The OECD Innovation Strategy

The OECD Innovation Strategy brings together the results of a three-year analysis of innovation and innovation policies.

The Executive Summary of the analytical study can be found here and the Key Findings here. A Compendium of Indicators to measure innovation and monitor the implementation of the strategy can be found here.

 An Expert Advisory Group including experts nominated by the governments of member states and other selected governments has provided advice and feedback on the project. As far as I can see in this Expert Advisory Group Ireland is not represented.

36 replies on “The OECD Innovation Strategy”

Innovation seems to be a byword for intelligence throughout the executive summary….

It probably would be a worthy effort to study how much government spending could be more effective or cost reductive through the use of innovation.
I would love to have clean drinking water, or a real waste management system,.., whats in the way of that?

“potential entrepreneurs may also be discouraged from leaving their current employment by the financial and health costs associated with losing employer-based health insurance and social security contributions. Where possible, barriers to the transferability of such benefits should be lowered”

Who would risk setting up a business at the moment when the consequences remove one from the social welfare safety net……

Why would we be represented. Sure we got the smart economy. Or is it the green economy. Anyhow, we will have smart green nanorobots fir everyone soon.

One of the leading academic thinkers on innovation is Billy Kingston in Tcd. I’m sure he’d have gone I’d asked.

well at least IBEC and the ICTU were able to feed their views into the process. And with insiders like that who needs experts.
Hopefully someone somewhere, perhaps a parliamentarian reading this, will ask the relevant question – why was Ireland not represented at this forum at expert level. Coming on top of Tolgate, this is a worrying turn in the already pretty flagrant disregard for any form of outside (the tent) expertise in the irish body politic.

@ Brian Lucey,

Quite relevant points raised there, as in the RTE radio interview lately. We could do well to include some real expertise into the mix, at various points in our permanent government and administration. But in terms of innovations, I am a frequent user of the rail transport services at Dublin and I do notice how much strategies have changed in that sphere in the last 20 years. It is physical evidence that parts of the national infrastructure are changing, and recycling some of the investment available over the past two decades into meaningful changes. You see it too in sport, where both the GAA and Rugby/soccer organisations have new facilities in Dublin and in Limerick. No one has really looked at the dramatic changes that have occured in Ireland over the past two decades. But what has changed most for the better, is the belief that we are capable of aiming for better in Ireland, and we do employ better yardstickss to judge ourselves by. I remember, when I was a mature teenager in Ireland about 20 years ago, it was a different place. It was a place that was totally and absolutely raided and pillaged by a small community of folk, on the inside track. Very little innovation could have been fostered inside that toxic environment. What I watch with most interest nowadays, in Ireland, is how the victims of the older order, seem reluctant to relinquish the conviction that things in Ireland are set against them. How we innovate our way, to see beyond that attitude is important. It would indicate that investment in our national educational infrastructure is important. The only reason I have the benefit of an independent and resourceful mind today, is due to the training and education that I received. Without that, I would be very dependent on the same attitudes, that things are mostly against me. BOH.

@ Iulia,

Innovation drives growth and helps address social challenges.

The fact the OECD employs that sort of language to describe innovation is quite revealing. Because I think, we have to be careful. Innovation means different things to different people. I mean, if you are a poor country with a lot of infrastructure which is like something from the 19th century – then what does innovation mean for you? It means something like, how do I fit into the world economy in 2010, without my poor infrastructure coming against me. Hence the fact, that computer services over fibre optic networks are key to India’s economy. Because if India had to depend on roads and so forth, they would not be at the races. It will fall upon future generations of Indians to provide infrastructure which competes with other advanced countries. Looking at the Tour de France cycling race today, which was situation in Rotterdam, I could not help but recall the fact, it was a city in smidereens half a century ago after WWII. But you see the investment and building that has occured to re-build that city. Then you compare it to Ireland, where we still rely on basic structures that have not changed much since Victoria was a Queen. We tried to build out some of the under-developed parts of our cities in Ireland in the past two decades, including the Dublin Docklands. But in the aftermath of that building phase, we are still left with huge questions about our capability to foster resources and manage them correctly. BOH.

Innovation is often doing conventional things in a different way e.g. Ryanair.

In Ireland, the focus of innovation policy is on scientific research.

In 2006, there was a target set to be recognised as a “world-class knowledge economy” by 2013.

When that was likely not to be achieved, the ‘smart economy’ concept was launched.

This week, the Economist Intelligence Unit published its digital economy rankings of 70 countries.

Nordic countries were said to ‘excel’ and Ireland got a 17th rank.

There is an interesting debate in the US about the model of innovating at home and manufacturing in Asia, in particular China, where Western companies risk losing control of their intellectual capital.

Food and drink provide Ireland more potential innovation opportunities than is currently appreciated.

The world’s biggest food group, Nestlé, currently has about 5,000 people directly involved in food and beverage R&D.

There was a scene in an episode of the American TV series The Sopranos where two of the Italian-American characters end up in a coffee shop.

“Espresso! cappuccino!” one of them exclaims. “We invented this shit!”

They happened to have been in a Starbucks.

@ MH,

Can I elaborate a small bit on that 2006 proposal you mention for the creation of a world class knowledge economy in Ireland by 2013. You have to go back to the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was the time of the Internet stock market boom, and quite frankly, investors looked at fibre optic infrastructure much as they later came to look at residential and commerical real estate.

The transition from the knowledge to the smart economy concept is an interesting one, which you mention occured after 2006. I was a reader of much vanguard material on both around 2005 and 2006. I detected in publications such as John Thackara’s book In the Bubble, which first appeared in 2005 I think, a move towards a ‘smart’ emphasis. One of Thackara’s mantras back then, and still, would be: If we have designed ourselves into difficulty, then we can also design ourselves out of difficulty. That statement alone embodies a huge wide range of fields and endeavours. From the global to the local.

The knowledge economy put all the investment into many, small, dispersed units of economic productivity – Alvin Toffler called them electronic cottages, and predicted we would be using electronic typewriters, as early as 1980. He also predicted things like apartment agriculture, and interestingly this has become one of the tenets of the green movement and the ‘green’ economy. Although Toffler didn’t have vocabulary for it in 1980, he was aware of things such as food supply security. The issue of the brittle-ness of food supply chains is very prevalent in Thackara’s thesis In the Bubble, published in 2005.

In other words, many aspects of the knowledge economy are summed up in David Weinberger’s phrase, many parts loosely connected. The smart economy, is a political construct, which hopes to provide the context necessary for investments on a large centralised scale – where central government does play a huge central role. It harks back to projects from the 1930s such as Ardnacrusha. As historian Diarmaid Ferriter said in a recent TV documentary, Limits to Liberty, Ardnacrusha supplied 90% of our power needs when first opened, but only 10% of the population had an electricity connection. What Ferriter describes is a similar situation, to that in which many developing countries find themselves in 2010, with a diminishing supply of fossil fuels and cheap energy available to an ever expanding market. Clearly in that context, a strong central government response may have a part to play, and we do indeed need to find ways to do more with a lot less. Hence the green-er economy, and the smart economy.

But I would argue, that the central government approach, which is inherent in the smart economy concept is the wrong approach for a highly developed nation to take. It may be much more useful in a context, where only 10% of the population do have an electricity connection. Or is the ‘smart’ economy a sort of rural electrification scheme 2.0? Again, Ferriter’s historial observations are of much value. In the 1930s, the Irish farmer would install electricity in the cow byre before he installed it in the kitchen. It fell to a small grassroots organisation, the Irish country womans’ association, to deal with that – Not to marry a man, who didn’t have electricity.


yer posts are getting prolix again….
suggest – shorter posts, direct to your blog?

@ BL,

Fine. I suppose the simple point I was trying to make – it is to be expected that central government would respond with policy generation, which wrote them into a prominent role – given that so much of the and knowledge economy expressed things like freedom from national borders and constitutions. I guess, what the Green party argue in 2010, is the electronic cottage, is not of much value without the central governments involvement to create the infrastructure in the middle. BOH.

“In Ireland, the focus of innovation policy is on scientific research.”

Agreed, and this is part of the problem in Ireland. Others define innovation differently–that it involves novelty *that is commercialized or implemented*.

Pure basic research does not necessarily lead to anything being commercialized or put into practice, in Ireland or elsewhere. I’m all for good basic research as an important strategy, and for improving the overall quality of science, education and research.

An effective *innovation* strategy is something different. While there will sometimes be overlap, policies to address these two priorities should not be joined at the hip as they currently are in Ireland.

In recent years govt has developed various schemes to promote business partnerships with 3rd-level institutions. While these can sometimes work, personal experience with a wide number of 3rd level institutions leads me to question its wisdom and its effectiveness as a strategy for achieving a “smart”, “knowledge” or “leading-the-pack” economy.

My experience has been that many or most 3rd level researchers are more interested in a “go-slow” approach, stretching out govt grants over the maximum possible time (i.e. covering as many years of their own salary or department costs as possible). In one case a researcher explicitly told me they needed to stretch a project out over several years, rather than complete it in a much shorter time, as an explanation for why certain patent filings and pilot projects should not be scheduled until 1-2 years down the road. This attitude is the kiss of death for a business.

Most researchers (again there are exceptions) have gone into research with skills which are different from those required to commercialize something. A different mindset is required. Throwing funds at 3rd level institutions (even when done under the guise of “partnership” with Irish businesses) is not a good way to commercialize or innovate.

Giving training in entrepreneurship to 3rd level researchers is not a good investment, as most researchers don’t actually want to become entrepreneurs. They didn’t go into research because they wanted to get involved in a start-up business. They might sit through training workshops if it’s required to get their grant–but it’s not going turn them into leaders of successful, innovative businesses.

Describing my experiences to someone at one of the relevant quangos, I’ve been told that these schemes are a cover-your-ass tactic that protects civil service from criticism because the public will never criticise money going to 3rd level institutions.

3rd levels are not hotbeds of outside-the-box thinking. While some departments have scientific creativity and expertise, as organizations they lack flexibility and rapid response. They are conservative institutions with inner bureaucracies that can be incompetent and inefficient. This can be damaging to businesses that are trying to cooperate with them on projects that are time-sensitive.

Funneling money to 3rd level institutions via “innovation”, “development” or “partnership” schemes might be an acceptable way to subsidize multinationals’ research. They have the staff, budgets and political clout to crack the whip to get enhanced 3rd level performance. But they’d do the research on their own anyways, leaving SMEs at a competitive disadvantage in getting what benefit there is to be had.

A strategy that focuses on business partnership with 3rd-level researchers is *not* an effective use of taxpayers money. It is not an effective way to support Irish businesses who are interested in doing something novel.

It does something, alright–gives funds to 3rd level institutions and provides cover for civil servants–but it does not do what it says on the box.

OAC says:

My experience has been that many or most 3rd level researchers are more interested in a “go-slow” approach, stretching out govt grants over the maximum possible time (i.e. covering as many years of their own salary or department costs as possible). In one case a researcher explicitly told me they needed to stretch a project out over several years, rather than complete it in a much shorter time, as an explanation for why certain patent filings and pilot projects should not be scheduled until 1-2 years down the road. This attitude is the kiss of death for a business.

Very good point. The trouble is, there are a lot of small €4.0 figure grants received by academic and/or public authorities to use in some fashion. A member of the academic institution or local authority may focus their entire efforts for the duration of years, on management of that small sum. During which they will apply for a further sum, which is intended to keep things going for another half a decade beyond. A load of emphasis is placed on publication of the fact, they were so successful in distributing the €4.0 million amount. The member in question might use that publicity to justify the extension of the grant beyond. Politcians and everyone gets involved in an effort to preserve the programme, and protect it from cut backs.

A business in the private sector can manage the investment and distribution of tens of millions between many projects in the same time frame. They operate at a different pace, and integrate advice and specialist knowledge from a very wide net. You have the public and private sector operating at different paces. This leads to a conflict between the interests of the public academic employee and the entrepreneur. It gives weight to the argument, the two sides are pulling in different directions and it is impossible to align them together – which isn’t a helpful attitude, but it commonly heard. BOH.

@ BL,

The subtle point to be aware of, is the human resources slant. Any country in the world has a finite amount of top quality human resources to bring to bear on problem solving of any kind. The fact is, in Ireland the very cream of our human expertise and potential, can get mistakenly wrapped up in something as meaningless and fruitless as the management and distribution of a small educational/community aid grant over an extended period of years. I would compare it to using your crack stormtroopers, to wade into an artillery barrage from which they cannot emerge successful. It is basic tactics. I would much rather a situation, whereby the administration of the small community and academic grants was taken on by a lean, efficient private sector organisation. And the larger trends of what is occuring in the wider economy, was monitored by our better brains. Instead you notice the opposite – the best brains are distributing the pennies, while the rag-tag of private sector entreprise gets to squander the milluns and billuns. BOH.

if you think the cream of irish intellect are involved in handing out educational grants…..
anyhow, this has been sidetracked.
Two questions
a) what can we learn from the OECD report
b) witf were we not represented at the expert group?

@ BL,

This paragraphy from the ‘key findings’ jumped out at me in particular. There were many fine paragraphs, but that one deals with some issues I have toyed with myself, in the blog entry linked below. BOH.

The creation, diffusion and application of knowledge are critical to the ability of firms and countries to innovate and thrive in an increasingly competitive global economy. But knowledge networks and markets are so far much less developed than product, labour and financial markets, though they are increasingly common in certain settings and sectors. Their development is important for stimulating innovation and improving its efficiency by reducing transaction costs. Public policy should therefore support the formation of knowledge networks and markets. This can be done through policies that encourage the development of knowledge brokerages. In appropriate cases these could facilitate the securitisation of intellectual assets, thereby enabling the capture of value on a much broader range of knowledge assets.

“But knowledge networks and markets are so far much less developed than product, labour and financial markets, though they are increasingly common in certain settings and sectors.”
universities are knowledge networks. they are composed of people who at one and the same time compete with and cooperate with each other. Not that “the real world” could learn anything from “ivory towers”…ptah, its all one way that street.

@ BL,

universities are knowledge networks. they are composed of people who at one and the same time compete with and cooperate with each other.

You pre-suppose something with that statement, which is no longer a given in todays world of electronic media and mass transmission of information. Allow me to develop my point. The basic tenet of any academic system, is robust-ness in execution of accreditation and rating of work. Agreed? Inherent in the academic approach is the preservation of authorship. The networks and the markets of products, labour and finance may be much more common, but are they robust? Can we decypher sometimes, the origin and/or value of certain financial products? Does that cause the system to become brittle and unwieldy? What would happen to the academic system, if we were to lose certain key attributes? Nicholas G. Carr on his blog, Roughtype, has written a lot about the search-able internet and the loss of authorship. The basic building block of authorship may be under threat. If you consider the world with internet ‘search’, wiki’s and many other information sources. I take responsibility as best I can, by providing a name with my contributions and some degree of connection back, to my general ideas and concerns, at a blog site. BOH.


Keen point. In Ireland the innovators, we are told, are people in tenured third level positions, not infrequently very senior staff with excellent salaries, working in enviable conditions with very generous sickness/pension schemes. Somehow or other this cadre will guarantee economic growth and national prosperity. But they won’t do this by raising a second mortgage on their houses, by maxing out their credit cards or foregoing life’s luxuries. Instead, the state aka the taxpayer will shoulder the risk. The academic innovators may be required to surrender equity to venture capital, but Heaven forbid any other personal sacrifice. To describe ‘innovation Ireland’ as generous is an enormous understatement. Ireland apparently is in the process of experimenting with a new model of capitalism – risk free capitalism – where the R&D gray train will continue as long as the ‘promise’ is there. Welcome to Utopia, Celtic-style.

“An Expert Advisory Group including experts nominated by the governments of member states and other selected governments has provided advice and feedback on the project. As far as I can see in this Expert Advisory Group Ireland is not represented.”

Sure how could we be – our government would’nt recognise expertise if it jumped up and bit them on the a*se!

Fostering innovation in Ireland? You would probably get some half-decent results – without spending a fortune – simply by giving every school-leaver a copy of ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’, some decent careers guidance, a couple of grand and telling them to go out there and get on with it.

@ Al,

You are right to pull me up on that point, about knowledge and information. Thanks for that. To develop on my point about authorship. What we witness at the moment are identifiable names associated with publications from the Central bank and financial regulator. This is a break from the past at least, when you had RTE primetime struggling to pick up a few soundbytes from either. Recall the comments made by Francis Ruane of the ESRI, that it was difficult to get feedback from the Central bank, and that in turn made it difficult for her organisation to obtain a clear idea of what lay ahead for Ireland’s financial system. At least now, we do have regular short publications from the Central bank, with an author’s name on them, which is clearly identifiable. I think it was Fianna Fail minister Dermot Ahern, who said not so long ago, the crisis is nobody’s fault, or something to that effect. You can identify in that sort of statement, the unwillingness to attribute authorship for any information, to any particular identifiable person(s). That is the danger of the lack of authorship in any academic context. This is what Nicholas G. Carr has written about in relation to Wikipedia, at his blog Roughtype. In a sense, all of the various quangos which were established during the Celtic Tiger era, were like wiki’s, in the fact that you had no identifiable authors. All you had were faceless bureaucrats who spoke and published reports in bureaucratic speech patterns. Every report that came out was an instant dust catcher, because there was no clear authorship to the documents. If that is the knowledge or smart economy we can look forward to, in an electronic age, then we are in real trouble. BOH.

Reading the comments, I guess Al isn’t an academic, his concerns seem far too real and immediate to be aired at an innovation strategy taskforce meeting.

All this pressure for extra funding for the academic entrepreneur industry; for the innovators in universities who will transform this economy if only they could be paid in advance.

Whatever happened to necessity being the mother of invention?

@ All,

We all talk about some report by T.K. Whitaker, an Irish civil servant, which was published some time back in the 1950s, as if it was the last time we had any decent suggestions about what to do about the economy in Ireland. Once you mention the T.K. Whitaker report everyone instantly knows what you mean. Honestly, I have never seen the report, but I am sure it is a fine document which I would like to read at some stage. But how many reports in the last two decades can we say the same about? One that does spring to mind is the ‘Bacon reports’ of circa 2000, before the house prices really rocketed. But apart from that, and the names of a couple of tribunal reports, I cannot think of any. Okay, there was the Catholic church material published in late 2009. Many people talk about ‘McCarthy’ at the moment, and instantly you know it refers to An Bord Snip Nua. It is that ability of the academic institutions to produce identifiable authors which makes them so valuable to the wider system of administration and policy debate in any country. In general the name-less stuff, published by quangos, is worse that useless, and is rarely referred to by anyone, in speech or in text. BOH.

@ boh

Forgive me, but that is a laboured point.
Would that not point to a more important issue of ethic, where people are unwilling to stand by their public word. Rather than a lack of authorship, it is more a lack of character, systemicly or individually.
In academia, that cannot be tolerated.

@ Al,

Okay, I offer one last comment on the point of ‘experts’ and ‘authorship’. I believe it is important to agree some basic definition of an expert or an author, in order to have a discussion about either. Both seem to be key ingredients in any sort of knowledge or smart economy, which would incorporate networks, or market-places, for the same.

The idea of Wikipedia as identified by Nicholas G. Carr, was to eliminate the concept of the expert. The idea of Wikipedia implies that you can reach a higher quality of information, produced in some kind of bottom-up fashion, without the explicit intervention of accredited experts. The question posed by Nicholas G. Carr, was if Wikipedia would ultimately struggle to sustain itself without that key element. How are we going to trust any information in the knowledge society if we take ‘experts’ completely out of the equation? Wikipedia is an interesting movement and can be described as a kind of marketplace, brokerage or network. The individual can earn a reputation over a period of time, by adding value to the wiki through your contributions. But what kind of expert is the wiki system producing? Does the academic staff end up owing its existence to the wiki itself? A much more positive exploration of the issues can be found in Don Tapscott’s book, Wikinomics. BOH.

@ Al,

It is important to at least try to address some of these questions, if you are to move very far along the path as described by Energy and Communications minister from the Green party, Eamon Ryan. Minister Ryan talks about the exporting of clean energy from remote parts of the island, with the delivery of employment through information pipelines to the same remote places. If we go down that route, it is not enough to simply build the infrastructure. One must also define how the knowledge marketplace, brokerage or network is going to operate. BOH.

@ AOC /The Alchemist

It’s an important point as when does an academic become an entrepreneur and the related issue of the ownership of intellectual capital?

I must check with Science Foundaton Ireland as to whether there is a clear policy?

Ownership of intellectual capital is a major issue. Govt bodies (EI? SFI? HEA?) have produced policy guidelines for 3rd-levels relating to IP ownership and technology transfer. If a business does a jt project w. a 3rd-level this is negotiated ahead of time, including royalty to 3rd level if appropriate. Terms depend on how much IP was generated by the business and how much came from the academics, and on who has the most negotiating skill.

Intellectual Property (IP) can be a barrier to innovation and a barrier to uptake of new technologies or processes. Keeping IP secret and controlling access to related info has the effect of stifling sharing of info and expertise.

A tension arises between the opposing will to implement something new and the cost of doing so, or the lack of access to a new technology because a person or company understandably wants to maximize their financial benefit. Very often the result is that the new idea does not get shared with anyone and is never used as a result, therefore no one benefits.

@ OAC,

All very good points and ones I have thought about a great deal in the past. At one stage, I did quite a lot of reading of Susan Scotchmer’s papers on the subject of intellectual property. Some of which are available at the link below. One of the points she made that I found interesting, was if enough incentive is not created in terms of strength of IP law, for the first generation of a product – then the work may not be carried out, to develop the second generation of the same product. Thinking about software produced by Microsoft as an example, it was often the third generation of particular applications before they finally cracked open their market. Earlier versions simply were not good enough, but persistence finally paid off. That is something I would be concerned with, that enough incentive is created for the innovator to keep trying beyond the initial generation. In the case of venture capital of course, what often happens is the engineer or scientist wants so badly to see his or her innovation reach that generation, where it really becomes useful to society – that they release most of the ownership for the innovation to the capital provider, to buy themself enough time. In the end, you see the founders of great companies with wonderful innovations, only left with a few miserable shares, and very little influence over what they developed from scratch. That is the textbook experience of many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, time after time. I remember, Jeff Hawkins, of Palm Pilot fame, actually released a second version of his original invention, but for a different company. The first company he started had been taken over by one of the giants I think, and he did had to start up again, having lost control over what he invented. Jeff Hawkins is interesting also – because he says, he isn’t a natural born entrepreneur – it was nice to do it once, but he could never go through it all again. Many individuals may only have that one single great innovation to give. Others such as Edison turned innovation into a kind of production process, and succeeded through sheer amount of trial and error. BOH.

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