'Russia Has A Very Good Analytical Capability'
Interview with Ian Miles, participant of the XII International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development, Professor at the University of Manchester and Academic Supervisor of the Research Laboratory for Economics of Innovation which was created last year as part of the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge.
—Why did you decide to move to the HSE? Why is our university interesting for you?
—We have had a collaboration with people at the HSE for quite a few years now. We began by talking informally, we’ve had a number of exchanges, mutual visits, discussing topics which are very much at the heart of my interests and the interests of other colleagues in Manchester as well: foresight studies, innovation research, innovation policy and evaluation issues. We had developed a habit of collaborating over quite a few years. And my reasons for coming here are several: first of all, the people that I’ve met were clearly very, very active, they had a very substantial amount of research that they were conducting, they had very good sources of data and they were doing very clever things with the work. So I was naturally interested in collaborating with them.
I also must confess, and this is my fault, I know very little about modern Russia. And this was a great opportunity to find out more about Russia. Though Russia is quite close to Britain, I actually knew more about Korea and Japan and Australia than I knew about Russia. So it was a really good experience.
—What are the key topics of the research you are going to provide in the new laboratory?
—We are going to be studying a whole range of different issues around innovation. One thing we will be looking at is technology-based innovation, this is fundamentally important to modern economies. But we will also be looking at broader dimensions of innovation, and the word ‘economics’ tells us this – a lot of innovation activities are a matter of economic decisions, a lot of the consequences of innovation are economic consequences, and surrounding innovation activities there is a great deal that is very broadly economic to do with the way business activities are organized, the way the public services are organized, all sorts of issues which begin being social and management issues as well as economic issues.
When we think of innovation, often innovation involves change on many of these dimensions. So one of our jobs is to try to get a sufficiently good grasp of the way in which these different dimensions interrelate: in individual cases, over time, in different sectors of the economy, in different locations. So, that’s one sort of task – trying to understand different innovation processes, how they are managed, how they can be better managed, how we can get a better grasp on where they are going and maybe where they need to go, because there is certainly a lack of innovation in some places where we really desperately need it.
We are going to be looking at the networks they get involved in, who has to be mobilized in innovation processes, what sorts of resources are required, which may be economic resources in terms of money, which may be training and skills resources, cognitive capabilities, what we call ‘social capital’ – the networks between people, things of this sort. And again these are broader dimensions of innovation that have to be brought into play.
We’ll be working at a more micro-level looking at the performance of individual cases, individual innovations, individual firms, studying this by all sorts of means. One of these means is big survey data, and the HSE has fantastic access to data that in most countries is conducted away from universities by official government statistical agencies. The HSE has a lot of control over what data is produced and how that data is accessed and used. That means we have considerable strength in being able to do very high quality research into the determinants and consequences of innovation.
I’ve been stressing the role of firms, but there are other actors in the innovation system which we can also be looking at: universities, public research institutions of one sort or another. We can look to what role they are playing in the production and transfer of knowledge.
—What do you think about Russian prospects in innovative policy? It has been a very important topic at this conference.
—This conference has been very good for building my awareness of the topics in questioning how things are perceived in Russia. What is clear is that there is very good analytical capability, there are people who have undertaken good quality research and identified critical areas of innovation in Russia, critical gaps in the system. It’s apparent that despite having considerable strength in science, considerable human resources and considerable intellectual capabilities, Russia has not been making the mark on the world of innovation that we would expect. This is recognized and that is great. It’s recognized now and a lot of work has been put in to trying to turn the situation around. And I’m really looking forward to meeting with and working together with some of the people that are trying to achieve this end.
—Who are the people you are expecting to work with?
—Immediately here in the laboratory I’ll be working with Leonid Gokhberg, Alexander Sokolov and with about half a dozen other colleagues who have some very useful specialisms and backgrounds: people that are working on microeconomics of innovation, people who are working on innovation surveys, people who are experts in the human resource issues and the training and skills dimensions. It’s a very good and diverse team. We will have a big challenge in pooling our knowledge, in sharing the understanding and insights that each of us possesses.
—What can you say about this particular conference? What are your impressions?
—In the stream I’ve been on, I’ve been in the stream which has been dealing with science, technology and innovation issues, this has been very well organized, all of the presentations have been very high level, interesting presentations, and it is clear that every single speaker could have talked for several hours instead of just the few minutes that they were given. Certainly, me, but I believe many other people that were present, will be wanting to follow this up, wanting to read the publications that people mentioned, to look at the websites that they have presented to find out a lot more about the work that we’ve been learning about. It’s been very impressive to see the range of activities that’s been underway.
—Was there anything that you wished to add to the papers or to the topics of the research that were presented at this conference?
—The big issue in all of this sort of work is what use is being made of it. And we can create very nice research studies but they may just end up as pure publications or reports and not be put into practice. So the big challenge is seeing how the work is implemented. What we lack really is many stories of how our sorts of social research knowledge can be translated to actual practice by policy-makers or by managers in private and public firms. That is really something where I would like to hear more about people’s experiences on what works, what hasn’t worked so well and what are the success factors here.
Ekaterina Rylko, specially for the HSE News Service
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