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National innovation systems: a comparative analysis – Richard R. Nelson

This book, edited by Nelson but written by many scholars, has represented a change in the way of studying innovation: it was the first book introducing the perspective of analyzing innovation inside its environment, considering social, economical and institutional aspects. Nelson identifies the “national innovation system” as the system formed by all the social and political factors inside a country that affect the creation and diffusion of innovation: education, universities, credit system and banks, fiscal policies, state institutions, law and intellectual right protection, political structure, and so on. All this factors and actors are seen as interacting and determining the opportunities of a nation to innovate and develop. The innovation and economy of a country is seen in a dynamic way: considering the historical path is necessary to understand it.

This new way of analyzing innovation permits a systemic view of the phenomenon and a deeper explanation. In the book many important countries are studied within this perspective, with the description of their innovation systems not only in their current situation but also in their historical evolution. The book is a little incomplete to be used at present time: all information is not updated after 1993, but it still represents a good methodological example, as well as a good source of knowledge prior to 1993.

One critic that can be moved is that the national innovation system for many countries may result to be only a structure that, even if influencing economy and innovation, is overlapping more important “regional systems”. An example of this are the USA, were there are some regions with high innovation rate like Silicon Valley (as described by Saxenian in “Regional Advantage”, that I reviewed here) and other regions much less dynamic.


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