Mapping New Approaches to Innovation Policy for Stronger Transformative Outcomes in Africa

June 4, 2021

Chux Daniels and Mafini Dosso investigated innovation policy gaps and examined the potential for transformative innovation policy frameworks to be applied in African countries through case studies of Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria. This article is adapted from a chapter in their book Entrepreneurship, Technology Commercialization, and Innovation Policy in Africa, ©Springer Nature Switzerland AG, 2021.

Ongoing initiatives in Africa’s policy arena emphasize that science, technology and innovation (STI) are considered essential factors in the transformation of industries, systems, and societies across the continent. There has been a steady increase in the number of STI policies, funding opportunities, and actors across the continent at the national and regional level. Indeed, innovation offers great opportunities for African countries to transform their economies.

However, current approaches to innovation policy tend to be based on the linear model of innovation, which assumes that investments in research and development (R&D) and science and technology lead to economic gains, which in turn trickle down by providing jobs, employment, and general welfare to societies. Evidence shows that this is not the case, as inequality, social exclusion, and poverty continue to rise in some segments of societies, despite economic growth emanating from science and research.

As a result, the conceptualization of innovation remains narrow, and STI policies tend to emphasize science and technology – failing to adequately address innovation. At the same time, STI policies are not supported with strong implementation mechanisms, governance frameworks, funding, and impact assessments – blunting their impact, especially in terms of achieving development goals and addressing social challenges.

Improved innovation policies should capitalize on the many opportunities offered by the African context. Alongside an increased awareness of STI, Africa has a youth dividend, peaks of entrepreneurial activities and a diversity of human and natural resources. With the right STI policies and frameworks in place, the increased innovation and entrepreneurial funding from national governments and international donors, private foundations, venture capital and others could further boost the uptake of digital technologies and spaces. And accelerate the ongoing improvements in research excellence.

Transformative Innovation Policy and Smart Specialization Strategies

The Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) and Smart Specialization Strategies (S3) frameworks are both innovation policy approaches that present a radical shift from current approaches to STI policies and policymaking. They focus on transformative outcomes, adopt a broad definition of innovation, and emphasize societal and place-based challenges and opportunities. This allows both approaches to map innovation policies and outcomes, helping policymakers, academics and practitioners deepen their understanding of the way innovation policies can be used to achieve the transformation of African economies and societies.

The TIP approach focuses on mobilizing innovation to address societal challenges such as poverty, inequality, unemployment, and climate change, alongside economic growth. TIP goes beyond R&D and national systems innovation policy approaches and emphasizes policies for reorientating social and technical systems into directions that embed processes of change in society.

The S3 approach involves economic transformation agendas. S3 helps to guide territories or geographic regions in the identification and selection of research and innovation priority domains and projects to tackle socio-economic and industrial development challenges. The approach advocates that territories should prioritize innovation investments consistently with the business, knowledge and financial resources, human capital and innovation infrastructure available to the territory – enabling the nurturing of unique competitive advantages.

The following table shows the key principles of TIP and S3:

Table 1: Key principles of transformative innovation policy and smart specialization policy
Six criteria for transformative innovation policies1 Six dimensions for smart specialization strategies2
• Focus on achieving societal goals (economic, social and environmental) through the changing of sociotechnical systems
• Directionality–ensuring that other trajectories or pathways are explored in determining the choice of technology
• Ensuring impact at system level, that is, over
and beyond  individual sectors
• Focus on second-order (or deep) learning and reflexivity
• Inclusiveness of a wide range of actors
• Conflict and consensus–ability to encourage conflicts, revolve them and reach a consensus in policy processes
• Localization of diagnostics based on quantitative, qualitative and experts-based evidence
• Prioritization of a few innovation domains in line with business and societal challenges (not sectors per se)
• Building critical masses in research and innovation activities and human capital
• Mobilization for participatory
decision-making (triple or quadruple-helix actors)
• Customization of innovation policy mixes and policy instruments to support pilot transformative activities
• Regular impact assessments, monitoring and strategy review

Evidence gaps for policy mapping in Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire

Both TIP and S3 approaches require significant amounts of evidence and information to achieve the desired impact. Case studies of Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria illustrate major gaps that innovation policymakers should address in order to improve the evidence base for policymaking — and in turn the impacts of current innovation policies and strategies.

An overarching concern is the large size of the informal sector in both countries – and across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) – which results in a significant portion of the economic and innovative potential of both countries remaining statistically invisible and untapped.

Even data on the formal sector is inadequate, as irregular data collection exercises result in a low availability of relevant information required for proper monitoring of innovation performances. There is a particular shortage of national and sub-national insights that could reveal regional or state level specific challenges and potentials.

More knowledge is also needed on the formation of innovation capabilities and models of small and micro-firms in African economies, on their innovation ecosystems and spaces, and the processes of innovation activities in the informal sector.

More traceability in terms of public funds for research is required for the evaluation of their outputs and outcomes. The two case study countries also lack systematic monitoring of R&D from students and graduates in different knowledge fields.

Recommendations for Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire

All of the evidence gaps listed above need to be addressed in order to improve and monitor the impacts of research and innovation investments in Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria and in the rest of SSA economies in general. With better evidence, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria could achieve measurable economic transformation and ensure adequate responses to national and sub-national societal challenges through innovation and technology absorption and diffusion.

Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire could benefit from the African Innovation Outlook and African Observatory of STI – which provide a wealth information and practices on collection and interpretation of R&D and innovation data in African context. The knowledge acquired and capabilities built in the process should inform the design and implementation of S3 and TIP policies, projects and programmes in both countries at the national and rest of SSA.

Stakeholders must be mobilized for more inclusive dialogues on innovation and its relevance for solving business and societal needs. Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire should consider the integration and capacity building of a broader base of stakeholders from business, civil society, education and government.

Attention should be put on areas where STI can effectively contribute to addressing pressing societal and business needs – the provision of social safety nets, increasing access to quality electricity and internet, food, or health security – and better tapping into local potential. Both Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria need to customize their innovation mixes and funding instruments to reach critical masses of funding, skilled human capital and infrastructure and ensure that STI contribute to efforts to achieve sustainable development goals.



Daniels C, Schot J, Chataway J, Ramirez M, Steinmueller E, Kanger L (2020) Transformative innovation policy: insights from Colombia, Finland, Norway, South Africa and Sweden. In: Cele MG, Luescher TM, Wilson Fadiji A (eds) Innovation policy: global debates and local experiences. HSRC Press: Cape Town, South Africa.

Schot J, Steinmueller WE (2018) Three frames for innovation policy: R&D, systems of innovation and transformative change. Res Policy 47(9):1554–1567



Dosso M, Kleibrink A, Matusiak M (2020b, forthcoming) Smart specialisation in sub-saharan
Africa: opportunities, challenges and initial mapping for côte d’Ivoire. Afr J Sci, Technol, Innov
Dev, South Africa

Foray D et al (2012) Guide to research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation (RIS 3). European commission, available at


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