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ETIN Transformative Innovation Action Forum

Co-organized by the UN-ECE Transformative Innovation Network (ETIN), the Joint Research Centre, the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission

01 October (13:30) - 03 October (12:00) 2024
EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) Brussels Belgium


The transition to a sustainable society, in line with UN Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has emerged as one of the most significant socio-economic endeavours of our generation. Considering the increasingly complex structural challenges and uncertainty arising from pandemics, poverty, rapid technology developments, and war, along with the consequences of climate change, there is a growing awareness of the need for more systemic transformations of our economies and societies. This will not only require that consumption and production patterns become more sustainable (SDG 12) but, perhaps more importantly, that these efforts are somehow coordinated to enforce one another, leveraging emerging opportunities, while at the same time mitigating and addressing potential socio-economic risks and challenges.

Addressing these increasingly complex challenges will require innovation at an unprecedented scale (SDG 9). More importantly, it will require transformative innovation, which adds a new dimension to our understanding of innovation itself. In this context, innovation is not only about new products, services, processes, and methodologies for everyday challenges. It is also expected to support and accelerate larger transformations in and of society at large including changes in behaviours and mindsets. This means that any effort to stimulate innovation, in addition to technology development and innovation management, also will have to consider the surrounding ecosystem’s capacity to assimilate and contribute to innovation. This ambition is to promote an adaptive society, capable of assimilating and promoting innovation for its proper transformation. This implies developing supporting framework conditions, new and appropriate incentives, along with allocating alternative capacities and resources both in the public as well as the private sector.

This implies that transformative innovation policy adds to our traditional ways of thinking about innovation. It is not only about addressing competitiveness and growth, but it is also expected to intentionally contribute to a transformation of society and the economy. This also broadens the scope of transformative innovation policy to a global endeavor.

There is a growing need for concerted and structured dialogues on these issues. How does this ambition to transform entire systems change the way we understand and promote innovation? What new policies and measures are needed to spur transformative innovation that accelerates a sustainable transition of our societies in line with UN Agenda 2030 and the SDGs? What are the opportunities and challenges in this process? What types of integrated learning processes and frameworks, evaluating past experiences while simultaneously pursuing foresight activities, can support experimentation that accelerates societal transformation in a complex environment?

Responding to this clear need for concerted, structured dialogue, tools, and joint initiatives, the UN-ECE Transformative Innovation Network (ETIN) is organizing the Transformative Innovation Action Forum. This is a jointly organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, and the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. This event will bring together a broad range of representatives from government, the private sector, academia and research to discuss the main challenges and opportunities in facilitating innovation for socio-technical transformations towards sustainable development. This Action Forum will benefit from the work conducted by ETIN on ecosystem development and strategic learning for transformative innovation, as well as the work on systems dynamics and place-based innovation conducted by JRC.

Discussions and input to the Action Forum will also be aligned with the insights and outcomes of the “Engagement Week 2024: Scaling Experimentation – A Catalyst For Transformative System Change” organized by ETIN partner, the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC), and the Deep Transitions Lab on 18-20 September 2024.

ETIN and the Action Forum are funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) of Germany.


Activities and Outcomes

The main objective of the Transformative Innovation Action Forum is to facilitate the discussions around opportunities and challenges faced by economies in pursuing transformative innovation, i.e., identify how innovation can be leveraged to address the most pressing challenges we face today. It represents a starting point of an ongoing conversation between experts and international organisations working to support innovation for sustainable transformations. It aims to fill a gap in the current policy debate, by providing a unique space for a diverse set of actors to have an honest and open dialogue about joint challenges and opportunities in pursuing transformative innovation. The aim is to provide peer learning, interactive roundtable discussions for selected changemakers around the basic foundations and practical applications of policies and measures to promote transformative innovation. The various sessions will cover important trends and developments in the field and provide concrete examples of transformative innovation practices.

Elements of Transformative Innovation

Innovation for transformation goes beyond traditional views of innovation, which primarily focus on new products and processes. It extends our understanding of the innovation process itself, by emphasizing its role in driving large-scale, sustainable societal change. Building on this, the ambition of the Action Forum will be to gain a better comprehension of how various dynamics operate in this new context.

  • Directionality is an important first element in identifying and guiding our activities towards sustainability transformations.
  • As transformative innovation is inherently unpredictable, efforts will need to focus on how to best experiment and learn to identify which solutions can lead to socio technical changes.
  • This will also require new ways of coordinating activities,
  • for which the right skills and resources will be necessary.

To be able to address current challenges, it will be important to identify enablers and barriers across these elements, both to promote capacities and capabilities for action, but also take away barriers to action.

Charting the Way Forward

The ambition of this Action Forum is to initiate a series of similar activities going forward, building on the discussions and findings of this event. The Action Forum aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice by consolidating insights and research on transformative innovation. It will translate this knowledge into actionable discussions, fostering a continuous dialogue around key questions. This iterative process will deepen our collective understanding of emerging trends and their implications, ultimately empowering us to drive transformative innovation for long-term impact.

Target Audience

This Action Forum is jointly organised by ETIN, JRC and DG R&I and brings together around 60 ETIN members and changemakers, including leading experts, investors, industry practitioners, and policymakers that work in the field of transformative innovation in the UNECE region, including countries in Western and Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, Central Asia. 

For more information, please contact: [email protected]