Isomorphic differences: Familiarity and distinctiveness in national science and innovation policies

Title of project: Isomorphic differences: Familiarity and distinctiveness in national science and innovation policies
Project group: Innovation Management
Year of commencement: 2018
Project introduction:




National science and innovation policies appear strikingly similar on a number of dimensions, including preferred principles of clustering and partnership, an emphasis on ‘smart growth’ and a focus on ‘hot topics’ such as biotechnology and big data. Is this a pervasive homogeneity or are countries and regions strategically distinguished?

This project will conduct a comparative analysis of science and innovation policy-making in China, Denmark and USA. Within and across these nations, it focuses on the balance between duplication (or isomorphism) and difference in policy-making. What is their relationship across national science and innovation policies? What is the direction of policy change?

Such questions are of considerable importance in terms of enhancing our understanding of global governance systems and national strategic capabilities: and also in informing national and international policy making. How are nations to strike the best balance between ‘following the global crowd’ and ‘setting a distinctive direction’?

Against this background, the project employs the concept of ‘isomorphic difference’ as a means of analyzing international research and innovation policies. ‘Isomorphism’ here refers to patterns of cross-national convergence. ‘Difference’ meanwhile addresses matters of cultural and epistemic uniqueness concerning national research and innovation traditions, institutions and capacities. Our central research question is: What is the balance between isomorphism and difference in each of the three national research and innovation strategies – and how is that balance changing over time?

The project is funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (FSE). The project team consists of three CBS researchers (Alan Irwin, Jane Bjørn Vedel and Signe Vikkelsø), one Edinburgh colleague (Xiaobai Shen) plus a post-doc and a PhD scholar.  International cooperation and support will be offered by an International Advisory Board: including Professor Rongping Mu, Institutes of Science and Development, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Chinese innovation policy); Professor Maria Nedeva, University of Manchester (research policy and organization); Professor Dan Sarewitz, Arizona State University (science and technology policy); Professor Robin Williams, University of Edinburgh (innovation policy).

Primary contact person: Alan Irwin


Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School

Fellow project partners: Xiaobai Shen

Senior Lecturer

University of Edinburgh Business School

Home institution: Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School,

Kilevej 14a, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark

+ 45 3815 3067

Host institution:
Scheduled project activities: Empirical research will be conducted in all three countries. There are a number of designated milestones for the project, based around the comparative analysis of the three selected nations. In addition, workshops will be held to present, discuss and disseminate findings. A number of academic papers will be produced, commencing with an initial overview and exploration of the central ‘isomorphic difference’ concept.