A Study on Triple Helix Innovation to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic – A Skill and a Necessary Stage

Triple Helix Association Research Group on Covid-19
Tatiana Schofield, Royal College of Art, UK
Dr Christiane Gebhardt, University of Edinburgh, UK/Switzerland
Dr Dimitri Corpakis, former EU official, SEERC Senior Research Fellow, Belgium
Professor Tariq Durrani, Research Professor, University of Strathclyde, UK
Professor Henry Etzkowitz, International Triple Helix Institute (ITHI), US

In May 2020, the Triple Helix Association conducted an international survey to identify multiple response patterns to the Covid-19 pandemic and to understand weaknesses, strengths, and challenges, for national governance and innovation systems, drawing on political, social and economic dimensions. As part of a larger study on the pandemic crisis, the THA Research Group plan to repeat the survey in six months in order to develop a better understanding of the Triple Helix (governments, businesses, universities and public) resilience, linkages between government actions and subsequent responses from business and society, the role of science and innovation during the crisis, and approaches to agile policy development.

Our research interest was to explore whether the Covid-19 crisis can lead to economic, political, social, and technological transformation, and to model potential future scenarios of TH development.

The overall aim of research has been to test a working hypothesis that stronger linkages and interactions between the Triple Helix elements can increase resilience and capacity of the TH systemic response to future crises.

1. Qualitative Survey

As part of the study, the THA Research Group conducted a qualitative survey across geographies and actors within the Triple Helix model including (i) government, (ii) business/industry, (iii) academia and (iv) society. We asked participants to self-identify to which group they belong, identify their gender, age group and country.

In this context, reflecting on the Triple Helix interactions, we asked participants to answer the following questions:

Most effective actions to respond to Covid-19 pandemic crisis taken in your country.
Least effective actions to respond to Covid-19 pandemic crisis taken in your country.
Main challenges to address during the post-Covid-19 crisis period (apart from sanitary measures that are not the focus of this survey).

2. Survey Results

The first survey captured multiple responses within the Triple Helix system at the start of the crisis and identified reaction patterns observed by TH players.

2.1. Survey Participants Demographics

2.2. Semantic analysis

We used a AI-enabled word cloud generator and text analysis tool Monkey Learn1 to get visualise frequency of responses and to analyse their relevance using machine learning intelligence.

Word Cloud Graphs

Q1 – Most effective actions to respond to Covid-19 pandemic (by word frequency)


Q1 – Most effective actions to respond to Covid-19 pandemic (by relevance)

Q2 – Least effective actions to respond to Covid-19 pandemic (by word frequency)

Q2 – Most effective actions to respond to Covid-19 pandemic (by relevance)

Q3 – Main challenges to address during the post-Covid-19 crisis period (by word frequency)

Q3 – Main challenges to address during the post-Covid-19 crisis period (by word frequency)

3. Expert Panel

In addition to the survey, the Research Group developed a set of variables for each TH element (government, business/industry, academia and society) resulting from interviews with experts from each group (Table 1).

For a longitudinal research, we plan to use the survey results on strengths, weaknesses and challenges of TH systems and map them against the variables identified by the expert group to develop further insights into the effectiveness of existing policies and measures used during the Covid-19 crisis and opportunities for systems transformation.

Table 1 Triple Helix variables relevant to Covid-19 pandemic crisis identified by the THA expert group

4. Next Steps

  1. To continue monitoring trends (Appendix).
  2. To repeat the survey in six months and compare results.
  3. To match survey results with expert variables.
  4. To compare survey results by country subject to data validity.


Triple Helix Association Research Group on Covid-19
August 2020


Since the study was conducted, most countries have seen a returning surge as a second wave of contaminations is growing. Concern has been expressed at the lack of sufficient track and trace facilities in some countries, the long haul for finding a vaccine, the burst in infections caused by the social antics of students coming to the first year of university, and returning senior students, leading to a clampdown by the authorities; the tension between government policies to save the economy, avoiding wholesale redundancies with companies going to the wall, and an imminent threat of a financial depression, needing a fine balance between government subsidies, quantitative easing, and financial recovery.

Another worrisome trend in some countries is that parts of the general public, including the media, are turning against the experts (who want stricter measures), threatening even their lives (by way of example four experts are now under police protection in a western European country). Moreover, again in some countries, politicians, listening to the public and the media (state and private) are starting to adopt relaxing measures, even if objective evidence reflected in international observatories would point to the opposite direction (for example ECDC (the European CDC) www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/covid-19-pandemic).

So the Helix is torn down, with the businesses asking for more relaxation of measures and a return to ‘normality’, the experts going on the other side, and the government trying to ‘calm’ the population. It seems that a new phase of collective denial has started, where ‘living with the virus’, becomes not only the new normal, but a dangerous reality (from collective responsibility to individual one). The system thus is over-fragmented and calls for increased individual action in order to stay safe. This fragmentation dilutes social cohesion and creates negative conditions to fight the pandemic and prepare for the aftermath.

All the above factors are leading to an interesting set of dynamics between the three actors in the Triple Helix – Government, Industry and Academia, and offer a rich canvas for a follow-on study.


Published by the Triple Helix Association  –  ISSN 2281-4515


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