Innovation and complexity

NAECAndrew Wyckoff, Director, OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation

Since its creation in 1961, the OECD has influenced how governments approach science, technology and innovation, and how economics as a discipline tries to understand these phenomena. The OECD Working Party of National Experts on Science and Technology Indicators (NESTI) was created in 1962, and in 1963, Science, economic growth and government policy convinced governments that science policy should be linked to economic policy. In 1971 Science, growth and society anticipated (also called the “Brook Report” after  the Chair, Harvey Brooks) many of today’s concerns by emphasising the need to involve citizens in assessing the consequences of developing and using new technologies.

For many experts though, the major contribution was the concept of national innovation systems, presented in 1992 in a landmark publication, Technology and the Economy: The Key Relationships. The origins of the concept go back to the 1970s crisis, which had provoked an in-depth re-examination of previous economic thinking on how growth came about and why growth in productivity was slowing. A 1980 OECD report, Technical Change and Economic Policy, is now widely recognised as the first major policy document to challenge the macroeconomic interpretations of the 1970s crisis, and to emphasise the role of technological factors in finding solutions, arguing for instance that innovation can be more powerful than wage competitiveness in stimulating an economy.

Economists working at the OECD were pioneers of a new approach that saw innovation not as something linear but as an ecosystem involving interactions among existing knowledge, research, and invention; potential markets; and the production process. In national innovation strategies, one of the key issues is the interactions among the different actors: companies, public research institutions, intermediary organisations, and so on. And contrary to the dominant thinking in policy circles in the 1980s and early 1990s, the OECD also saw it as something that governments should play a central role in – hence the term national innovation strategy.

Today, services are becoming the focus of innovation, with some companies even blurring the distinction between the value-added of products and services, smartphones being a good example. This is a logical outcome of the increasing digitalisation of the economy. Digital technologies are now so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget how recent they are. The World Wide Web we know today for example was created in the 1990s, and Microsoft thought it was possible to launch a rival to Internet (called MSN) as late as 1995.  Google was only founded in 1998 and it would be 6 years before it went public.

With the digital economy and society coming so far in such a short time, it is hard to predict what they will look like in the future. We can however identify some of the drivers of change. Big Data will be among the most important. In The phenomenon of data-driven innovation, the OECD quotes figures suggesting that more than 2.5 exabytes (EB, a billion gigabytes) of data are generated every single day, the equivalent of 167 000 times the information contained in all the books in the US Library of Congress. The world’s largest retail company, Walmart, already handles more than 1 million customer transactions every hour. Because so many new data are available, it will be possible to develop new models exploiting the power of a complexity approach to improve understanding in the social sciences, including economics. Also, the policy making process may benefit from new ways of collecting data on policies themselves and vastly improving our evaluation capabilities.

The analysis of data (often in real time), increasingly from smart devices embedded in the Internet of Things opens new opportunities for value creation through optimisation of production processes and the creation of new services. This “industrial Internet” is creating its own complex systems, empowering autonomous machines and networks that can learn and make decisions independently of human involvement. This can generate new products and markets, but it can also create chaos in existing markets, as various financial flash crashes have shown.

Two sets of challenges, or tensions, need to be addressed by policy makers to maximise the benefits of digitally-driven innovation, and mitigate the associated economic and societal risks. The first is to promote “openness” in the global data ecosystem and thus the free flow of data across nations, sectors, and organisations while at the same time addressing individuals’ and organisations’ opposing interests (in particular protecting their privacy and their intellectual property). The second set of tensions requires finding policies to activate the enablers of digital-driven innovation, and at the same time addressing the effects of the “creative destruction” induced by this innovation. Moreover, there is a question concerning the efficacy of  national policies  as digital-driven innovation is global by definition. As a policy maker you can promote something in your country, but the spillovers in terms of employment or markets can be somewhere else.

With so many new technologies being introduced, more firms and countries being integrated into global value chains, and workers becoming more highly educated everywhere, you would expect productivity growth to be surging. In fact it is slowing. But that average trend hides the true picture according to an OECD study on The Future of Productivity . Labour productivity in the globally most productive firms (“global frontier” firms) grew at an average annual rate of 3.5 per cent in the manufacturing sector over the 2000s, compared to 0.5% for non-frontier firms.

Diffusion of the know-how from the pioneering frontier firms to the bulk of the economy hasn’t occurred – either because channels are blocked or because we are in a transformative period and the expertise for how best to exploit the technologies is still in the heads of a few.  Most likely, it is a combination of the two.  We therefore have to help the global frontier firms to continue innovating and facilitate the diffusion of new technologies and innovations from the global frontier firms to firms at the national frontier. We can try to create a market environment where the most productive firms are allowed to thrive, thereby facilitating the more widespread penetration of available technologies and innovations. And we have to improve the matching of skills to jobs to better use the pool of available talent in the economy, and allow skilled people to change jobs, spreading the know-how as they move.

In a complex system, you can’t forecast outcomes with any great degree of certainty, but many of the unintended outcomes of interactions in the innovation system are beneficial. The policies mentioned above would each be useful in themselves and would hopefully reinforce each other beneficially.

Useful links

The OECD organised a Workshop on Complexity and Policy, 29-30 September, OECD HQ, Paris, along with the European Commission and INET. Watch the webcast: 29/09 morning; 29/09 afternoon; 30/09 morning

OECD work on innovation

The Innovation Policy Platform (IPP), developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank is a web-based interactive space that provides easy access to knowledge, learning resources, indicators and communities of practice on the design, implementation, and evaluation of innovation policies.

Commercialising public research: One of the Innovation Policy Platform’s core subjects

Click to see the Platform
Click to see the Platform

Today’s post is from Andrew Wyckoff, head of the Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry (STI) at the OECD. It follows the post by the World Bank’s Gerardo Corrochano about the Innovation Policy Platform on Friday, and is co-published here by the World Bank.

Do you know what FedEx, the well-known overnight shipping company, and Dell Computers, a multinational technology company, have in common? Both firms’ core business ideas were developed by young student entrepreneurs. There are many other stories out there illustrating that universities and other public research institutions (PRIs) are a major source of innovations.

In searching for new routes to growth policy makers around the globe invest high hopes in public research. A premium is being placed on the contributions of public research to the creation of new knowledge capital. The way universities and PRIs operate is also changing including notably the mechanisms and terms on which universities and PRIs are engaging with business and society. We also see that innovation is becoming more open and collaborative and that knowledge circulates more quickly and freely than ever. This inevitably has impacts on the commercialisation of public research.

Recent work we conducted at the OECD on this topic demonstrates the importance of channels other than patents for the commercialisation of public research. The idea that research results reach the private sector in the form of patents, licenses and spin-offs based on patents no longer corresponds to reality. The commercialisation of public research through these channels has shown a general slowdown since the late 2000s. While patenting remains important, universities and PRIs are emphasizing other ways to commercialise their research, notably collaborative research, student entrepreneurship and faculty mobility, contract research and consulting.

Policy makers need to respond to the latest trends with new ways to support public-private knowledge exchange. Facilitating greater access to publicly funded research and data is critical. Moreover, new strategies to link teaching, research and commercialisation, such as student mentoring, can provide the new generation of students with the necessary skills to take their knowledge to markets.

Most importantly, policy makers have to take a strategic view of the intellectual assets generated by public research and demonstrate how these can contribute best to their national innovation system. The Innovation Policy Platform is a valuable tool to help policy makers reach this objective. The Platform helps policy learn how innovation systems operate, identify good practices, and apply effective solutions. The technology transfer and commercialisation, the universities and public research institutes and the intellectual property rights modules of the IPP discuss the critical factors that arise in debates about the commercialisation of public research. The platform also provides information on different countries’ policies in this domain. This information is based on the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook questionnaire.

The IPP is a joint OECD-World Bank initiative, and as such seeks to facilitate knowledge exchange and collaboration across countries and regions on innovation policy. The current site is still a beta version. We plan to introduce collaborative features to more actively support the design and implementation of policies.

For the IPP to reach its potential, we rely on your experiences and feedback. I join Gerardo Corrochano by saying that we look forward to developing the IPP with you.

Useful links

World Bank Private Sector Development blog

OECD work on innovation

Better knowledge for better innovation policies: the Innovation Policy Platform

Click to see the Platform
Click to see the Platform

Today’s post is by Gerardo Corrochano,  Director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Global Practice, and Director for Financial and Private Sector Development (FPD) for the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) Region of the World Bank. It is co-published by the World Bank.

We are surrounded by innovations – the outcome of innovative activities. Some affect us more than others. Some are more visible than others. In reading this blog post on a computer or a portable device, you can see how this innovation has made your personal and professional life more productive (although not necessarily easier).

You might not have heard, however, about other kinds of innovations – like the eco-friendly and affordable cooking stoves that reduce exposure to toxic gases for people in Mongolia, substantially increasing their health and lowering costs. All kinds of innovations improve people’s lives from Ulaanbaatar to Washington, increasing social well-being and driving economic growth.

Governments can support innovation through the effective use of public policy. Innovation has steadily climbed its way to the top of policymakers’ agendas in recent years, in developed and developing countries alike. This is illustrated by the importance given to innovation in such strategies as the European Commission’s “Europe 2020” growth strategy, China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011 -2015), or Colombia’s National Development Plan (2010-2014). Yet despite the growing consensus around innovation as a driver of sustainable growth, governments face considerable difficulties in identifying, designing and implementing the best-suited policy instruments and approaches to support innovation.

Defining good policies is a walk on a tightrope. Much like the barriers that constrain innovators inside an economy, policymakers face high costs of retaining and retrieving valuable information and best practices to help define their policies. To address this issue, the World Bank – in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – has developed a new tool destined to enhance the capacity of policy practitioners around the world to support innovation through better policies.

The Innovation Policy Platform (IPP) is a one-of-a-kind web-based interactive space that provides easy access to open data, learning resources and opportunities for collective learning on the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of locally appropriate innovation policies. The IPP contains a wealth of practical information on a wide array of innovation-related topics, such as financing innovation, technology transfer and commercialization, and innovative entrepreneurship. The IPP is intended to enable North-South and South-South policy learning and dialogue through a wide array of case studies, policy briefs and collaborative working tools. The IPP aims to create a dynamic community of practice. It is now available to the public and can be accessed at www.innovationpolicyplatform.org.

 
video platformvideo management

Moreover, the World Bank is piloting new approaches to innovation policy that directly target the poorest of the poor. In Vietnam, we have launched an inclusive innovation project, which will provide pro-poor technologies in traditional herbal medicine, information and communication technology, and agriculture and aquaculture.

As these examples show, the World Bank is interested in innovation in a broad sense, aiming to advance our twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity. Our support to client countries ranges across policy for innovation systems, technology transfer and diffusion, financing and linkages, and inclusive innovation. Looking ahead at the next decade, the Bank’s engagement in the field of innovation will continue to respond to the ever-increasing needs of our client countries. We are now seeing just the early stages of the trend toward building stronger innovation-driven economies, and this trend is sure to gain momentum. The IPP will be  a vital asset in helping reduce information costs, facilitating the spread of practical expertise to help policymakers draft smart innovation policies.

Useful links

World Bank Private Sector Development blog

OECD work on innovation

 

 

Taxes can spur and guide innovation

[This text was written by Jeffrey Owens, director of OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration]

Innovation is fundamental to long-term prosperity – it drives growth and makes economies more nimble, dynamic and productive. The tax system can be a powerful policy instrument for spurring this. Tax measures can stimulate innovation; taxes on pollutants can guide innovation demand towards meeting environmental challenges.

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Entrepreneurs – stuck on the starting blocks?

Innovation is sometimes thought of solely in terms of new inventions. But, as the OECD’s Andrew Wyckoff explains, it’s much more than that – Apple’s iPod was innovative, not because it contained much in the way of new technology but because of clever design and shrewd marketing.

That sort of innovation can drive economic growth. As the OECD’s Innovation Strategy demonstrates, there are real obstacles to overcome in many countries first.

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Big variations in R&D spending

People often think about innovation in terms of research and development – R&D. The Factblog has already compared R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP, so this time we’re looking at R&D expenditure per capita – in other words, how much do countries spend per person on R&D. Again, differences between countries are stark, with Israel and Sweden spending 14 times more per year per person than Turkey. Countries like United Kingdom or France are slightly below the OECD average.

But R&D is only one part of the innovation story. (more…)