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Research Groups

7  Evolution of Human Societies and a Sustainable World

J. Fröhlich (ARCS, Vienna)

Depending on the diverse topics of the evolution of societies taken under consideration, models of different complexity have to be applied. Yet taking into account the economic development of regions and countries calls for models of high complexity. Dealing with the concept of sustainability enhances the complexity of models drastically since almost the complete social system needs to be included and the mechanisms of the ecological system need to be taken into account.

A major difficulty in modelling such complex systems lies in the appropriate conceptualisation and representation of relations between the elements of the system, especially with respect to the different qualities and contents of interactions. In particular, flows of information between system elements and between subsystems require special attention in the process of modelling complex systems: First, they show different effects on stock variables than other types of interactions (such as physical flows); second, information flows are characterised by specific types of barriers to interactions; third, information flows demand specific characteristics of and relations between the elements involved in order to codify and decodify information and to absorb and process information; and fourth, information flows often represent an interactive type of relation with simultaneous flows in multidimensional directions.

Within the ZiF project three objectives are under consideration:

  1. Information flows in regional innovation systems,
  2. the relevance of hierarchical cellular networks for mastering complexity in environmental systems, and
  3. intervention in complex systems: The example of technology policy.


Ad i.

At the end of the eighties, several groups of researchers have developed the concept of national innovation systems (see e.g. Lundvall, Dosi, Freeman). Since considerable tacit and technological knowledge is exchanged through personal contacts, increasing attention has been attributed to spatial structures in innovation systems. Systematic empirical analyses of regional innovation systems however are still missing. An interesting econometric approach to describe the influence of spatial structures on knowledge production and knowledge exchange is the classical Griliches-Jaffe knowledge production function framework (Griliches 1979, Jaffe 1989) which has been applied in empirical studies in the US (see e.g. Varga 1998 and literature cited there). The first European study using this framework is currently conducted on the Austrian Innovation System.

Against this background, the following questions will be addressed in the ZiF project:


Ad ii.

The long term interaction between ecological and social systems is characterised by the change between chaotic and stable periods. Beyond a romanticism it is evident that human being is a result of coevolution within ecological systems. The identification of relevant coevolutive forces and the understanding of its interactions are essential basics for a successful future development of human societies.

Based on recent development in understanding of ecosystems functions and on its interactions with the human social systems some open questions will be addressed in the ZiF project:


Ad iii.

Studies on national innovation systems have so far focussed on institutions as c.f. enterprises, universities, technological infrastructure and their interrelations in order to detect deficits in knowledge flows. Considering the necessity to compensate for systems failure, these analyses have been used to derive policy options.

Since according to the concept of national innovation systems technology policy is itself an element of innovation systems, policy-making will be the centre of attention in the ZiF project. Therefore the following questions will be discussed in the investigations of national innovation systems:



  1. Boyden S. (1992): Biohistory: The interplay between human society and biosphere. The Parthenon Publishing Group, Paris.
  2. Dosi, G. (1988): Sources, procedures and microeconomic effects of innovation. Journal of Economic Literature 26, 1120-1171.
  3. Ebeling W., Freund J., Schweitzer F. (1998): Komplexe Strukturen: Entropie und Information. Teubner, Stuttgart.
  4. Fischer, M.M., Fröhlich, J. and Gassler, H. (1994): An Exploration into the Determinants of Patent Activities: Some Empirical Evidence for Austria. Regional Studies 28, 1-12.
  5. Freeman, C. (1987) Technology Policy and Economic Performance: Lessons from Japan. London: Pinter.
  6. Griliches, Z. (1979): Issues in assessing the contribution of research and development to productivity growth. Bell Journal of Economics 10, 92-116.
  7. Jaffe, A. (1989): Real effects of academic research. American Economic Review 79, 957-970.
  8. Jørgenson S.E. (1992): Integration of Ecosystem Theories: A Pattern. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  9. Haken H., Wunderlin A. (1991): Die Selbststrukturierung der Materie. Vieweg, Braunschweig.
  10. Knoflacher H.M. (1997): Integration of Ecological and Social System in a Conceptual Model - an Approach for Understanding the Challenge of Sustainable Landuse. Conference Science for Sustainability; Roskilde, 26 - 29 October 1997.
  11. Lundvall, B.A. (1988): Innovation as an interactive process: From user-producer interaction to the national system of innovations. In Dosi, G., Freeman, C., Nelson, R., Silverberg, G. and Soete, L. (eds.): Technical Change and Economic Theory, 349-369. London, Pinter.
  12. Pianka E.R. (1994): Evolutionary Ecology. HarperCollins, New York.
  13. Varga, A. (1998a): University Research and Regional Innovation: A Spatial Econometric Analysis of Academic Technology Transfers. Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  14. Varga, A. (1998c): Regional economic effects of university research. A survey. Research Paper, Regional Research Institute, West Virginia University (under revision for the International Regional Science Review).
  15. Varga, A. (1998d): Universities and regional economic development: Does agglomeration matter? RRI Research Papers, 9810, Regional Research Institute, West Virginia University, 1-32.



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