Imperial College London


Business School

Senior Research Fellow







Tanaka BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





Keith Smith has five current research fields:

  • Foundations of public policies supporting innovation
  • Innovation policy implications of climate change
  • Innovation and economic development in resource-based economies
  • Innovation in ‘low technology’ industries
  • Development and analysis of innovation indicators

Main recent and current activities within these fields are:

Foundations of public policies supporting innovation:
Keith Smith has worked for some years on both theoretical and practical dimensions of innovation policy. Current work is towards a book on policy issues. The main themes of this are:

  • the need to see innovation policy in the context of wider and more explicit economic development strategy
  • the need to conceptualise innovation in a more nuanced way, in particular drawing on modern research in innovation studies
  • the need to design instruments against the background of changes in innovation processes, deriving largely from enhanced ICT functionality and increasing global interdependence in knowledge production
  • the need to use modern data on innovation more effectively
  • the need to take inter-country and inter-regional heterogeneity more seriously in policy design
  • the need to map existing policy instruments more clearly and to introduce coherence between them.

Innovation policy implications of climate change:
Current work focuses on the innovation policy implications of warming, particularly for innovation in energy carriers. Although the impacts of greenhouse gas buildup remain uncertain, if they turn out to be serious then neither improving energy efficiency nor adaptation policies will fully cope with the problems of warming. Reducing climate impacts without impeding economic development will require new low emissions energy carriers. Recent work argues that current policy initiatives in effect aim at only limited dimensions of energy technology, either promoting incremental change in existing technologies, or improving performance in existing renewable alternatives. They will neither induce fundamental innovation in carrier technologies, nor change the basic technological regime of hydrocarbon production, distribution and use. For this more radical ‘mission-oriented’ programmes are necessary. In turn, this will require new policy instruments and methods, and will involve new dimensions of international collaboration and global governance of innovation strategies. A substantial paper on this has been drafted and a book is planned.

Innovation and development in resource-based economies:
Recent work in this area has focused on development of a large-scale project on innovation and growth in resource-base economies. Contrary to the view that there exists a ‘resource curse’ that constrains the growth of resource-intensive economies, this project seeks to generate an empirically and historically-relevant theory of why some resource-based economies have developed to become some of the world’s wealthiest economies. This theory rests on analysis of innovation within resources sectors, on upstream and downstream linkages, on creation of new resources via innovation, and on the use of revenue stream from resource sectors. The project has resulted in a book and several articles, Current work on this research field is aimed at two new books (an edited volume and a theoretical volume written jointly with Olav Wicken and Staffan Lastaedius), and a number of scholarly articles.

Innovation in ‘low technology’ industries
It is widely argued that high-tech industries, usually meaning industries that spend more four percent of their output on R&D are key drivers of economic growth, key sites of innovation, and key bearers of the ‘knowledge economy’. However the persistence of low- and medium-technology industries is a striking feature of the OECD economies. In all OECD economies, the high tech manufacturing sectors are small (usually less than five percent of total output, and often less than three percent), and large proportions of output and employment derive from the low and medium tech sectors. Recent and ongoing research has included work on the limitations of high tech growth ideas, on analysis of the industrial structure of growth in OECD economies for the period 1980-2000, and on the use of knowledge in low-tech industries (studies both as a general phenomenon and via case studies of specific industries, most recently wine). With Paul Robertson, Keith Smith has recently edited a special issue of Research Policy on innovation in low and medium tech industries.

Development and analysis of innovation indicators
Recent work in this area has focused on the world’s first innovation ‘census’: a firm-level survey of all firms in an Australian regional economy, the State of Tasmania. This is the first innovation survey to cover all firms, and hence all industries, in any economy; a further novelty is that it has been the first large-scale survey to be collected by telephone interview. The project has involved three main steps over three years:

  1. building a comprehensive population frame,
  2. developing and testing the survey instrument, then collecting data,
  3. data capture, database development, editing and cleaning, and then reporting.

The Census has generated not only solid substantive results but also important methodological issues and breakthroughs. The first major report, Innovation in Tasmania, was presented in August 2008. Since then two further reports, on methodological issues, and on innovation in the manufacturing sector, have been completed. Further studies will include university-industry interactions – the Census has shown much higher levels of university-industry interaction than previously suspected, mainly because of closer attention to informal collaboration. Other recent work on indicators includes an analysis of policy uses of Community Innovation Survey data in Europe. Work under development focuses on the extent to which GDP numbers capture the effects of innovation in the long term.