‘A Strategy Built with ‘Jokers’ Might in the End Come up Trumps’
How dangerous is the ‘beaten track’ effect in discussions on Russia’s science and technology (S&T) development? Is it enough to master new technologies without changing the institutions for the country to successfully enter global markets? Alexander Chulok, Deputy Director of the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge Foresight Centre, commented on the key topics of a recent online discussion on ‘Russia’s place on the global technology map’, on the Russian science and technology website STRF.ru which attracted a wide range of pundits.
Coordinating the strategies
The STRF editors came up with a really important topic. Over the past year, there has been lively debate on almost all the major communication platforms in Russia about the plans for Russia’s future development for the next 10 to 15 years. The government is launching a National Technology Initiative, and working on an S&T Development Strategy. Some strategic documents outlining the vectors of development have been rubber stamped, among them the Forecast of Russia’s S&T Development up to 2030 approved by the Prime Minister. This list also includes public programmes, national and industry strategies, corporate concepts and forecasts. Many of these documents have to be coordinated, since they are often disconnected in terms of deadlines, aims, tasks and even results. According to the Federal Law 172 ‘On strategic planning’, this work needs to be done urgently.
Groups of stakeholders — strategic decision-makers in ministries, development institutions, and large businesses — create various strategic documents and see the future differently. It’s essential for all of them to agree on a general framework for how the future should look and some of its basic prerequisites. It’s important to take into account both the global challenges that will shape future markets, and the resources Russia already has. Everyone involved in the process must have their finger on the pulse, follow what’s going on in the world, and distinguish threats from opportunities, and see how to use them to their advantage. This must be a dynamic optimization of the model over time.
Looking for unconventional solutions
The world is approaching a new technology paradigm, which means we must hasten to review the existing priorities of S&T development. Unfortunately we often fall behind the global pace of change, and not just by a step. For example, we are trying to provide for effective technology transfer and business participation in R&D, while a new model is already evolving globally, namely crowdfunding for innovations, which depends on engaging the populace. We are improving the effectiveness of existing businesses; while new markets are rapidly developing globally, which by capitalization may considerably outgrow the traditional ones. And many of them grow seemingly from nowhere, thanks to mass distribution of new technologies (for example, ‘uberization’ of value-added chains or the booming markets of entertainment, leisure and tourism).
The priorities of S&T development can’t be fixed and stay unchanged for years. We must be adaptive and proactive; we must regularly monitor the political, values-related, economic and ecological events that might influence the choice of a certain future scenario. We must also take into account the ‘jokers’ - unlikely events with big potential effects - and on the basis of all these observations, use foresight to make sensible predictions. If there were more resources, the issue of how to choose our priorities probably wouldn’t be as pressing. But when resources are short and the price of each error is high, this becomes key. Unfortunately, there are no simple or common solutions. Moreover, the solutions that seem such can be the most wrong.
The priorities of S&T development can’t be fixed and stay unchanged for years
Remarkably, the discussion on STRF revealed what is called ‘path dependence’ in institutional economics. For example, some of the participants expressed traditional formulas about low intensity of innovations and lack of business participation in them, about people’s unpreparedness for innovations, about Russia’s vast territory and difficulties with logistics and communications. The evaluations of the demand for Russia-based inventions and technology transfer were traditionally low.
I believe we have this established practice of ‘traditional questions and answers’, because the culture of foresight is so underdeveloped. Foresight as an ideology, and for me it is even a kind of philosophy, gives us an opportunity to take into account various ‘jokers’ on the traditional path, and to ask correct (unexpected) questions, and search for answers to which can be the framework for priorities. A strategy built with such ‘jokers’ might in the end come up trumps and prove more successful and profitable than going back down the beaten track.
Building the institutional framework
Another important topic of this discussion was how to define the institutional framework for technology forecasting. Technologies don’t exist in a vacuum. At HSE, we were given an example illustrating this situation: as long as they clinch screws with hammers at our car plants, since it’s faster, no technology will take hold. This is about a culture of innovations.
A key role of institutions is to establish the ‘rules of the game’ in order to decrease transaction costs for the players and increase competitiveness in the economy generally. The existing system of institutions matches the existing technology paradigm, and it can’t be changed right away. The global trends and challenges, on the one hand, reinforce uncertainty and increase transaction costs, and on the other, alter the economy and society itself. The speed of such changes may considerably exceed the institutional environment’s ability to adapt. The resulting imbalance aggravates the ‘spiral of ineffectiveness’, limits the opportunities for development, and threatens the country’s position in the global division of labour.
I believe, it’s very important to speak about changing values, the institutional environment, about Russia’s preparedness for living in the new future in terms of both technology and institutions, and we need to negotiate the basic terms to build a culture of forecasting. I and my colleagues are ready to further develop and broadly discuss this range of issues at HSE and on other platforms.
HSE University has signed cooperation agreements with two of the world's leading research centres, NISTEP (Japan) and TIFAC (India), which provide their governments with analytical support to inform science and technology forecasting and science and technology policy.
From Science Fiction to Designing the Future: Annual Foresight Conference Commences at HSE University
This week, researchers from all over the world have gathered online for the 10th annual International Academic Conference ‘Foresight and STI Policy’ at HSE University. One of the cross-cutting themes of the anniversary forum, which will be held from November 9 to 13, is lessons learned from the pandemic and the crisis’s effects in future scenarios.
Global economic trends that have emerged in 2020 have been reevaluated in the context of the pandemic and low oil prices. Businesses have reconsidered their windows of opportunity and potential threats. This is evidenced by a foresight study conducted by the Association of Managers of Russia and co-authored by Alexander Chulok, Director of the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge.
Jonathan Calof has been cooperating with HSE since 2009. In an interview with HSE News Service he talks about how his involvement with HSE began, what projects he has been part of, and how he has organized his online work during the recent lockdown.
This May, HSE and the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI, Republic of Korea) signed a cooperation agreement on science and advanced technology research. This agreement was signed by Leonid Gokhberg, HSE First Vice Rector, Director of the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, and Dr. Hwang-Hee Cho, STEPI President.
Following years of study and work in South America and Europe, Rafael Popper joined HSE Moscow as Professor of Foresight and STI Governance in January 2018. In addition to his job at HSE, he is Principal Scientist in Business, Innovation and Foresight at a world leading research and technology organization (RTO) called VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. With a PhD on 21st Century Foresight from the University of Manchester, Popper has built a career on wide-ranging research of issues in foresight and STI policy. In a recent interview with the HSE News Service, he spoke in depth about his research interests, philosophy on teaching, collaboration across HSE and his love of languages, among other topics.
Leonid Gokhberg, HSE First Vice Rector, Director of the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, spoke on his first steps in academia, working with foreign researchers, on foresight research as well as shared his thoughts on HSE research development.
On November 7, HSE hosted a delegation from the Jülich Research Centre in Germany. Scholars from both countries came together to discuss joint research opportunities, including transformation of energy systems for sustainable development; future studies of energy technologies, including foresight studies; and methodological issues related to big data analysis and modelling.
Policymakers are increasingly turning to foresight techniques for guidance when addressing the wide array of problems and challenges arising in their work. A new book co-edited by Leonid Gokhberg, Dirk Meissner, and Alexander Sokolov from the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK), attempts to add another dimension – namely, opportunities – that can come from proper application of foresight techniques. Deploying Foresight for Policy and Strategy Makers: Creating Opportunities Through Public Policies and Corporate Strategies in Science, Technology and Innovation (Springer, 2016) features essays by more than a dozen scholars on various aspects of foresight application in today’s policy environment.
What should Russia’s policy be on Science and Technology? What do Russian and international foresight research results show? How is international cooperation in science developing? These are among the questions which will be discussed at the 5th annual international research conference on Foresight and STI Policy at HSE on 18th - 20th November.