The European Science Foundation (ESF) and the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) recently issued a policy brief on innovation. It’s effectively a conference report on an conference held in late February on “The Science of Innovation.”
Mindful of the parallel (if not comparable) Science of Science and Innovation Policy program at the U.S. National Science Foundation, I was intrigued. The report goes into more detail on the following sub-topics:
1.Innovation policy: ‘uncommon sense’ needed – innovation is not always benign and its effects are not clean cut. It is important to understand how best to optimise, not maximise, innovation
2.The ‘science of innovation’ – diversification of innovation policy is vital. In particular a better understanding of innovation policy for the service sector is important, as this is the largest and fastest growing sector, making up more than two-thirds of European economies
3.Policy myths and rituals – there are many ‘myths’ in the world of innovation policy, such as the role of venture capitals, SMEs and the state. Innovation policy sometimes has a ritual dimension, in which policy-makers apply certain principles from elsewhere – often the US – because it seems like the thing to do, rather than because of clear evidence that it will work in their particular situation. Innovation policy has to be context-specific, and this is a big challenge for those who want to develop European-level innovation policy
4.Blind spots in innovation policy – knowledge transfer from other sectors than universities have been largely omitted in the discourse on innovation; the focus on tertiary education has for instance in some cases reduced the quality of the output of secondary education
5.Creative destruction, or destructive creation? – rather than ‘creative destruction’ we are increasingly seeing a process of ‘destructive creation’, in which new products and services diminish or destroy the usage value of existing ones, to the benefit of a few rather than many
6.Cognitive lock-in – the increased proximity between innovation policy and innovation research may have the effect of inhibiting the creation of new knowledge that could change policy directions
7.The ERA and academic disparities – the effect of European Research Area (ERA) policy may be uneven, as the opportunities it presents are unevenly distributed
8.Evidence-based innovation policy: limits and challenges – innovation policy is often not really evidence-based, or even based on distorted evidence. Available evidence from innovation research is fragmented, of variable quality, hard to interpret and often used inappropriately
9.Sharing risks and returns: toward a new model of knowledge governance – a new model of knowledge governance is considered, with innovative financial tools to give returns proportional to the very active high risk-taking role of state in investing in innovation
10.Innovation aimed at public value - stimulating the right type of innovation requires a clear idea of ‘public value’ and how to measure it
In general, the report strikes me as a more pragmatic, operational focus on science, technology and innovation than what I see being supported through the NSF program. (Of course, YMMV.)
But the third point, on policy myths and rituals, really caught my eye. I’ve tried to get my head around this before, but I haven’t had the chance to deal with it in a systematic fashion. The brief is, of course, a summary of the conference. However, it really only gets into the details of one kind of ‘myth’ – that copying U.S. (and presumably other countries’) successes in innovation policy is a certain path to success. This is another way of stating that context matters. The myth that seems a better fit for this section is that intervention by the state is not a key component of U.S. innovation policy. I’ll kindly note that this idea is held tightly by policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
I would like to see more work on these myths, both here and in Europe. Far from suggesting a science policy equivalent of the MythBusters television program (what could possibly get blown up?), I’ll be happy with pointers to other work on these questions.