Autonomous vehicles as an emergent innovation: governance through the lens of the quadruple helix

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2019)


1. Purpose

According to Zhao, Dimovitz, Staveland and Medsker (2016, p.169), autonomous vehicles (AVs) represent "one of the main examples of promising 'smart' technology in the public sector." The KPMG report (2018) points out that AVs have symbolized the greatest source of changes in urban mobility since the car's creation. From the technical advances, it is considered that economic, environmental and social benefits will come from the insertion of AVs in the cities ((Mladenovic & Mcpherson, 2015; Mutz, 2015; Thomopoulos & Givoni, 2015; Du, 2016; Geldmacher & Pleşea, 2016; Schoitsch, 2016; Zhao et al, 2016; Milakis; Van Arem; Van Wee, 2017), which highlight the need to focus the discussion on political outcomes as well as implications in the social sphere (Zhao et al., 2016). In this sense, cities and nations need to structure themselves in regulatory and governance terms to promote benefits rather than new barriers (McKinsey, 2018). Maurer, Gerdes, Lenz and Winner (2015) argue that the topic of AVs includes legal aspects, man-machine relationship, mobility, traffic, security, responsibility, individual and social issues related to their acceptance. In this context of innovation from the AVs, universities and other research institutes, as well as industry and other publics, play important roles (Du, 2016). The changes coming from the insertion of AVs into society need to be developed and managed considering the processes of interaction between the actors involved to define decisions on a collective problem (Gebhardt & Stanovnik, 2016). Gebhardt (2013) argues that, faced with the trend of increased interaction, new governance standards are emerging to deal with complex projects. The function of governance, in this sense, is to manage complexity in order to anticipate problems. Governance demands that we consider the political and social contexts where groups and individuals interact (World Bank, 2017). Considering AVs as disruptive sociotechnical innovations due to the resulting changes, coverage of related interactions and impacts, governance has the role of maximizing benefits while giving attention to factors related to why, what, who and how (Dochertya; Marsden; Anable, 2018). However, there is the question: how can a governance of innovation be configured at the national level? Considering the AVs as an emerging innovation, as well as its adjacencies in terms of impacts, this paper aims to discuss critical aspects that influence the governance model for insertion of AVs in a national context.

2. Methodology

The adopted research design is characterized as a theoretical essay by starting from theoretical reflections regarding the event of the emergence of AVs. The intention is that the reflections about AVs and governance culminate in an integrative discussion that answers the proposed research question, pointing out theoretical contributions as well as practices, that benefit the field from a new sight on the existing perspectives.

3. Main results The exponential development of AVs bring to light important discussions related to the role of different stakeholders involved. According to the report "Self-driving vehicles, robo-taxis, and the urban mobility revolution" developed by The Boston Consulting Group (Lang; Rüßmann; Mei-Pochtler; Dauner; Komiya; Mosquet; Doubara, 2016), AVs are multifaceted and far-reaching, generating influences on consumption, industries, politics and urban issues. From the discussion of innovation governance, considering AVs as an emerging technology, it is proposed to use the Quadrilateral Helix theory (HQ) as a way to operationalize governance in a national context. The involvement of different actors refers to theories of innovation related to these helix. Based on the Triple Helix (HT) model and considering critics about the insufficiency of the model to clarify the innovation in a systemic and updated way (Nordberg, 2015; Galvão; Mascarenhas; Rodrigues; Marques; Leal; 2017), we have the HQ model that adds to the HT model the 'society' helix. Thus, the HQ has as helix: industry, university, government and society (Dubina; Carayannis; Campbell, 2012). It is argued, therefore, that the development of a governance model of innovation at national level should consider and include different actors present in each helix. A framework is design to illustrate the proposal of integrative operationalization.

Figure 01: Governance of innovation through the lens of Quadruple Helix

Source: Prepared by the authors


4. Practical implications

The mobility of the future, including AVs as an important modal, has users and their demands and expectations in the center. Thus, there is a context that directs new and different roles of actors of the public and private sectors in the sense that companies and governments, rather than treating each mobility trend in isolation, take an integrated perspective. The political sphere needs to identify and address bottlenecks in order to capture social benefits. Private sector actors must address changes at the local level in strategic and contextualized ways (McKinsey, 2016). The discussion of governance from the Quadruple Helix lenses raises the necessary aspects for an integrated action in order to promote a profitable environment for the insertion of VAs in the cities. There is no intention of generalizing the proposed discussion. The aim is to highlight the integrative feature of governance in order to promote reflection on the roles of each helix and its implications as a whole. Based on this reflection, considering an effort contextualized to the particularities of the countries, it is defended that the governance is structured generating benefits to the system of innovation as a whole. From the holistic view and the aligned decisions, the actors of the 'government' helix should act to promote policies that are appropriate to the needs and promote the well-being of the other helix. The 'university' helix needs to direct efforts to understand the theoretical and practical aspects necessary to maintain the country's innovative capacity. The 'industry' helix must act by generating innovation and jobs, as well as technical, social and environmental benefits. Finally, the 'society' helix offers the practical field of acceptance of autonomous technologies, and reflects the actions of the other helix. A governance model that considers the vision and actions of these actors, can ultimately generate sustainable benefits to a country.

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