Obituary: Professor Keith Pavitt ; Pioneer in Science Policy Research

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KEITH PAVITT was one of the world's leading figures in science policy research - covering such issues as the allocation of resources to science and technology, the nature of the innovation process, how advances in science and technology are translated into economic and social benefits, and the management of research and development (R&D) in the individual firm.

In all these areas, Pavitt made fundamental contributions. He was prominent in many of the great debates that have characterised the field over recent decades. He inspired several generations of postgraduate students from round the world. In addition, he was the key figure in establishing Research Policy as the main journal in the field.

The son of a seamstress and a print worker, Pavitt was born in 1937 and grew up in Hackney, London, much of his childhood being spent in bomb shelters. He was an accomplished pupil of Hackney Downs School, winning an open scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. During National Service, he qualified as an RAF pilot. At Cambridge, he obtained a First in Engineering in 1959 and was Senior Scholar at Trinity.

By then, his intellectual interests had begun to broaden. After a further year at Cambridge studying industrial management, he won a fellowship in economics and public policy at Harvard University in 1960-61. He then joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. In the early 1960s, this was carrying out pioneering policy research, in particular on the development of policies for science, engineering and innovation. He joined a small team that was responsible for putting such policies on the agenda for governments.

During this time he started a lifelong collaboration with Chris Freeman, a British economist who was developing some of the first international statistics on research and development. One fruit of it was the publication of the OECD report Government and Technical Innovation in 1966. This was influential in getting economists and policy makers to recognise the importance of technical change in economic growth.

After a year at Princeton University, Pavitt moved to Sussex University in 1971. There he rejoined Freeman who, a few years earlier, had become the first Director of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU). In 1984, Pavitt succeeded Freeman as the Reginald Phillips Professor of Science and Technology Policy, the post he held until his formal retirement in 2002.

For 30 years Pavitt was at the forefront of SPRU research, making pioneering contributions in several areas. His principal objective was to analyse and explain differences among firms, industrial sectors and countries in the rate and direction of scientific and technological development. He believed that the starting point for this was to generate better data (or "indicators") on science, technology and innovation.

Among the numerous SPRU projects which Pavitt participated in or led were the development of a comprehensive data-bank on British innovations, an influential critique of the "Limits to Growth" thesis, and incisive analyses of the sources of economic growth, of the role of technology in international trade competition, and of the management of innovation within the firm. …