An open innovation ecology must be built

By Wen Xingqi / 02-20-2024 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Technological innovation Photo: TUCHONG

Innovation today is a crucial engine of global economic and social development. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, China has prioritized innovation as the primary force driving development.

At present, it is urgent for China to achieve self-reliance and self-improvement in science and technology, and comprehensively enhance its innovation effectiveness and competitiveness. A key approach to this strategic goal is to build an open innovation ecology.

Innovation theory has gone through multiple stages of development. Innovation system theory in its early stage, by overturning the traditional paradigm of “linear innovation,” emphasizes the non-linear, systematic and synergistic nature of innovation. It states that knowledge mobility, knowledge diffusion and synergic interaction between various agents of innovation are the key factors determining the performance of innovation systems, while also highlighting the development of laws and regulations, financial systems and cultural environments that are conducive to innovation.

Later on, innovation ecology theory, based on innovation system theory, targets the problems and bottlenecks in the establishment and functioning of innovation systems, and perceives poor innovation ecosystems to be an important cause and inevitable result of insufficient innovation. It believes in the interconnection, co-opetition, co-existence and co-evolution of the various agents in an innovation ecosystem, and suggests that innovation can only maximize its efficacy in an open ecosystem.

Similar to natural ecosystems, open innovation ecosystems, once formed, are characterized by diversity, co-opetition, co-existence, openness, integration, dynamic evolution, regional spatiality and other distinct features. Therefore, open innovation ecology, as a recent product of the development of innovation theory, further enriches and expands innovation system theory.

All human activities are rooted and embedded in specific historical periods, including innovation and its organizational models. Industrial, scientific and technological revolutions not only significantly liberated and developed human productive forces, but also accelerated the process of economic, political, cultural, social and ecological modernization.

As an integral part and a critical driving force of human society and activities, scientific and technological innovation is highly synchronized with social change in terms of starting time, development momentum, fundamental elements, key features, and development trends. By following the trends of socio-economic development and globalization, the world’s leading innovative countries are now gaining insight into the new challenges and requirements for scientific and technological innovation, with a variety of innovation strategies being formulated and thoroughly implemented.

Today, the economics of countries around the world are increasingly connected; the global industrial chain, supply chain, value chain and innovation chain are deeply integrated; the human communities of shared interests, shared responsibilities and shared future are becoming closer. In this context, innovation is taking the form of a “global village,” and building an open innovation ecology is becoming an increasingly important task for innovation practices.

With rapid progress in science and technology, the mainstream model and inherent laws of innovation are constantly being updated, and the innovation paradigm is experiencing disruptive changes. Open source, knowledge sharing, application-oriented and scenario-driven appraoches have created new opportunities for scientific discovery and technological innovation. Technology integration is becoming more common, offering solutions to a large number of scientific and technological issues, and reflecting a growing trend toward multi-agent collaborative innovation. The innovation chain continues to extend downstream, enhancing the reverse interaction between market demand, technological requirements and scientific breakthroughs. These new patterns and trends require global innovation activities to be more open and “ecological,” which provides a solid practical foundation for building an open innovation ecology.

Wen Xingqi is an associate professor in the Economics and Management School of Wuhan University and the Research Center for China Industry-University-Research Institute Collaboration of Wuhan University.