Department Research Themes

The section Economics of Technology and Innovation contributes to three main research themes that intersect the overarching Department of Values, Technology & Innovation (VTI), all related to responsible innovation. Within these three themes, our focal point is on the management of responsible innovation.

Design for Values

How to integrate values into the design of technologies, institutions and socio-technical systems?

Management of Responsible Innovation (RI)

How to operationalise, manage & incentivise RI?

Responsible Risk Management

How to assess, manage & evaluate risk in a responsible way?

Section Research Themes

The management of responsible innovation is a key theme for the ETI section. Against that background, the research of ETI is more specifically organized along two interacting themes:

  1. The design and development of institutions and regulations in which the direction of technological change takes place, and
  2. the agents in and strategies of innovative organizations aimed at developing new technologies in the framework of these institutions and regulations.

Institutional design

As realizing responsible innovations requires the right incentive structures being in place, institutional design is an important topic to study. Incentive structures are broader than only monetized incentives and involve forms of regulation, norms and standards, information structures, decision-making and contracting structures. Values, in the sense of social norms on what is considered right or wrong, can play an important role in such objects of institutional design. A link exists between our work and that of Ostrom (2005).

The methodology of our institutional design research is mainly conceptual. The practical cases that we have studied, have in the past decade mainly been taken from the energy domain. An example is a project on Network Infrastructures Technology and Institutions.

In the analysis of energy cases, we greatly benefit from the sociotechnical systems perspective of the overarching Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management (TPM) and the systems modelling knowledge in the TPM-departments MAS and ESS.

Theoretical and empirical developments in the field of economics of complementarities, network externalities, agency costs and asymmetric information have potential to contribute to further deepening of institutional economic analyses and designs applied to socio-technical systems and innovative eco-systems.

Agents in and strategies of innovative organizations

This strand of research is complementary to analyses at the system level, as it investigates how the socio-technical institutional context works out at the individual and organizational level of an economy. Our work on this research theme encompasses human capital issues, the role and relationships of different innovative agents, and self-enforcing mechanisms due to standardization and technology battles. Some examples are

We also pay attention to emerging and international economies, i.e. to innovation processes in non-Western countries and companies and to the impact of technological developments on geopolitical structures and policies. We study, for example, the shift from fossil- to renewable energy systems in non-Western countries and its implications for the (in)efficiency (overengineering, regulations) of technology development processes in the  European Union and the Netherlands. Examples are geopolitics and the emergence of hydrogen trade and supply networks.

The increasing international refocusing of technology development in emerging economies provides new research questions and contributes to reducing geographical favouritism (i.e. only focusing on Western countries). This research is done in collaboration with the International Centre for Frugal Innovations (ICFI).

Application domains

Besides the energy sector as an important application domain for our research, we are increasingly paying attention to technical domains such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and health technology; the fast developments in these domains have socially disruptive consequences. They require economic and institutional analyses to steer them in a desirable direction. We study these developments with a specific responsible innovation lens and a focus on mission driven innovation systems.

With this change of scope towards (socially disruptive) new technologies, the members of ETI aim to combine scholarly excellence with a constant engagement with real-world problems, including problems caused by the transition to a low-carbon economy, automation and the 4th Industrial Revolution (“the platform economy”) and/or challenges related to safeguarding and funding of affordable and clean energy and the financing of public health systems.

Our methodological toolkit

ETI members cross disciplinary boundaries and integrate insights from economics, engineering and management, bringing them to bear on economic, business, and societal issues. A multi-method approach is central to all research of the ETI section. Our toolkit includes, for example, case studies, social network analysis, experimental setups and statistical and econometric methods.




From exogenous to responsible & mission-driven technological change


A central theme of the section’s research is the direction of technological change. Economic growth theory from the 1950s through the 1980s saw technological change as an exogenous force. Later, technology became seen as an endogenous force, but was considered supply-driven and determined by price incentives given to inventors.

In the last decade, this price-induced economic literature has increasingly paid attention to directed technical change, especially change aimed at environmentally friendly technology. The research activities of our section fit in this directed-technological-change-literature, but it primarily focuses on the demand side by considering other values than only prices and profits, such as safety and other ethical and social values.  

Such values are expressed, for example, in the societal grand challenges formulated by the European Union (EU) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations. These have contributed to the rise of mission-driven innovation systems.

These developments have contributed to the rise of the concept of responsible innovation (RI), which has become an important theme within both our section and department, as well as in the academic innovation literature. RI aims to incorporate various societal/ethical values in innovation processes. These values can, however, conflict with each other, in which case trade-off decisions may be needed due to scarcity of economic resources.