke, 1992), which ultimately became a guiding rationale for regional and innovation policy (Asheim, Boschma, & Cooke, 2011). Indeed, Cooke (2008) cites regional innovation policy as a key source for the RIS concept’s development; the concept was from its genesis always closely linked to practice.
Over the past decade, a number of important issues inherent in the RIS concept have been identified (e.g. Doloreux & Parto,2005; Iammarino, 2005), regarding RIS theories’ key concepts of system components, boundaries, causal relationships and system performance measurement (Carlsson, Jacobsson, Holmén, & Rickne, 2002). These remain largely unresolved as the concept continues to be used primarily as a normative/prescriptive policy tool (Uyarra & Flanagan, 2010). There remains a clear need to critique further these emerging ideas in different regional settings, unpacking and ideally resolving these fundamental shortcomings, and testing the RIS approach’s usefulness to practitioners in different regions as a policy blueprint.
The current virtual special issue of this journal on Regional Innovation Strategies speaks to this agenda and sketches out potential future research avenues building on the gaps in current knowledge and theory identified. Three specific research gaps emerge in the papers: first is the often scant consideration of both inter- and intra-regional connectivity as a vital element in RIS performance; second is the vital but oft-overlooked issue of balancing between top-down policy and theoretical approaches and bottom-up activities within regions; and third is the persistent underrepresentation in the literature of poorly performing/partial/dysfunctional RISs.

New theoretical and policy perspectives on regional innovation systems