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Regular version of the site

Science Management Needs Evidence-based Tools

The technological image of the world is changing rapidly. Even for ordinary consumers, tracking new products on the market and analyzing their benefits and drawbacks is becoming more and more complicated given the abundant supply. This task is even more pressing for those who make decisions to advance certain areas of research and development. A presentation by Leonid Gokhberg, First Vice Rector of HSE and Director of the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK), at an April Conference plenary session, argues how global challenges enhance the need for evidence-based R&D and innovation policy.

Science & technology policy is evolving

Economic leadership today is directly correlated with the ascent of science, technology, and innovation (STI), the development of which is become targeted and focused on strategic priorities. Even the most powerful states are attempting to concentrate their resources on the most promising areas of basic and applied research, taking into account global competition and the growing influence of ‘big’ challenges that are radically rebuilding value chains and the structure of markets’.

Russia, which continuously seeks to switch to an innovative model of development, has recently experienced some positive shifts in STI policy. In terms of absolute expenditures on science, Russia is one of the leaders (ahead of Brazil, Italy, and Canada), but in terms of percentage of GDP, it is falling behind not only most developed economies, but also some of those that are developing rapidly. Although simple, this indicator is nevertheless a complex and vivid descriptor of the scale, priorities and efficiency of state activities in STI.

Russian science and global priorities

Despite the growing state effort, Russian science has yet to achieve global visibility. This is proven by a number of indicators that reflect Russian researchers’ publication and patent activity, the nature of academic publications, and Russia’s presence on the global research fronts – in other words, their research productivity.

According to calculations made by the HSE Institute of Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) based on data from Web of Science, the natural and technical sciences remain traditional areas of research in Russia. The leaders are physics, space research, Earth sciences, mathematics, chemistry, and materials science. At the same time, globally, life sciences are advancing rapidly.

In the aggregate count of global research fronts, Russia (3.28%) is considerably falling behind the U.S. (74.36%), Great Britain (32.30%), Germany (30.69%), and China (23.40%). About one-third of academic publications by Russian scholars that are in international citation databases are co-authored with international colleagues.

The interest of business in supporting research

Over 70% of all funding for academic research come from the state budget; this funding is spent mostly by either state institutions or companies closely affiliated with the state. Importantly, the state plays a  role as a provider of funding and supervisory control, rather than one of an effective investor or partner. Such a model of STI organization and support has clear advantages and drawbacks. On the one hand, it provides an opportunity to quickly increase priority funding (in certain areas and sectors) and to motivate participants in the process. On the other hand, there are obvious problems when it comes to choosing priorities and effectively spending resources. The state is unable to react flexibly to internal and external challenges, to achieve sustainable growth in research productivity, or to provide the necessary level of freedom and autonomy for research centres and individual researchers.

Innovations are impossible if they are not understood and accepted by people

Businesses have weak interest when it comes to investing in research. Since 2000, their contribution to funding has decreased from 33% to 27%. At the same time, the entrepreneurial sector consumes approximately 60% of total spending and a considerable part of state budget appropriations for science. These figures reveal one of the reasons why business investment in science is so poor and why it achieves such a low return on investment. Russian companies that receive funds for research from the state usually don’t become more active; rather, they use state funding to replace their own funds that they had allocated to carry out research and purchase new technologies. The unwillingness of businesses to fund research leads to a decreasing share of the intellectual component of their work, which in turn influences the competitive ability of their products, making them unable to compete on the global market.

Society’s readiness for innovation

Innovations are impossible if they are not understood and accepted by people. At the end of the day, mass consumers are the ones who choose the innovative products and technologies that they need on the market, which improve their standard of living and are not associated with risks and ethical threats.

Specialized surveys carried out by the Higher School of Economics since 2009 as part of the Monitoring the Innovative Behaviour of the Population show that in 2015, Russians cited environmental problems and living standards as priorities requiring effort on the part of the academic community. An evaluation of their perception of innovative products showed that Russian consumers are most prepared to try on ‘smart’ clothes and to install solar batteries and environmental pollution indicators on the roofs of their houses. These innovations captured approximately 48% of the votes as a result of a survey carried out by HSE researchers in November 2015 on a representative sample of 1,671 people that took into account gender, age and education level.

The population is becoming a more important source of information on the relevance of certain challenges, which is leading to the need to emphasize social measurement in STI policy.

Precise measurements for policy measures

Traditionally, STI policies have been built mostly on the basis of expert evaluations; experts, in turn, offer solutions that mostly respond to the requirements of a situation. Thanks to more complicated analytical tools, especially the use of big data, it is now possible to look for and develop more reasonable, effective and evidence-based administrative solutions. Such solutions integrate various sources of information, are based on a wide range of qualitative and quantitative methods, and are focused on a long-term agenda.

Specialized monitoring surveys serve as the basis for evidence-based policy globally, and in recent years in Russia as well. For many years, experts from the Higher School of Economics have monitored the innovation activities of various economic actors, innovative behaviour of the population, global technology trends, the labour market for highly qualified R&D personnel, and knowledge-intensive business services, among others. Such surveys set a framework of ‘intellectual analytics’ for policy tuning, taking into account the variety of strategies for companies’ innovative activities, evaluation and selection of the most relevant regulation tools at the level of the state, business, and development institutions.

On the ISSEK section ‘Science and Innovations’

A special three-day section‘Science and Innovations’ organized by ISSEK at the April Conference offers a systemic view of how science in Russia is organized, as well as its future. The section includes two sub-sections, ‘Science and Technology Foresight’ and ‘Science, Technology and Innovation Policy’. They include more than 60 papers on the most pressing problems of STI policy, methods and best practices of foresight studies, tools of innovative development for certain industries, as well as local experiences, including those based on a cluster approach and ‘smart’ specialization.

Experts from leading Russian and international universities and research centres, international organizations (OECD, UNESCO), government agencies, business entities, and development institutions have gathered to discuss the most recent models and formats for STI policy. A wide range of topics concerning priorities and resources for Russia’s intensive development in comparison with the best global innovation practices will serve as a basis for recommendations to the Strategy of Russia’s STI development to 2030.

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