The regional innovation system (RIS) approach has become a widely used framework for examining the dynamics of innovation across space and for crafting policies to promote the innovation capacity of regions. The dominant focus has been on technological and business innovation enhancing competitiveness and economic growth. In light of persistent environmental and social challenges such as climate change, aging and growing inequalities, this understanding appears to be too narrow. We argue that the RIS approach requires a critical reassessment for informing the next generation of regional innovation policies. We explore how RIS scholarship and policies could benefit from an alternative understanding of the innovation process. Inspired by recent work on mission-oriented and transformative innovation policies, we develop the notion of ‘challenge-oriented RISs’ (CoRISs). In contrast to conventional understandings of RISs, this approach embraces a more critical view of innovation, captures the directionality of change, opens up to new innovation actors at different territorial scales and pays more attention to the application side and upscaling of innovation within the region and beyond. Acknowledging that regions vary in their capacity for transformative change and challenge-oriented innovation, the article outlines new directions for place-based innovation policies.
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Besides Illwerke vkw, a large number of other actors and their agencies drove the evolution of VLOTTE. The local research organization Kairos (Wirkungsforschung und Entwicklung GmbH), an independent non-profit organization, was the first actor in Vorarlberg’s challenge-oriented initiative who followed up with e-mobility. Kairos developed an e-mobility concept for the region and further collaborated intensively with Illwerke vkw in order to become Austria’s first e-mobility region. Vorarlberg’s successful application for financial support from the national Climate and Energy Fund can be seen as the outcome of collaborative links between these two key CoRIS actors, coalescing Kairos’s concept with Illwerke vkw’s capacity to implement it. Eventually, becoming part of the national e-mobility model region programme was a crucial moment for the further development of this challenge-oriented initiative in Vorarlberg.
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