Pandemic Bolstered Ties between Science and Society
The sector of science, technology and innovation (STI) is even more nonlinear and complex than the world behind the looking glass from the Lewis Carroll’s story. For companies and countries wishing to claim or secure leadership, it is no longer enough to simply run all guns blazing to stay in the competition over global chains, or even run twice as fast to occupy higher positions. Which strategies lead to success, which skillsets are required for effective management in STI, what trends and metrics should be taken into account, all this was discussed by the members of X International Academic Conference in Foresight and STI on the wide spectrum of county cases and industries, paying special attention to the context of COVID-19.
Ups and Limits of Global Science
From the looks of it, the coronacrisis has brought to light an even greater role and potential of science, technology and innovation as a tool for securing the sustainable development, than all previous global crises. When the world was searching for knowledge-intensive solutions to push through this overwhelming woe, researchers along with business, authorities, and civil society had to unite on a whole new level. According to the data of the Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development, provided by Michael Keenan, OECD Senior Analyst, in March-August, the amount of investments into COVID-related projects has increased by eight times, reaching almost $8 billion. But R&D investments climb not only in medicine and healthcare. A World Energy Council survey conducted in May demonstrated that 42% of energy companies have increased their expenditure on R&D in 2020, as reported by Anastasia Belostotskaya, Associate Director of Scenarios and Special Projects at World Energy Council.
The number of scientific COVID-related publications has also shown a remarkable growth: in February, a PubMed database indexed only several hundred of publications on the said subject, and in August alone — over 11 thousand have come out. The majority (76%) of COVID research were published on an open-access basis; in contrast, diabetes and dementia have twice as fewer publications (43% and 40%, respectively).
The pandemic has brought together scientists and innovators in an unprecedented manner. By pulling efforts to research the virus, create medicine and vaccines, global science had stretched to a breaking point, and unravelled both its merits and flaws. As a result, many STI practices and policies have been re-assessed at the level of national states and international organisations. This has been pointed out by many speakers at the Foresight and STI Conference, including Michael Keenan and his colleagues from the OECD — Sandrine Kergroach and Mario Cervantes. Dirk Meissner, the Head of ISSEK Laboratory for Economics of Innovation, pointed out that practicians working in state authorities and corporations have to apply increasingly complex matrices and scenarios, and, therefore, need to upgrade their qualification in this area, since basic skills of are no longer sufficient in management of STI.
Economy’s Technological Upgrade
Technological modernisation of the economy — its transfer to more profitable and technologically complex niches — requires effective advancement in global value chains and knowledge creation through the accrual of abilities to assimilate, adopt, and disseminate advanced technologies, and produce innovations.
For different countries with developing middle income economy, the architecture of growth trajectories cannot be reduced to a single variable, like R&D intensity or labour efficiency. The University College London has designed an index assessing technological modernisation on a sample of 16 primarily developing economies. As pointed out by Professor Slavo Radosevic, this indicator is mildly correlated with intensity of knowledge and technology exchange with different countries. In means, in particular, that countries’ own knowledge and expertise serve as a base for successful mastery of imported technologies.
In what way and how extremely fast the countries and companies are capable of transferring into a new technological paradigm by, literally, leapfrogging, was demonstrated by Professor Keun Lee from the Seoul National University on cases of Korea, China, Indonesia, Brazil, Kenya, etc. The potential that opens up through technological leaps propels developed economies that have hit the ceiling on the current stage and companies that have secured a foothold on the market to open new market niches, and helps stagnant or new startups to outrun current leaders, underlined Keun Lee. He also pointed out that Russia currently occupies a comfortable position for making this kind of manoeuvres, as it exhibits contracting cycles when transferring form one technology to another.
Professor Jeong Dong Lee from the Seoul National University expanded these recommendations and entertained a possibility of a smart diversification of the Russian economy, rich in natural resources and potentially capable of manufacturing high value-added products based on the continuous supply of raw materials. When addressing the concept of a single technology and manufacturing space connecting products and technologies of various degrees of complexity, the Professor showed how auditing these correlations will enable to leapfrog — start the production from zero stage and basic set of technologies and move on to high tech product sets.
Valeriya Vlasova and Vitaliy Roud from the HSE ISSEK Laboratory for Economics of Innovation presented cooperation strategies of Russian manufacturing firms in the proceedings titled ‘Cooperation in the Age of Open Innovation: Composition of Innovation Networks.’ They have discovered a positive correlation between openness of innovation strategy and innovation performance of firms. Meanwhile, only 6.7% of high-tech manufacturing firms can be considered cutting-edge innovators. These firms create new products competitive on the market, including global markets, advocate for intellectual property rights protection, and most actively cooperate with science. Most of firms’ cooperation linkages only concern clients and suppliers, they do not extend outside the home region boundaries, and have sporadic and short-term nature.
The core of ground-breaking innovators and active participants of global supply chains in Russia remains stagnant and does not demonstrate any visible changes over 16 years of monitoring (2000-2016), underlines Vitaliy Roud in another proceedings. Those are mainly manufacturers of computers and office equipment, petroleum products and nuclear fuel, airplanes, and spacecrafts. At the same time, most of the monitored industries that intended to replace imported technologies, demonstrate merely basic capacity to innovate. It means that a policy specifically developed to encourage cutting-edge innovation (for example, by promoting dynamic cooperation between industry and science), is at risk of failure because it will focus on the smallest number of firms. To stimulate accumulation of basic innovation potential, it is important to shift from ‘support of the best’ to the encouragement of mass innovation in all industrial sectors. It can be implemented by developing horizontal innovation stimulation tools, involvement of a wider scope of firms, especially small and middle-sized, apart from ordinary companies assumed as high-tech.
Detailed conclusions of this and other research presented on the ‘Technological upgrade’ workshop are included in a monograph, currently being prepared for publication by Oxford University Press.
New Trajectories and Cooperation Paradigm in Science
The programme of a Special Workshop ‘Prospects of Science and Technology Development in BRICS countries’ was built around the discussion of priorities and initiatives in the field of S&T cooperation and analysis of its output. In 2020, Russia took over the BRICS chairmanship. Andrey Romanov, Deputy Director of the Department of State Scientific and S&T Policy under the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education, told about a launch of a programme ‘New BRICS STI Architecture’, and updated on the progress of implementing previously launched projects that this year received a great boost: ‘BRICS Global Research Advanced Infrastructure Network’, ‘BRICS Virtual Institute of Photonics’, ‘BRICS Network Centre for Materials Science and Nanotechnology’, and results of joint scientific expeditions on research vessels of Russia and BRICS countries. As a response to the pandemic, the major five BRICS countries organised a joint cross-disciplinary tender for research projects to develop COVID-19 diagnostics and treatment tools. As a representative of its country that will take over the chairmanship from Russia, Shishir Shrotriy, Science and Technology Counsellor at the Indian Embassy in Russia, underlined the importance to continue joint research and define the STI cooperation priorities, including in the format of foresight projects.
Yuan Like, Research Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development, told about his work under the Sixth Chinese S&T Foresight, a multi-level communication structure with participation of all key stockholders. How China conducts research of current and perspective S&T trends at the level of BRICS or even wider, was illustrated by Zhao Xinil, the General Director of China Science and Technology Exchange Center. He presented the results of a BRICS ranking, as well as of 21 countries of BRICS+, where each country was evaluated on the basis of a possible cooperation and development in 14 S&T priority areas, for example, in such areas as: healthcare and medicine, energy sector, nano- and biotechnologies, production of new materials and robotics, space and transportation systems, mining and quarrying, water resources, etc. The presented ranking was supplemented by an STI foresight. Since 2016 a series of research reports has been published following the results of HSE ISSEK cooperation with the Foresight Centre titled ‘BRICS Innovative Competitiveness Report.’ In 2021, it will include another overview.
Mlungisi Cele, Acting Chief Executive Officer at National Advisory Council on Innovation of South Africa, told about integrating the results of a large-scale foresight project conducted in 2018 by HSE and South African colleagues under commission of the Ministry of Science and Technology of South Africa, into a system of a national policy measures.
The presenter told about the first assessments of applying the foresight results in a political context, how the policies were revised according pressures of global challenges posed by new key national development priorities established as new milestones for South African policies, and evaluated effects of long-term foresight on sustainable and inclusive development of South Africa in the context of rapid technological transformations and innovative development.
Geci Karuri-Sebina, Research Fellow at Wits School of Governance, shared the results of a university foresight project implemented in nine largest South African cities with application of the collective intelligence approach. Together with other researchers, she conducted a series of opinion polls asking respondents to share their visions of a futuristic city. The lawmakers are using the aggregated results of this research to enhance municipal projects, so they would approach the developed concept of a smart city.
Participant of another workshop of the X Foresight and STI Conference, Jose Cordeiro, Director of the Millennium Project, had demonstrated how joint actions directly influence development of herd immunity. Analysis of three COVID-19 development scenarios in the US conducted with the help from the Red Cross showed a ‘gigantic difference between the best and the worst scenario.’ Which ones will come to life will become evident in the next couple of months, depending on how diligently the citizens are going to wear the mask, wash hands, and practice social distancing. As the expert pointed out, there are no grounds to hope that the creation of a vaccine will put the pandemic on hold. Herd immunity to COVID-19 will occur in 4-5 years. ‘After the Second World War we founded the UN and other forms of international cooperation,’ reminded Jose Cordeiro. Perhaps, now is the time for another radical update of cooperation formats between the countries, and within countries themselves?
The pandemic has triggered a massive development of pharmaceuticals, life sciences, agricultural complex research and other areas related to Bioeconomics. The trend for recovery of natural resources in manufacturing of foodstuff, energy, goods, and services has been described by Alexander Chulok, Director of the HSE ISSEK Centre for Science and Technology Foresight, in an opening BRICS workshop paper and RBC Trends. The structure of manufacturing processes, receipt and transfer of knowledge changed radically in the context of social isolation, traffic flows have been altered, but we have greeted new models and milestones in development and maintaining ties within communities.
Which trends and challenges, including ethical, the humanity has to face? Will this lead to emergence of a new, more sustainable socio-economic system? What is the role of foresight and digitisation in these processes? We shall discuss these questions in another overview.