Innovation Systems - what are they?
Figure 1. Conventional dissemination
models focus on Research (R), Extension (E), and Farmer (F) linkages.
Conventional approaches to agricultural development have tended
to regard innovation as the product of research, and view its dissemination
as a largely linear process confined to researchers, extension staff
and farmers. The research findings, once packaged for extension
staff, are expected to be inherently suited to transfer to the farming
community (Figure 1).
More recent approaches to improving the impact of research and
development place greater emphasis on the rapidly changing socio-economic,
political and environmental contexts (e.g. civil service reform
and decentralisation, deteriorating extension services, changing
livelihood scenarios, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, trade liberalisation,
environmental degradation), and on the importance of a diversity
of key actors and organisations to the scaling-up processes.
New products and processes are deemed to be brought into economic
and social use through the activities of these networks of organisations,
as mediated by various institutions and policies, which together
– organisations and the institutions (or the ‘rules’
that determine their engagement) – are referred to as the
innovation system (Hall et al., 2004).
The key challenge to effecting impact is perceived less in terms
of devising new technologies – doing different things
– but rather in terms of bringing about changes in how the
innovation system works – doing things differently.
Figure 2 presents the complexity of the innovation system from
the perspective of the farming household, suggesting the diversity
of relationships and factors that facilitate or impede farmers in
increasing their production and gaining access to crowded marketplaces.
In the national context the group of interconnected organisations
whose activities and interactions give rise to the development and
diffusion of technologies are referred to as the ‘national
There is no single definition of national innovation systems (NIS),
which hitherto have largely been applied to developed economies.
The following box contains some of the many definitions from the
National Innovation Systems: definitions from the literature
The “set of institutions whose interaction determine the
innovative performance of national firms.” (Nelson and Rosenberg,
“..the network of institutions in the public and private
sectors whose activities and interactions initiate, import, modify
and diffuse new technologies.” (Freeman, 1987).
“..the elements and relationships which interact in the
production, diffusion and use of new, and economically useful,
knowledge ... and are either located within or rooted inside the
borders of a nation state. (Lundvall, 1992).
“..the national institutions, their incentive structures
and their competencies, that determine the rate and direction
of technological learning (or the volume and composition of change
generating activities) in a country. (Patel and Pavitt, 1994).
“A system of innovation is that set of distinct institutions
which jointly and individually contributes to the development
and diffusion of new technologies and which provides the framework
within which governments form and implement policies to influence
the innovation process. As such it is a system of interconnected
institutions to create, store and transfer the knowledge, skills
and artefacts which define new technologies.” (Metcalfe,
“All the actors and activities in the economy which are
necessary for industrial and commercial innovation to take place
and to lead to economic development.” (Arnold and Bell,
“At its simplest an innovation system is the groups of
organisations and individuals involved in the generation, diffusion
and adaptation, and use of knowledge of socio-economic significance,
and the institutional context that governs the way these interactions
and processes take place.” (Hall et al., 2003: 3).
“Innovation systems approaches view innovation in a more
systemic, interactive and evolutionary way, whereby new products
and processes are brought into economic and social use through
the activities of networks of organisations mediated by various
institutions and policies” (Hall et al., 2004).
*Figure 2 is based on a diagram presented by Ian Goldman, Khanya-AICDD,
at the DFID workshop, 'Improving the Productivity of Smallholder
Farmers in Southern Africa', held in Harare, 27-29 September, 2005.