Mission-oriented STI Policies Stage a Comeback
Wolfgang Polt serves as Director of Policies at the Institute for Economic and Innovation Research Policies, Joanneum Research, in Austria. At a special session of the April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development hosted by the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK), he gave a report entitled 'Mission-oriented STI Policies for the Future - What Lessons from the Past?' Following the event, he spoke with the HSE News Service about his impressions of this year’s April Conference, the current state of STI policy globally and in Russia, and future projects he plans to undertake through collaboration with colleagues at HSE.
— What were your impressions about the April conference and the reports presented? Was anything new or unexpected?
— The April Conference, of which I only attended the ISSEK part, was again a very good opportunity to catch up with the work done at HSE. While for most Russian colleagues attending some things might not be that new, for me as a foreigner it provides a lot of interesting and at least subjectively new information about the performance of the national innovation system in Russia. I doubt whether one could get this information in such a short time elsewhere.
— What are the major findings and messages from your report on mission-oriented STI policies?
— The major findings of our report are that so-called mission-oriented STI policies are about to stage a comeback as a major approach to STI policy in a number of countries. While they went out of fashion in the 1980s and 1990s, they are being seen (again) as a useful policy tool to achieve concrete targets, be they technological or societal. We provide examples of successful mission-oriented policies and elaborate major factors behind successes (or failures) of such policies. This is a topic that will remain high on the agenda in the coming years.
— What are the best practices in STI in those countries where you have worked as an expert?
— The countries that have been most successful in establishing mission-oriented polices all show the necessary governance and policy capabilities, at least in the specific domain of the respective mission. Even though there are very different types of political systems, successful examples can be found in countries as diverse as China, the US, Germany or the Netherlands and Austria. Strong political leadership, agenda setting, and determination are success factors that are as important as having receptive and capable scientific communities and enterprises. In many cases, it is also very important that the market / demand conditions are explicitly addressed in the mission – either through public procurement, regulations or other types of policies. Pure science / technology push approaches can have limited effects.
— What could be implemented in Russia based on that experience?
— Basically, the lessons from the other countries could also be used as role models for Russian STI policy initiatives in this vein. In fact, in some respects, Russia might be well placed to implement these new types of polices, but there might be obstacles as well, such as in demand / market creation or administrative implementation capacities. In any case, it would certainly be a good idea to seriously assess the potential of these new types of mission-oriented policies in the Russian context as well.
— You are well aware of research being carried out by HSE colleagues in this area. What do you think of these studies, and what should be done and improved for better results?
— I think very highly of the work of the colleagues at HSE. From what I see, most work is very much up to the highest standards in methodological terms, and my experience has been that colleagues are very motivated and diligent researchers. Also, I see that they are following very closely what is being done internationally and measure themselves against the latest trends and achievements. What I found lacking, though, is sometimes a good contextualisation of the results of quantitative empirical studies (i.e., a ‘story’ around the data). For example, it certainly helps you position Russia vis-à-vis other countries in terms of ‘entrepreneurship’ or ‘business eco-systems’ comparing quantitative indicators, but you would need additional (qualitative) information to explain WHY Russia is positioned in this or that way and to understand the underlying problems. I would certainly like to encourage work in this direction as well.
— Do you have any further joint research projects planned with HSE?
— We had researchers from HSE seconded to work with us in Austria, and we will continue to do so in the future. We plan to have a joint workshop early next year, which should serve to identify areas of joint interest and potential joint projects. We are very much looking forward to this exchange and hope it will materialize in some joint activities.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE New service
Photo provided by Wolfgang Polt