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Commentary on the Triple Helix Model of university-industry-government Relations

Keywords include local interaction, Innovation systems, reflexive translations, Knowledge flows, mutual expectations, strange alliances, co-evolve and social infrastructure.

Non-governmental actors are so many over the world (known and unknown, recognized and unrecognized)) with sub-groups that doubled over the years since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The challenge has not always been generating new knowledge because so far, the world has sufficient knowledge to collaborate and solve pressing wicked problems like Climate Change. The problem is at the point of productive partnerships and what next to do when we discover a solution. How do we innovate and implement our grand visions or designs?

The Triple Helix model highlighting 3 types of University-Industry-Government interaction reinforces the impact of effective communication in achieving “niche management and human capital development”. The authors mentioned the “future of location of research” regarding how metropolitan New York and countries like Sweden can catch up with the high-tech industry buzz. I understand this paper was published in 1998 and for these two regions of the world, things have changed drastically, I would say the rest of the world is playing catch up these days when you look at it through the innovation lens under the SDGs and Circular Economy. There is also the mention of transnational and cross-disciplinary collaboration aided by nation-states (and key stakeholders) such that bureaucracy can be politically and functionally productive in responding to socially relevant problems.

Stating that 90 papers were presented and 36 panelists at the second international Triple Helix conference with more than 160 delegates, I find it interesting that the question of “the university being an ivory tower of independent reflection or a generator of economic wealth” comes up. My mind goes to the question of the essence of research and outcomes like research papers if no one is actually reading it outside academia. If colleagues and students are the only ones reading my papers published in academic journals, should I then worry about real-world impact? Should we be more focused on the number of citations or the real-world impact in managing socially relevant problems? This is the challenge when collaborating with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) under the Triple Helix model. The case for universities and other knowledge-generating institutions to become reflexive and open in sharing knowledge instead of locking it within their walls is presently a controversial issue. A journal sued ResearchGate for having their published content on the platform even though it is the authors of the papers that shared it which clearly is not supposed to be a case of plagiarism but should be seen as a way to improve knowledge accessibility but that is still a contentious opinion. If creating local knowledge is now important because more cases are being made for context-specific approaches, then the issue of patency could be reviewed to allow global ideas in one part of the world to become transformed and translated (or maybe redesigned, remodeled) within local spaces (and resources). Again, this is from 1998, many open-source spaces (hubs), and competitions are now being created with funds and founders from all over the world.

I liked how the authors elaborated on the forms of the Triple Helix models (based on institutions, communication systems and alternated roles). Notable is that Triple Helix can be “explored through formal modeling” and despite the complexity, can be a vital inclusive and heuristic guide to understanding interactions. The emphasis on institutions, layers of influence, value systems and codes when finding a balance with the different dimensions of interaction between industry, government and institutions is another practical challenge facing the policy-practical action interface. Knowing the right information to share, how and when to communicate cannot be underrated.

Finally, embracing the inevitability of conflict in such multisectoral collaborations is something that excites me about this paper. Seeing conflict as a “’ blessing” and creating space for it as a tool instead of wasting such a learning opportunity has me nodding my head. Recognizing differences and integrating these differences, focusing less on achieving uniformity at all costs for steps to be taken will play a key role in practicalizing the Triple Helix model for innovation. Maybe, I would say the Precautionary Principle comes to mind in saying that we should not wait for everything to be perfect before we act in the face of pressing issues but that would be a whole topic for another day.


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