What’s the future for the Catalan innovation system? (Part 2)

“The Quadruple Helix”, what does it mean? 

The RIS3CAT, as every smart specialization strategy now in Europe, is reproducing the wording of the European documents promoting this novel approach. The problem is that this new model, called Quadruple Helix, doesn't seem to influence too much to our local policy makers that continue to believe  in an innovation system driven by the old actors of the Triple Helix, companies, research centers and public administrations. 

Nevertheless some radical change is happening in the innovation systems during the last years with the coming of the Internet. An open digital infrastructure is allowing the opening of the innovation systems. What is happening is in the words of MIT professor von Hippel, the “democratization of innovation”. The Quadruple Helix is the expression of such change. More and more we will hear about “citizen driven innovation”, “co-creation”, “crowdsourcing”, “user-driven innovation”, and so on. This is the new thing in the innovation literature.

So in the Guide to Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialization, produced by the IPTS of the European Commission, we can read the fourth principles of Smart Specialization strategies:

Box 3 - The four Cs of smart specialization

  • (Tough) Choices and Critical mass: limited number of priorities on the basis  of own strengths and international specialisation – avoid duplication and fragmentation  in the European  Research  Area  –  concentrate  funding  sources  ensuring  more   effective budgetary management
  • Competitive Advantage: mobilise talent by matching RTD + I capacities and  business needs through an entrepreneurial discovery process
  • Connectivity and Clusters: develop world class clusters and provide arenas for  related variety/cross-sector links internally in the region and externally, which drive specialised technological diversification – match what you have with what the rest of the world has
  • Collaborative Leadership: efficient innovation systems as a collective endeavour based on public-private partnership (quadruple helix) – experimental platform to give voice to un-usual suspects 1.


The “un-usual suspects” are just a vague term to open up the smart specialization strategies to every actor beyond the usual suspects of the Triple Helix that has defined during last decades what is and what not innovation is. 

In a more explicit terms, the Smart Specialization Strategy group takes position against the old models in favour of the new one: “ In particular, in order to guarantee a livelier and truly place-based entrepreneurial process of discovery that generates intensive experimentation and discoveries, it is imperative that new demand-side perspectives, embodied in innovation-user or interest groups of consumers, are represented along with intermediaries who offer a knowledge-based but market-facing perspective. This means that the traditional, joint-action management model of the triple helix, based on the interaction among the academic world, public authorities, and the business community, should be extended to include a fourth group of actors representing a range of innovation users, obtaining what is called a quadruple helix. This is the necessary organisational counterpart of an open and user-centred innovation policy, because it allows for a greater focus on understanding latent consumer needs, and more direct involvement of users in various stages of the innovation process. RIS3 processes can develop environments with both support and utilize user-centred innovation activities also with the aim of securing better conditions to commercialize R&D efforts.” (ibid: 38)

Finally, the European group goes beyond the traditional vision of innovation supporting a more broad vision: “The quadruple helix allows for a variety of innovations other than the ones strongly based on technology or science, in the spirit of the wide concept of innovation at the basis of RIS3, but it requires significant flexibility, adaptation of processes, acquisition of new skills, and potential re-distribution of power among organisations.” (ibid:38)

i2CAT Foundation has leaded in Catalonia since 2006 this vision of an “open and user-centred innovation policy” for a simple reason: this is the model of innovation that comes from the Internet era. Our strategy was and continues to be helping Catalonia to lead in Europe and worldwide this new innovation model based. Founding members of the European Network of Living Labs, we have worked extensively to promote a fourth helix organizations internally and externally in other cities like Barcelona, Mataró, Cornellà, Vilanova i la Geltrú teaming with citizen driven institutions like Guifi.net or promoting recently city-wide living labs in the city of Barcelona with the local government. Nevertheless, all this effort has not being recognized in the RIS3CAT strategy still drafted by the traditional actors of the system with little to none participation of the “un-usual suspects”. 

Nevertheless, the reality is stubborn and finally through the Directorate of Telecommunication and Information Society of the Generalitat the new approach to the citizen driven innovation is progressing step by step. The fact that the new director general comes from a municipality with a culture of living labs is showing that, at least from the IT community, things can be seen in a different way. A SmartCAT strategy that puts the accent in this user-driven innovation model is possible and will count with all the support of the i2CAT Foundation.  If in the 90s the Internet Society popularizes the motto “Internet is for everyone”, now we could say according with the new times, “innovation is for everyone”. 

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