Public sector research - shaping factors


Various factors shape the motivations and resources of actors. It is important to identify these as they offer potential points of leverage for policy interventions directed at shifting actors’ behaviours. The Platform distinguishes between three classes of factor that shape the behaviour of actors:

  • Structural factors – these constitute the material (and other resource) factors that shape the opportunities and constraints for innovation. For example, countries’ innovation systems and their performance are, at least in the short and medium term, shaped by their current state of economic development, resource endowments and the specialisation patterns in production and international trade, as well as other structural factors. Firm demography – the structure of the population of business enterprises as well as their interrelations in the economy – also has a strong impact on firms’ capabilities and constraints or opportunities for learning.
  • Institutional factors – these constitute the "rules of the game" and "codes of conduct" that reduce uncertainty in the innovation system. Institutions are "emergent", in that they are "generated" by the activities of actors and their interactions with one another. At the same time, they also "structure" these activities and interactions. Distinction is often drawn between "hard" and "soft" institutions. Hard institutions are the formal institutional mechanisms that may stimulate or hinder innovation. They include formal written laws and regulations, such as those around technical standards, labour laws, the general legal system relating to contracts, intellectual property rights (IPR), etc. By contrast, soft institutions refer to the implicit rules of the game that can enable or hinder innovation. They include social norms, the willingness to share resources with others, the entrepreneurial spirit in organisations and countries more generally, tendencies to trust, risk averseness, etc.
  • Ideational factors – these constitute the socio-cognitive frameworks within which actors carry out their activities and refer to, for example, world views, normative beliefs and values, and the logics of appropriateness held by actors and embodied in institutions. As with institutions, ideas are "emergent" in that they "structure" the behaviours of actors while at the same time are ‘generated’ by them. Such factors are often expressed in the form of analogies, metaphors, myths, expectations, future visions, concepts and heuristics, guidelines, etc. and are instrumental in shaping actor identities, institutional arrangements, and policy frames.

Crucially, it is the mix of these different shaping factors that have an influence on actors’ behaviours. Both positive and negative synergistic effects can be expected between factors and for the factor mix to demonstrate ‘emergent’ properties. Another important point to bear in mind is that some shaping factors provide better points of leverage for policy intervention than others. Indeed, there are likely to be many shaping factors that would be difficult or even slow to change even if such change was highly desirable.

The shaping factors relevant to public sector research and its contributions to innovation performance are listed to the right. Each shaping factor includes a brief description of what it refers to, its relevance for the contributions of public sector research to innovation, the manner in which it shapes the interests, activities and resources of relevant actors, and the policies that are typically used to modulate its shaping effects. In a few instances, e.g. public sector research funding regimes, Briefs are available containing further analysis.

Public sector research

Module home

   Activities and outcomes

   Key actors

   Shaping factors

Economic development

Economic specialisation

Industrial ecology


Financial markets

Scope and scale of public research

Academic careers

PSR funding regimes

IPR regimes

Roles and status of HEIs/PRIs

Scientific community norms

Open innovation

   Policy analysis




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