Leading scientists call for improved innovation policy across Europe

July 18, 2012

New report from the European Science Foundation assesses the science of innovation in Europe Strasbourg, 18 July 2012: Innovation has improved human living standards to an unprecedented level, and is the key to further progress; however it is a complex phenomenon that is not easy to understand and whose effects are unclear. This is the conclusion of the policy brief published by the European Science Foundation and STOA on innovation policy. The publication follows a ESF/STOA hosted conference on The Science of Innovation, which took place in Brussels on 28th February 2012.

It summarises ten thought provoking issues that the science of innovation poses to policy makers:

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

Professor Sir Roderick Floud, Chair of the Standing Committee for the Social Sciences of the European Science Foundation comments: "Innovations have transformed the world we live in. As innovation has become one of the centre pieces of European policy, a sound understanding of the nature and dynamics of such a powerful driver to the economy has become crucial and will have huge consequences in shaping current and future policies".
The ESF-STOA policy brief 'The Science of Innovation' is available online at: http://www.esf.org/?id=9311

Notes to editors

For more information, please contact
Alistair Kent/Tom Reast, Kaizo
+44 (0) 207 3176 4700

About ESF

The European Science Foundation (ESF) is an independent, non-governmental organisation that promotes collaboration in scientific research, funding of research and science policy across Europe. Its members are 72 national funding and research-performing organisations and learned societies from 30 countries. www.esf.org

About STOA

STOA is an official body of the European Parliament, whose task is to carry out expert, independent, assessments of the impact of new technologies and identify long-term, strategic policy options useful to the Parliament's committees in their policy-making role. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa

European Science Foundation

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