I’m currently working on the Process section of my thesis. As part of that I’m referring back to a book chapter (that was a conference paper) by Bo Carlsson (2004) titled “Public policy as a form of design”. This post is an attempt to summarise some of the points made in that chapter as they are connected to my new job.

What are the conditions that are conducive to the creation of a variety of new ideas?

Let’s start with this quote

Sometimes the first and most important policy objective is to remove obstacles to creativity and to foster entrepreneurship rather than to take new initiatives. The formation of new clusters can be facilitated but not directed. Planning cannot replace the imaginative spark that creates innovation.

He does make the point that once innovation clusters evolve, then it may be necessary for appropriate policy to develop.

Three types of facilitating policy stand out

  1. Increase absorptive capacity or receiver competence.
    i.e. the ability of folk to identify innovations and convert them into “business opportunities”. Such capacity is built through research and development, hiring of personnel, training of personnel and accumulation of experience.
  2. Increase connectivity.
    Increasing the quantity and quality of linkages within and outside of the system.
  3. Promote entrepreneurship and encourage variety.

    Given the risk and uncertainty associated with each link in teh chain, the greater the number of players, each with uncertain and divergent beliefs about the chances of success, the greater are the chances of successful outcomes. This is a game of effectiveness, not efficiency. Let the market (or the public), not bureaucrats, select the successful projects

Misc quotes

The higher the opportunity cost of entrepreneurship, the lower the qulity of entrepreneur because the process becomes driven by adverse selection. In the extreme, the only agents willing to undertake entrepreneurship are those who cannot do anything else.

Application to innovation within universities

Given the growing influence of managerialization within society and the increasing moves to standardisation and accountability within higher education it is not difficult to identify some tensions. Indeed, the tension between accountability and innovation and its negative ramifications within universities is the topic of Findlow (2008)

Limitations in academic staff development, the lack of perceived importance of learning and teaching, a focus on specific technologies and a range of other factors mean that the absorptive capacity of universities around e-learning is not great.

The connectivity is also somewhat limited due to the hierarchical structures that arise out of the same influences. The separation of academics into disciplinary sub-groups and the organisational distance between the academics and the IT and L&T folk all arise from these structures and its increasing reliance on teleological design.

The lack of connectivity and the increase in top-down approaches to decision-making is significantly reducing the variety of approaches. Obviously the pressure for standardisation and the fear of risk-taking impact upon this.

Now, there are activities that can work around this, however, the emphasis on top-down decision making will make this difficult. Unless of course someone senior can see the light.


Carlsson, B. (2004). Public policy as a form of design. Managing as Designing. R. Boland and F. Collopy. Standford, CA, Standford Business Books: 259-264.

Findlow, S. (2008). “Accountability and innovation in higher education: a disabling tension?” Studies in Higher Education 33(3): 313-329.