Disruptive changes and policy governance modes: the case of automobile industry and new mobility services

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2020)


Co-creation governance, Directional FLAs, Diversity, Exploratory FLAs, Fast and slow disruptive transformations, Forward-looking activities (FLAs), Innovation ecosystems, Multi-level governance, Responsive governance


Our paper is aimed at (i) contributing to sense-making of the on-going fundamental, interwoven societal, economic, and technological changes, (ii) exploring two types of science, technology, and innovation (STI) policy-governance approaches to address these changes; and (iii) considering the relevance of forward-looking activities (FLAs) to assist these STI policy governance approaches.

These on-going changes give rise to different main types of processes of transformative change: A) fast and disruptive transformations give rise to new, often digital, business models, supersede existing businesses (e.g. Uber, Airbnb, etc.) and lead to entirely new innovation ecosystems, with often unknown consequences e.g. on employment, including labour relations, while giving rise to new, fundamental privacy, safety or ethical dilemmas; and B) slow but equally transformative transitions of existing, often hard-wired, socio-technical systems with strong path-dependences (e.g. in energy supply, mobility). In real life, besides these ideal types, we are likely to observe hybrid forms that are challenging both in terms of their scope and their speed of occurrence (e.g. smart grids).

These different types of transformations give rise to growing concerns about the direction of change and fears about a loss of control, but they are characterised by different levels of scope, speed, and uncertainty, and thus necessitate different strategies and governance approaches. Thus, in the second part of the paper we distinguish two main ideal types of STI policy governance approaches, intended either to (a) respond to the disruptive transformations in an effective way, characterised by a strong emphasis on flexibility and responsiveness, or (b) create pro-actively new opportunities for (co-)shaping transitions towards socially, economically, and environmentally desirable directions, thus calling for long-term goal orientation and coherent strategies of a broad range of actors. Clearly, there could be a third approach, namely just “wait and see”, that is, being rather passive. It is even quite likely that this approach will be taken in many countries and regions. Yet, as this approach is not really promising and fruitful, we do not consider it in the paper.

Considering the types of disruptive changes (fast vs. slow) and governance approaches (responsive vs. co-creator), we can identify four combinations. (Table 1, see the attached file)

In this paper, we illustrate our argument by looking into examples of areas where fast disruptive and slow disruptive change arises, and where we can observe different governance approaches in different context for dealing with these disruptions. In both cases, we look into the field of mobility, broadly defined.

Our first example is the automotive industry, while the second one refers to the introduction of new types of mobility services, which are disruptive because they undermine the very functioning of our current mobility systems and represent a departure from car ownership.

For both types of transformative change processes, FLAs can play an important role as an appropriate tool for anticipation, joint visioning and soft co-ordination. In line with the differentiation of governance approaches, the main intentions of FLAs equally need to differ and be geared towards the corresponding governance approach. The key dimensions of differentiation are (i) the main aim of an FLA: explore what might evolve vs. give direction to changes with the intention to create new opportunities and new ecosystems for these new opportunities; and (ii) the level of participation: expert-based vs. participatory.

To bring together our simple typologies, for responsive governance modes (that is, Aa and Ba combinations) exploratory FLAs seem to be appropriate, while pro-active co-creation governance approaches (that is, Ab and Bb “pairs”) can be supported by what we call directional FLAs. Further, participatory FLAs would increase the chance of shaping the direction of change by involving the major actors. These processes would align their visions as to which direction to take, and thus reduce uncertainty and orchestrate their efforts and pull together their resources to achieve the desired change, in particular, create new opportunities. Yet, policy-makers and other actors opting for this type of FLA need to be aware of a trade-off between the speed of changes and the time needed for conducting a proper, fully-fledged participatory FLA, that is, a foresight process.

When drawing policy implications, the paper emphasises the importance of taking a multi-level perspective. First, national and regional innovation systems, together with their policy governance sub-systems, provide key framework conditions for addressing transformative changes (fora for major actors to communicate, interact, and co-operate; strategy-setting capabilities; competences in using decision-preparatory tools, especially “futures literacy”; regulations; financial and other support; etc.) to the actors at the level of actual innovation ecosystems, where transformative changes manifest themselves most directly and most forcefully, on the one hand, and where it is the most appropriate to attempt co-shaping the transformative changes to create new opportunities or finding appropriate governance responses, on the other. Second, any given country or region is likely to be fairly diverse in terms of having Aa, Ba, Ab, and Bb “pairs” at the level of innovation ecosystems. National and regional policy-makers need to be aware of this diversity and find effective ways to assist in creating appropriate, and therefore diverse, governance approaches for these different innovation ecosystems.


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