Driving Transformation – A Governance Frame for Critical Corporate Actors

In this fourth seminar of the 2022 Global Law, Science and Technology Seminar Series, Emeritus Professor Stefan Kuhlmann discussed a critical gap in the context of mission oriented and transformative policies by conceptualising generic governance conditions for critical corporate actors to engage constructively with the transformation of wider socio-technological systems as an ongoing learning process.

Abstract: So far, innovation policies to achieve transformative missions tend to rely on established instruments, mostly supply side, fostering research and innovation activities to move in desired directions. More sophisticated approaches stimulate absorption and diffusion of innovation and support market creation and uptake. However, for socio-technological systems to shift, critical corporate actors within such systems need to actively drive the transformation, as a process of experimentation and innovation.

Those system actors are organisations with critical functions at the ‘meso-level’ of current socio-technological systems, such as large companies, governmental funding bodies, higher education institutions, and related intermediary organisations. They need to re-orientate their behaviours – far beyond their research and innovation activities – and to re-configure their internal and external relationships. Even more, it is essential that such actors become actively engaged in the very process of defining directions and orchestrating the systems change, that they reflect about their roles in those transformations and build up the capabilities to change. If critical meso-level actors are not willing and able to engage, reflect and change, both in their internal dynamics as well as in their relationship with other system actors, transformations will fail or go wrong. Therefore – drawing on earlier work on the governance of responsible research and innovation (Kuhlmann et al. 2016) – in this article we conceptualise and define a set of generic governance conditions that critical corporate actors will need to establish in order to become constructive agents in the process of defining and supporting system change.

We illustrate the relevance of these governance conditions with short vignettes of transformative ambitions in different corporate contexts (business, public policy, science and education). The vignettes present three critical corporate actors in Europe, a major public-private energy provider, a governmental funding agency, and a university of technology. Inspecting the suggested generic conditions helps to reveal fostering and hampering factors for transformative ambitions of these actors and their capacity to act as change agents.


About the presenter

Stefan KuhlmannStefan Kuhlmann is an academic teacher, researcher, and intellectual in the field of science, technology and innovation governance studies, presently at the University of Twente, Netherlands.

Since 2018 Kuhlmann is Academic Director of the Netherlands Graduate School of Science, Technology and Modern Culture (WTMC).

He graduated in Political Science and History from Philipps-University Marburg/Germany (1978) and got a PhD (Dr.rer.pol. 1986) and Habilitation (1998) in Political Science from University of Kassel/Germany.

Since the 1980s – with changing entrance points and perspectives – he has been involved in studies of research and technological innovation as social and political processes, in particular the analysis of science, research and innovation systems and policies, focusing on the dynamics of governance. Until 2006 Stefan held leading positions at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems Innovation Research (ISI), Germany, and was a Professor of Innovation Policy Analysis at the Copernicus Institute, University of Utrecht, Netherlands.

About the series

The QUT Global Law, Science and Technology Seminar Series aims to bring together national and international speakers who will explore the personal, societal and governance dimensions of solving real world problems which are influenced by, and through the interactions of science, technology and the law.

The series will host speakers who think about ‘technology’ and ‘science’ as broadly construed to refer to methods of framing or interacting with the world, and that enable the critical and imaginative questioning of the technical, science, environmental and health dimensions of law and life.

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