Innovation systems in developing countries: A top-down and bottom-up approach to studying the Colombian National System of Innovation and the coffee, flower and sugarcane production chains
Velasco, Diana Carolina
This thesis examines the evolution and development of science, technology and innovation (STI) policies in Colombia as a particular case study of a developing country within the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) Region. The initial stage of the research analysed attempts by Colombian policy-makers from the 1960s onwards to build a National System of Innovation (NSI), following recommendations from transnational organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development and the Organisation of American States. This investigation found little evidence of systemic relationships between public, industrial and academic organisations to generate, exchange and apply knowledge. Central to these innovation strategies was a focus upon funding research with public resources to strengthen knowledge generation as the main mechanism for promoting innovation. This suggested that, although the STI policy was formally defined as following a ‘systemic’ approach, the policy mix reflected a linear reading of innovation (Tait & Williams, 1999) and generated an unhelpful (mis)perception of an uptake lag (Brown, Gregson, & Mason, 2015). The study was therefore refocused to develop a bottom-up understanding of innovation in selected industrial settings. A detailed analysis was undertaken of the innovation arrangements in three key Colombian agricultural industries - coffee, flower and sugarcane - within the national economy and global supply chains. This is an exploratory qualitative research based upon semi-structured interviews and specialised focus groups with key academic, public and private actors related with the evolution, design and application of innovation policies and strategies at the national and sectoral levels, supported by analysis of published and unpublished literature. Moving beyond narrow Innovation Systems (IS) perspectives, this thesis brought together aspects of STI policy design with an analysis of formal and informal social, economic and political institutions. A detailed focus on specificities of the three ISs under study highlighted important differences in terms of the generation and exploitation of knowledge linked to differences in inter-organisational relationships within the sub-sectors and their governance and governability. This in turn pointed tothe importance of cultural factors shaping innovation dynamics and the co-evolution of sectoral actors with technical, organisational and market changes. These findings suggest a top-down and bottom-up approach to understanding how national innovation strategy can be embedded in firms and industries. This thesis makes three contributions to knowledge. Firstly, it contributes to theories of sectoral innovation systems - showing that even at the sub-sectoral level, there are very different innovation pathways depending upon ownership, trading relations, scale, political insertion, longevity, sources and cumulativeness of knowledge. This reinforces the need for NSI to be grounded in broader historical and sociological understanding. Secondly, the operation of (de facto) innovation systems needs to be understood through a broad analysis of the embedded institutions and the power dynamics between the actors involved in the system. We suggest that the NSI approach might usefully be reconnected with earlier Latin American intellectual approaches that took into account the particularities of local/national industrial and knowledge institutions and the insertion of the LAC economies into global trading systems. Finally, it provides a critical appraisal of how the NSI approach can be read and understood by political actors to justify and shape particular policy mixes that encourage a narrow focus on the promotion and exploitation of public sector research based upon linear models of innovation.