HKS Authors

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Innovation studies continue to struggle with an apparent disconnect between innovation’s supposedly universal dynamics and a sense that policy frameworks and associated instruments of innovation are often ineffectual or even harmful when transported across regions or countries. Using a cross-country comparative analysis of three implementations of the ‘MIT model’ of innovation in the UK, Portugal and Singapore, we show how key features in the design, implementation and performance of the model cannot be explained as mere variations on an identical solution to the same underlying problem. We draw on the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries to show how implementations of the ‘same’ innovation model – and with it the notion of ‘innovation’ itself – are co-produced with locally specific diagnoses of a societal deficiency and equally specific understandings of acceptable remedies. Our analysis thus flips the conventional notion of ‘best-practice transfer’ on its head: Instead of asking ‘how well’ an innovation model has been implemented, we analyze the differences among the three importations to reveal the idiosyncratic ways in which each country imagines the purpose of innovation. We replace the notion of innovation as a ‘panacea’ – a universal fix for all social woes – with that of innovation-as-diagnosis in which a particular ‘cure’ is ‘prescribed’ for a ‘diagnosed’ societal ‘pathology,’ which may in turn trigger ‘reactions’ within the receiving body. This approach offers new possibilities for theorizing how and where culture matters in innovation policy. It suggests that the ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ of innovation models are not a matter of how well societies are able to implement a sound, universal model, but more about how effectively they articulate their imaginaries of innovation and tailor their strategies accordingly.


Pfotenhauer, Sebastian, and Sheila Jasanoff. "Panacea or Diagnosis? Imaginaries of Innovation and the ‘MIT Model’ in Three Political Cultures." Social Studies of Science 47.6 (December 2017): 783-810.