2021 marks the centenary of the birth of Christopher Freeman, founder of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. He was an influential economist and science policy advisor, and remarkably prescient about the current crisis, arguing for growth that is sustainable economically and socially.
Freeman, who died in 2010, was a British economist, and one of the most eminent researchers in innovation studies, modern Kondratiev wave and business cycle theorists. He contributed substantially to the revival of the neo-Schumpeterian tradition focusing on the crucial role of innovation for economic development and of scientific and technological activities for well-being – two themes that have been highlighted by the pandemic.
In particular, he undertook detailed empirical studies of innovation in different sectors, and this resulted in his first book, The Economics of Industrial Innovation (1974) which remains a highly respected text.
Jeremy Hall, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, is to talk about Chris Freeman at the R&D Management Conference as part of the ‘Meet the Editors’ panel of the R&D Management Conference.
We asked Jeremy about his thoughts on the impact of the pandemic on innovation technology and also his aims for the R&D Management Conference.
This year we are celebrating the centenary of Chris Freeman’s birth, the founder of SPRU, a key pioneer of innovation studies and co-founder of Research Policy, which is also celebrating 50 years as one of the leading journals in the field, so the conference would be a good place to discuss his contribution to our thinking.
What do you think are the learning points from the lockdown?
I think for the most part the pandemic has mostly accelerated the use of current technologies, forcing us to refine or repurpose what was already available but under utilised. Obvious examples include online conferencing, teaching, doctors’ appointments and grocery deliveries, which were driven primarily by urgent need rather than providing for example a better value proposition.
In most cases these technologies have been long available, but the pandemic has allowed us to test, experiment and push the boundaries of what can be done. Hopefully the pandemic has got us thinking about fundamental change that will trigger new innovations, although this may not emerge for a few years.
What I find most interesting about the lockdown is that it has made us think more carefully about what we really need in order for us to carry out our jobs. For example, how necessary is it for us to commute and rely on office infrastructure? What are the environmental impacts of such infrastructure? How can insights captured during the pandemic allow us to build more sustainable societies?
Speaking from your own experience has anything good come out of the crisis?
Some of my colleagues have done a brilliant job ‘rising to the occasion’ during this challenging time. Without the pandemic I’m not sure if I would appreciate just how lucky I am to work with such dedicated and talented scholars.
What would you like to gain from the conference?
Two things I would like to achieve from this conference. First, I’d like to promote an ‘academy of innovation studies’, an initiative started by my colleagues Wim Vanhaverbeke (co-editor-in-chief, Technovation) and Ben Martin (senior editor, Research Policy) along with a number of other innovation journal editors.
Second, I’d like to encourage more problem-focused, inter-disciplinary, empirical and critically analysed research of policy and managerial relevance. Chris pioneered this approach at SPRU 55 years ago, and it is needed now more than ever.
Jeremy Hall will be talking in the Meet the Editors session of the 2021 R&D Management Conference.