Emerging technology (EmTech) policy

Strategising for emerging technologies is a complex task due to uncertainty around future applications and potential scale-up challenges. Effective strategies demand a systematic understanding of innovation-industrial systems and emerging opportunities and challenges.


Innovation provides an important route for countries and companies to enhance their competitive positions and national capabilities, ensure national security and address global challenges. Governments of leading innovation economies have been adopting emerging (and critical) technology strategies and updating their lists of priority technologies in an effort to stay at the forefront of innovation. Some examples of strategies with priority lists include the UK Science & Technology Framework, US Critical and Emerging Technologies List Update, Made in China 2025 or the European Commission’s Key enabling technologies policy. While others focus on specific technologies of key national and global interest: UK National Quantum Strategy, European Chips Act, US CHIPS Act, etc.


Yet, strategizing for emerging technologies is a complex undertaking due to the high technological and market uncertainty involved as well as the complexity of technologies and innovation-industrial systems. On one hand, technologies emerging from underpinning science (e.g., quantum mechanics) face high uncertainty around future applications and regulations affecting investment decisions. On the other hand, technologies with clearer market demand (e.g., clean energy technologies) require complementarities – resources, capabilities, technologies, components, patents, standards, etc. – that are often not readily available and need to be developed.


Regardless of where emergence in the system comes from, there is a gap between R&D and bringing technology solutions to the market. Commercialization of technologies, thus, requires the successful scaling-up of technology, production, businesses, and markets. All of these require early-stage anticipation and consideration of future challenges that may otherwise delay this process, along with understanding current and future capabilities.


Effective emerging technology strategies therefore require a more systematic understanding of the underlying innovation-industrial systems – technologies, capabilities, resources, supply chains, actors, financiers – and emerging opportunities and challenges. Long-term planning and foresight also call for systematic evidence-gathering and new data and metrics for monitoring and evaluation.



Key projects: 

Technology strata: A framework distinguishing between technologies

The technology strata framework suggests that every technological entity evolves through and can be classified across different technology strata starting from its underpinning scientific principles, through the application of this principle into a core technology and integration into a larger system forming an integrated technology.


Technology family as a unit of analysis of innovation lifecycles: The case of the National Nanotechnology Initiative in the US

This project explores the lifecycle dynamics of nanotechnology not at the micro (project or product lifecycle) or macro (techno-economic paradigm) level but at the technology family level as a more appropriate alternative to strategizing for innovation.


The importance of tool technologies for commercialization

Despite their importance in accelerating commercialization, R&D and engineering tool technologies are often underfunded or not considered early on in the technology development process due to their quasi-public good content.


Long-term patterns in technological emergence

This project aims to address the questions around how and why technologies emerge in the long term.


Division of innovation labour across technological maturities

This project explores how scientific funders coordinate in the long term.


Network models for technological emergence foresight

This project examines whether it is possible to predict technological emergence.

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