Theme paper Triple Helix I (January 1995)


The Triple Helix---University-Industry-Government Relations:

A Laboratory for Knowledge Based Economic Development



Henry Etzkowitz, Sociology, State University of New York at Purchase and Science Policy Institute (SPI) SUNY Stony Brook


Loet Leydesdorff, Science & Technology Dynamics, University of Amsterdam



Universities and industry, up to now relatively separate and distinct institutional spheres, are assuming tasks that were formerly largely the province of the other.  The role of government in relation to these two spheres is changing in apparently contradictory directions.  Governments are offerring incentives, on the one hand, and pressing academic institutions, on the other, to go beyond performing the traditional functions of cultural memory, education and research, and make a more direct contribution to "wealth creation" (HMSO 1993).  Governments are also shifting their relationships to economic institutions, becoming both more and less involved.  In some countries with a laissez faire capitalist tradition such as the U.S. government is playing a greater role in innovation in the civilian economy (Etzkowitz 1994a) while in former socialist societies government has withdrawn from its previous position of total control of science and technology policy; adopting a stance more in accord with laissez faire principles.  Multi-national institutions such as the European Union, the World Bank and the U.N. are also moving to embrace concepts of knowledge based economic development that bring the knowledge, productive and regulatory spheres of society into new configurations.  In this conference, we wish to study the role of the sciences in this changing environment with a focus on the university's position in the newly emerging knowledge infrastructure.



The university, the sciences and the new economic environment


The modern university, which combines teaching and research, emerged in the early 19th century.  Historically, the institution went through a revolutionary transition in the late 19th century; from being largely a higher-education institute, the universities increasingly came to have social functions in both research and teaching.  With hindsight, this differentiation of functions can be understood in terms of changes in the knowledge infrastructure.  The emergence of the industrial research laboratory and the scientification of industrial production had created a labour market for experimentally trained academicians (Noble 1977; Van den Belt & Rip 1987).  Universities offered a specific place for integration and differentiation among functions in the knowledge infrastructure like scholarly learning, theorizing, and experimental practices.


The first half of the 20th century has sometimes been characterized in terms of the extension of this higher-education system under the patronage of the nation states (e.g., Parsons & Platt 1975).  During much of the latter half of the century, the expansion served to accomplish these purposes on a larger scale, with expectations of long-term practical relevance (Bush 1945).  Increased international economic competition, the end of the Cold-War and the emergence of new models of knowledge based economic devleopment have called this taken for granted "ivory tower" role of the university into question.


A new social contract between the university and the larger society is being negotiated in much more specific terms than the old one (Etzkowitz 1994b).  The former contract was based on a linear model of innovation, presuming only long term contributions of academic knowledge to the economy.  Now both long and short term contributions are seen to be possible, based on examples of firm formation and research contracts in fields such as biotechnology and computer science.  A spiral model of innovation is required to capture multiple reciprocal linkages at different stages of the capitalization of knowledge (Etzkowitz 1994c; Leydesdorff 1994).  What dynamics are involved; how are industrial and R&D policies affected?  Should government strategies focus on channels of information, in the hope of creating systematically effective and dynamic interdependen­cies without becoming directly involved in specific technologies or projects?  Alternatively, should government policies focus on encouraging and subsidizing strategic alliances among companies and universities to overcome blockages or "reverse salients" in particular technologies with significance for future product development?  Mixing and matching both of these strategies in different scientific disciplines, technological fields and industrial sectors is a further possibility.  Such a "hands on" strategy, however, requires a greater science and technology policy capacity on the part of the state, industry and academia since judgements of the level and type of intervention in particular areas becomes more critical.  These are the central questions of academic, industry, government relations in societies of different traditions of political-economy, and level and type of economic development, which we wish to raise in this workshop.



Theoretical framework


A "triple helix" of academic-industry-government relations is likely to be a key component of any national or multi-national innovation strategy in the late twentieth century.  The focus on interactions between institutions of fundamental research "on the supply side" and corporations has not only been reflected in technology policies, but also in technology studies. Linear models of "demand pull" or "technology push" have been superceded by evolutionary models that analyze the developments in terms of networks (e.g., Nelson & Winter 1982; Dosi et al. 1988; Leydesdorff & Van den Besselaar 1994).  Non-linear dynamics has provided us with co-evolutionary models: How do technologies and institutions co-evolve (Nelson 1994)?  Under which conditions do they "lock in" (David 1985; Arthur 1988)?  When can a "lock in" be considered as part of an emerging infrastructure and when should it be avoided (cf. David and Foray 1994)?  And over time: How is the social infrastructure adjusted to cycles of emerging techno-economic developments (Freeman and Perez 1988; Barras 1990)?


Three sources of variation have been acknowledged in technology studies: (1) industrial sectors differ with respect to their relations to the technologies that are relevant for the developments in those sectors (e.g., Pavitt 1984); (2) different technologies induce different patterns of innovation and diffusion (e.g., Freeman & Perez 1988; Faulkner & Senker 1994); (3) systems of innovation (e.g., national systems of innovation) integrate and differentiate the various functions differently (Lundvall 1988; Nelson 1993).  The variations, however, are both functional and institutional.  The functional communica­tions can sometimes be codified in new institutional settings; the institutional sectors (public, private and academic) that formerly operated at arms length are increasingly working together, with a spiral pattern of linkages emerging at various stages of the innovation process.  Institutional and national boundaries may be transcended in the course of creating a new innovation environments, including the development of new (inter‑)disciplinary discourses.  At the other end, start up firms are a common outgrowth of the integration among the three sectors: arising from academic research groups, national laboratories, and the laboratories of large corporations.  National innovation systems are regionalized and internationalized as innovation processes take place across national boundaries, through cooperative arrangements among regions and firms (Kohler-Koch, 1993).


Innovation systems, a characteristic of the nation-state (Nelson 1993), are being supplemented by regional and multi-national innovation systems within the European Union and elsewhere.  At the regional level, this is not a new development.  The New England regional innovation system, named after a post war ring-road "Route 128" originated in the mid-nineteenth century with the founding of MIT, a new type of technological university designed to infuse industry with the results of what is now known as "strategic research" (Etzkowitz 1993).  At the cognitive level, however, scientists from different disciplines and specialties are challenged across established boundaries, in order to reflexively search for new forms of (functional) integration.


What is new is the spread of technology policy to virtually all regions, irrespective of whether they are research or industrially intensive.  The various systems which previously could be considered as functionally differentiated, tend to be integrated at various levels of structure. Grasping the competitive advantages seems to require the purposeful adjustment of the various levels of integration and control (Porter 1990). Many international and multi-national programs of the UN, the OECD, the World Bank and the European Union assist economic development by relying on academic-industry-government relations to achieve their goals (Nelson, 1993).  Thus, a new mode of production is emerging based on linkages among academia, industry and government.


Another indicator of this development is the growing convergence among North America, Japan and Europe in science, technology and industrial policy.  The Europeans, having concentrated on assisting larger firms through pre-competitive research initiatives, are moving toward greater emphasis on startups, a U.S. specialty until recently.  The Japanese, having brought the art of targeting "critical technologies" representing future industrial growth to a high level, are developing their academic basic research and graduate training capacities.  The U.S., with an overcapacity of basic research supply and undercapitalized intellectual property resources, is acting to assist larger, as well as smaller, companies to take technologies off the shelf and into the factory for production, both as defense conversion and economic development policy. For its part, Europe will spend 13.1 billion ECU on its Fourth Framework Program (1994‑98) to become more competitive with the U.S. and Japan.


Policy programmes tend to call for collaboration and integration.  However, one expects a complex dynamic system to reproduce also differentiation, since differentiation allows for more complexity.  Along which dimensions or at which levels does one observe integration, and along which differentiation?  How are the two mechanisms balanced and reflexively optimized?  And by which actors in the network?  Is the newly emerging network system a further differentiation on top of the existing systems or is it a new (e.g., more complex) mode of knowledge production and control in itself?  How do changes in the knowledge infrastructure affect the intellectual organization of the disciplines?  What are the consequences for reshaping of the university system: which are the emerging functions, and which are the contexts?  What are the implications for higher education?



Institutional implications


The need is felt for a broad multi-faceted relationship between organizations, to carry innovation forward and bring new products to market in the stringent international competitive climate of the 90s.  The director of R&D in the U.S. for Henkel, the German chemical firm, has concluded that, "Technology transfer is dead ...  The old 1950s model doesn't work anymore; the old way of hoping R&D came up with something brilliant only works if you are the only game in town." as the U.S. was in many technologies during that era (Giorden, 1994).  The new paradigm is based on meshing the disciplines of marketing, development and research, creating teams within and across internal and external organizational boundaries.


For IBM, and other firms like it, the issue is not so much the amount spent on R&D but the disconnect that often exists between R&D and product development and marketing in these companies. In their growth period, during the early post-war era, such firms typically expanded by separating R&D, organizationally and geographically from more mundane corporate functions.  It is no longer clear that by just subsidizing R&D the Clinton administration, or the companies themselves, are sufficiently addressing the need for developing technology transfer and commercial­ization capabilities for their research campuses, within and among firms.


In this regard, various European Union programs provide some partial models (Malerba 1993: 254‑255).  In addition to traditional industrial technologies, such as chemicals in which Europe has maintained great strength, the European Union's 4th Framework program proposes to emphasize the life sciences, especially biotechnology, medicine and health as well as agricultural reform and rural development.  Environmental concerns, including lowering the pollution levels of transport systems, are also driving the direction of 4th Framework R&D programs.  These initiatives run parallel to proposals for green technology development in North America.


Given the noted sources of variation, however, the ambitious programs are expected to lead to unintended consequences.  The interactions evolve by operating: functions are differently differentiated and integrated during cultural evolutions, and balances seem delicate. The level of standardization is low in newly emerging systems (cf. Blauwhof & Leydesdorff 1993).  Examples like "Route 128," "Silicon Valley" (Saxenian 1994), the "Cambridge experience," or national experiences like Scandinavian examples point to historical conditions which seem not easily reproduceable.  How then can policies reflexively reshape the co-evolution between technologies and institutions?  Who are the strategic policy actors: does the national state still play a vital role or has the reshaping to be left largely to market forces?  Are neo-corporatist arrangements at the meso-level crucial?  Do non-standard actors (like consultants and liaison officers) play vital roles?  In which stages is which type of effort most likely to push the development in the direction of emerging technologies and competitive advantages?


Niches can be maintained only in specific contexts.  Furthermore, the anticipation on niche formation as breeding places for new developments requires reflexive management of the social conditions of knowledge production and control.  Hence, university-industry relations may play a key role: they have become a laboratory for the conscious reshaping of the knowledge infrastructure under conditions that theoretical uncertainty adds to the uncertainties of the markets.  What have these quasi-experiments taught us about the dynamics of the emerging mode of production? Additionally, issues about the role of the state and private investors, and consequently about the nature of the property rights on results, are placed on the agenda, given the various uncertainties in the strategies and the corresponding risks in the investments.


Perhaps, newly emerging network functions in relations between universities and industry have sufficiently been codified at some places in order to carry new scientific discourses which combine, for example, theorizing, engineering, and management perspectives.  Under which conditions is inter-organizational discourse specific enough to carry intellectual development (cf. Rosenberg 1982)?  Can these interdisciplinary discourses develop into specialties or are they temporary missions which will be torn apart among existing disciplines in the longer run?  How are the large European programmes (e.g., ESPRIT) evaluated from this perspective?  What is the effect of the U.S. industrial policy (e.g. ATP) and defense conversion (TRP) programs?  How has the decline of "import substitution" policies in Latin America affected local academic-industry relations?  Did these programs and policies lead to new standards of scientific and technological achievement which may provide us with models for the further development of higher education?  What might, for example, a "European," "Latin American" or "Eastern European" entrepreneurial university which attempts to institutionalize at the network level look like?


While a number of studies have focussed on experiences in the US and the UK, less empirical information is available about the effects of the assumed transitions from national systems to international frameworks of S&T policy making in the emerging European Union (Nelson 1993 and 1994; cf. Blume and Leydesdorff 1984).  After a period of rapid growth of structures at the relevant interfaces (e.g., transfer agencies, university-industry networks) a tendency to leave selection to the market (e.g., by means of patenting) can be observed.  It has been noted that the new dependencies may lead to deprivation of the university from its autonomous and cultural functions, and thereby endanger the economy in longer-term respects (e.g., the qualification structure; cf. Rosenberg and Nelson 1994).  Is university research increasingly commercially driven?  Has scholarly education become obsolete; is the theoretically oriented intellectual gradually replaced by the experimentalists who has learned to `manage' theoretical knowledge pragmatically?


We are witnessing the transformation of the role of state in academia, the role of corporations in innovation and of the university in the economy (Etzkowitz 1983 and 1995).  Coming from the three sectors, the members of this workshop are participants in the creation of a new innovation environment--a triple helix of academic-industry-government relations. In summary, we envisage contributions from the following perspectives:


1.         from evolutionary economics focussing on the functions of the knowledge infrastructure in advanced (industrial) systems, and on the  consequences for R&D-policies;


2.         from the sociology of science and technology and the sociology of higher education about experiences with reshaping of parts of the knowledge infrastructure like technological sciences and university R&D systems; and its in-depth consequences for the intellectual reorganization of the disciplines;


3.         from policy analysis with an evaluative perspective on efforts to bring about changes at the relevant science-technology-industry interfaces.


Empirical contributions which combine two of these perspectives are particularly welcome as are case studies of individual academic institutions and the development of their industrial relations, historical-institutional analyses of the transformation of national academic/science systems and modelling efforts which use methods (e.g., from non-linear dynamics) in relation to the subject issue (e.g., Brunner 1994).





The workshop will be held on January 4‑6, 1996 in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).


Extended abstracts (two or three pages) should be submitted before August 1, 1995.  The final programme date is November 1, 1996.  Only papers that are available as draft by this date will be included into the programme. All papers will be refereed before the workshop.


We intend to select from the workshop papers (which can have any length at this stage) a number of ten to twelve for inclusion in a volume after thorough rewriting on the basis of referee comments.


For further information contact:


*          Henry Etzkowitz, Department of Computer Science, Columbia University, New York, 10027, U.S.A. Tel. 212- 939 7028 fax: 212- 666 0140 email: or


*          Loet Leydesdorff, Department of Science Dynamics, Nieuwe Achtergracht 166, 1018 WV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  Tel. (+31) 20- 525 6598; fax: 20- 525 6579. E-mail:


Programme committee: Richard R. Nelson (Public Policy Research, Columbia University, New York); Helga Nowotny (Wissenschaftsforschung, Vienna); Beatriz Ruivo (JNICT, Lisbon); Jean-Jacques Salomon (CNAM, Paris); Peter Weingart (Sociology, Bielefeld); Henry Etzkowitz (Sociology, State University of New York, Purchase and SPI Stony Brook);  Loet Leydesdorff (Science & Technology Dynamics, Amsterdam).






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Amsterdam/ New York, January 1995.