New directions for RIS studies and policies in the face of grand societal challenges

Franz Tödtling*, Michaela Trippl, Veronika Desch

*Corresponding author for this work

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2139-2156
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Planning Studies
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • challenge-oriented RIS
  • directionality of change
  • grand societal challenges
  • Regional innovation systems

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