UCD research to develop new economic framework to drive regional prosperity
28 March 2017
New research at University College Dublin (UCD) is focused on developing a new economic framework to boost innovation and drive regional prosperity by looking at the evolution of technology.
Scientific and technological expertise acquired in the past strongly determines future development opportunities, but also sets limitations in this regard. While this applies universally, regardless if considered at the personal, corporate, or spatial level, it is of particular interest in the context of cities and regions given that these entities serve as containers of unique knowledge pools.
Places usually transition through phases of technology upgrading over time in an evolutionary rather than in an erratic way, which allows us to open up a window into the future, by looking into the past.
The creation and accumulation of knowledge are processes at the heart of technological change and economic growth. To date, attention has been directed at aggregate measures of knowledge production in regional and national contexts, but little consideration has been given to the properties of knowledge produced in specific places.
How does the nature of knowledge that is produced vary over space, what conditions the scope of technologies generated in different locations, and how does access to these knowledge sets impact the performance of local firms and industries?
These are central questions that guide the research activities carried out by Dr Dieter F. Kogler, an early-career researcher at UCD’s College of Engineering and Architecture. Dr Kogler has recently been awarded a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant of €1.5 million to establish his own research team and to pursue ground breaking research concerning the role of technological change and its impact on economic development, growth and prosperity.
He will receive this ERC funding over the next five years for a study entitled, ‘Technology Evolution in Regional Economies’, or TechEvo in short. The scientific goal of TechEvo is to undertake a comprehensive investigation of why regions enter and exit scientific and technological knowledge domains based on their past activities (path-dependency), their regional characteristics (place-dependency), and their embeddedness in regional, national and international networks.
In addition, the aim is also to develop an interactive online mapping and analysis tool. This tool will enable private and public entities, as well as policy makers, to identify current gaps and future opportunities in regional knowledge spaces and networks to support their quest for more effective and efficient local knowledge utilisation and technology evolution.
Evolutionary economic geography
The objective of TechEvo is to develop new theoretical understandings that take into consideration previously overlooked factors and relationships in the study of technological change and economic growth and, simultaneously, contribute to theoretical discussions elsewhere that have lacked empirical evidence.
Evolutionary Economic Geography, a research field at the intersection of innovation studies and spatial economics in which Dr Kogler is an international leading figure, is a dynamic research agenda that claims to be capable of accounting for past and future trajectories of regional technological development (Kogler, 2016).
Here the characteristics of location (agents, entities, institutions, policy) and innovation (novel scientific and technical knowledge of economic value) are key elements of the investigation. This discipline offers a broad, albeit evolving, framework that has at its core the production and destruction of novelty in space, and the links between novelty and regional economic fortunes. The creation of novel knowledge, and its movement and recombination within different regional ensembles of economic agents and institutions, plays a critical role in the evolution of the space-economy.
Emphasis is directed towards the driving forces of regional development processes across varying scales (micro-, meso-, macro-level), with the objective to link findings to public policy goals and imperatives.
Drawing on theories that have their origin imbedded in modern evolutionary biology and generalised Darwinism, complex systems sciences, and the recombinant knowledge/innovation concept, this line of inquiry has established itself as a promising approach that offers a much needed window into the ‘black box’ of innovation (Rosenberg, 1982). It claims to provide a robust framework for disentangling the complexity of technological change and regional economic development.
Research regarding the properties of different metropolitan and regional knowledge bases provides further theoretical insights. Based on these foundations, knowledge exchange is generally conceived as predicated on common frameworks of reference and thus is most effective between similar, i.e. related, technology fields.
The need for spatial and social proximity, in the form of co-location and networking activities, are recognised as further conditions necessary in order to enhance knowledge flows and spillovers between different technology domains. Given the right level of spatial, social and sectoral proximity knowledge re-combination activities are facilitated, ultimately leading to the development of novel scientific and technological ideas, products, and processes.
Places develop technology trajectories
The outcome is that places develop distinctive technology trajectories over time based on their prior local knowledge sets, and the opportunities and limitations to recombine these into new knowledge domains, which are determined by the various dimensions of proximity. This logic of path-dependency suggests that the existing set of technologies, (degree of specialisation and cohesion) at a given place and time, shapes the future path of technological change.
The shortage of suitable data that serves as an indicator of technical knowledge at various scales, resulting in a lack of empirical evidence, has hampered the refinement of existing theories of technological change and economic development.
In an attempt to correct this, Dr Kogler’s TechEvo project will take advantage of advanced data sources, including scientometric, patent and trademark data, which aim to capture scientific, technical and entrepreneurial advances across a wide range of knowledge production activities.
To demonstrate the fluidity of regional knowledge spaces and the significance of place-based properties, these data will be complemented with information pertaining to the properties of actors and entities, information concerning local institutional and policy environments, all aiming to take into consideration the unique histories and dynamics as well as the network embeddedness of particular localities.
At the centre of the investigation is Dr Kogler’s novel concept of ‘knowledge spaces’, a method capable of identifying the cognitive proximity of scientific and technological domains based on co-occurrence patterns and re-combination activities found in patent and trademark data, but also in the scientific literature (Kogler et al., 2013; 2017).
Scientists and engineers, along with the public and private entities that serve as sites of their knowledge production activities, provide the foundation for the study. From there Dr Kogler suggests a bottom-up approach to understanding and enabling knowledge-based economic growth. Under this methodology, local scientific and technical capabilities are considered to be the basis from which it is possible to develop regional strategic policies to boost innovation and drive economic growth.
Developing planning and forecasting tools
It is anticipated that the TechEvo research project will provide ground breaking insights into how innovative entities and individual inventors are embedded in social and cognitive, local and non-local networks, and how regional technological change is shaped through entry, exit, and selection processes.
Overall, TechEvo aims to provide novel theories, methods and empirics that will significantly advance existing work and open up a new research frontier in science and technology studies, as well as support the development of new planning and forecasting tools for progressive strategic innovation policy.
Dr Dieter F. Kogler, whose research focus is on the geography of innovation and evolutionary economic geography, said in an initial statement following the award, “I am delighted to receive this prestigious ERC Starting Grant which will enable me to build a research team to carry out cutting-edge research at University College Dublin.”
He is currently in the process of assembling his TechEvo team. Information regarding TechEvo post-doctoral fellowship and fully funded PhD positions, as well as previous research outputs, are available via https://www.researchgate.net/project/Technology-Evolution-in-Regional-Economies-TechEvo.
Dr Dieter F. Kogler, Associate Professor
UCD School of Architecture, Planning & Environmental Policy
University College Dublin
Kogler D. F. (Ed) (2016) Evolutionary Economic Geography: Theoretical and Empirical Progress. Routledge, London.
Kogler D. F., Essletzbichler J. and Rigby D. L. (2017) The evolution of specialization in the EU15 knowledge space, Journal of Economic Geography 17(2), 1-29. doi:10.1093/jeg/lbw024
Kogler D. F., Rigby D. L. and Tucker I. (2013) Mapping knowledge space and technological relatedness in US cities, European Planning Studies 21, 1374–1391.
Rosenberg N. (1982) Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.