One of the more striking phenomena with regard to contemporary approaches to research and innovation concerns the repeated appearance of certain forms of policy discourse and government-led initiative. Internationally, a link between research investment, successful innovation, and government strategy is being made and enacted – accompanied often by the call for the development of regional ecosystems, the building of partnerships, the creation of university-industry collaborations, and the establishment of state-sponsored funding mechanisms designed to stimulate innovation-led growth.
On the one hand, this can be viewed as a remarkable standardization as countries with distinctive traditions, institutions and cultures adopt a shared national agenda: either trying to stay ahead of the competition or else vigorously attempting to ‘catch up with the West’. On the other, the existence of significant standardization, homogenization and isomorphism across nations should not detract from important, and persistent, differences. These differences do not only relate to obvious matters of the scale of national R&D investment, degree of research intensity and the historical stage of socio-technical development. Cross-national differences can also relate to deeper-rooted traditions and the broader cultural and organizational context in which these developments are taking place. Whilst the concept of isomorphism might suggest broad convergence based on only one model of socio-scientific development, the existence of persistent differences – both in terms of policy and enactment - raises a question mark against the idea that all the world will come to resemble Silicon Valley or Shenzhen. In this talk, I would like to explore the concept of isomorphic difference but also address its implications for responsible research and innovation in particular.