The Roles of the State in the Governance of Socio-technical Systems’ Transformation

Susana Borrás*, Jakob Edler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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The transformative turn of innovation policy has resulted in calls for a more entrepreneurial and directional role of the state. However, the multiple roles that the state might play remains underexplored. This paper studies the embedded role of the state in four distinct modes of governance of socio-technical systems. Using a three-pillar analytical model, the paper examines four illustrative cases: cryptocurrencies, smart cities, automated vehicles, and nuclear power. The paper identifies 13 different roles of the state: observer, warner, mitigator, opportunist, facilitator, lead-user, enabler of societal engagement, gatekeeper, promoter, moderator, initiator, guarantor and watchdog. The conceptualization of these roles serves to understand that the transformative agency of the state is leveraged/constrained by the modes of governance, and that it is also ultimately exercised through specific mixes of roles.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103971
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number5
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Transformative
  • Innovation policy
  • Transitions
  • Diffusion
  • Grand challenges
  • Governance

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