Nanotechnology as a Conceptual Framework to Analyze Value Creation Processes beyond Technology
Prof. Robin Cowan, Ph.D. (Strasbourg University, BETA), Prof. Dr. Patrick Llerena (Strasbourg University, BETA), Dr. Moritz Müller (Strasbourg University, BETA), Stefano Bianchini, PhD (Universität Straßburg, BETA), André Lorentz, PhD (Universität Straßburg, BETA)
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The overall goal of the proposed Helmholtz International Research Group is to better understand how processes of knowledge creation and innovation in the field of nanotechnologies may also be utilized to generate welfare in fields beyond technology. In doing so, we especially address the issue of 'generality of purpose' along two lines of reasoning: On the one hand, we focus on nanotechnologies as the most important future general purpose technology to capture the technological perspective. On the other hand, we extend the analysis to a broader content, namely creativity as a competence that becomes relevant in almost any (also less material-related) context and which covers several dimensions: technological/scientific, economic/organizational and cultural). It is reasonable to consider both creativity and nanotechnology as engines of welfare and growth and to disentangle how various interactions of involved individuals contribute to their overall productivity effect. However, still few is known concerning various facets of creativity as an independent source of growth and even less knowledge exists about the mutual interdependencies between technology and creativity. Due to the pervasive character it is self-evident to search for analogies but also to get a deeper understanding where analogies do not work.
The first task will be to develop a theoretical model that reflects the pervasive character of creativity thereby borrowing from concepts known from general purpose technologies. Of special interest is the transition from simple value creation chains to complex networks that account for various interdependencies and feedback effects arising due to horizontal and vertical linkages between the involved actors. These networks shall be extended to allow also for non-technological contexts. In addition, we argue that the correspondent of the generality of purpose is the necessity to contextualize both technology and creativity either in a special (technological) field and/or a certain innovation system.
Based on the theoretical model, we derive testable hypotheses and apply selected indicators to measure the impact of pervasiveness to existing economic structures. Due to the general purpose character, the way nanotechnology and creativity are implemented in existing working contexts is per se indeterminate. We try to understand how nanotechnology and creativity are linked to a prevailing economic structure, how they become effective and how they finally even shape their economic environment. Aside from the embedding, we focus on the relative position of individual actors within complex value creation networks, induced feedback effects, underlying knowledge flows, and how networks of actors evolve over time (dynamic perspective).
At first, three scenarios will be considered:
impact on existing specialization patterns through strengthening stand-alone clusters
strengthening of existing structures through connecting so far isolated clusters
diversification of economic activity in the sense of adding a new cluster to already existing specializations.
Related to the technological line of reasoning, what we have in mind is more or less the following: Nanotechnology e.g. allows for the use of smooth, thin and robust surfaces that fit several needs in different contexts. Nanotechnology thus may strengthen the efficiency of an already existing life-science cluster (cf. (i)), may link actors in so far isolated clusters (e.g. life sciences and aero space industries; cf. (ii)), or may help emerging clusters to realize efficiency gains and thus to earlier reach a critical mass to establish a new cluster (e.g. renewable energies in addition to life sciences and aero space industries; cf. (iii)). Especially points (ii) and (iii) are expected to be the immediate outcome of pervasiveness since this allows the actors to benefit from scale effects that may not be realized by isolated activities.
Concerning creativity similar effects probably arise at least to some extent. However, detailed modes of action still have to be identified and linkages and feedback effects have to be worked out thereby considering the various facets of creativity. Empirical work includes the role of intellectual property (patents, trademarks) thereby especially implementing social network analysis within traditional econometric tools. Operationalization includes pairwise comparing selected regions in France and Germany that are comparable with respect to key economic conditions but embedded in different national and regional innovation systems. This also allows to derive differentiated policy recommendations to strengthen regional prosperity.