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OECD Outlook Examines the Effects of the Pandemic on Science, Technology, and Innovation

OECD Outlook Examines the Effects of the Pandemic on Science, Technology, and Innovation

Times of Crisis and Opportunity is the title of the OECD Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Outlook published in January. The document focuses on STI responses to the pandemic while assessing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on science and technology. Mikhail Gershman, Deputy Director of the Centre of Science, Technology, Innovation and Information Policy, discusses the contribution of the Institute of Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) to the Outlook and discusses some aspects of ISSEK’s long-standing partnership with the OECD.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes its Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook once every two years.

The edition is primarily aimed at politicians and experts. It summarizes key trends in the R&D sector worldwide, in OECD nations, their partner states, and in BRICS countries in particular.

Each OECD Outlook usually contains an analysis of trends in science, technology, and innovation policy worldwide, examples of countries’ best STI practices, and a set of recommendations for improving government support.

Science, technology, and innovation have played an essential role in the world’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, from providing a better understanding of the virus and developing vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics to planning and implementing recovery measures to support the most affected industries.

At the same time, the pandemic poses major challenges for STI systems. On the one hand, the global search for solutions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 disease encouraged massive investments in STI, accompanied by unprecedented levels of cooperation in this field and enhanced authority of science in the public mind. On the other hand, this search proved to be a kind of crash test for science and technology policies both at the national and international levels.

Due to the economic crisis and budget deficits brought on by lockdowns and other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, public and private research and innovation expenditures may be curtailed severely in the forthcoming years, according to the authors’ projections. These developments threaten to cause serious damage to STI systems at a time when science and innovation are needed to address other global challenges, such as climate change, and to meet Sustainable Development Goals. In view of this, the OECD suggests that governments should develop systemic measures to protect national innovation systems, include them in stimulus and economic recovery packages, and take advantage of new opportunities to implement necessary reforms.

Cooperation with the OECD and Recommendations for Russia

The OECD Outlook draws in part on the Survey on STI Policy Responses to COVID-19, an international project in which the HSE Institute of Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) participated.

The ISSEK team has been cooperating with the OECD for over 20 years by participating in numerous annual statistical and other surveys about Russia, collaborating on projects of the OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy and its working groups, and helping shape international statistical standards. The latest documents include guidelines for statistics on research and experimental development (Fraskati Manual) and guidelines for collecting and reporting data on innovations (Oslo Manual).

Mikhail Gershman,
Deputy Director of the ISSEK Centre of Science, Technology, Innovation and Information Policy

‘The latest OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook 2021 is certainly one of the most detailed and comprehensive expert reports dedicated to the role of science, technology, and innovation in overcoming the crisis caused by the pandemic. The report is based on the Survey on STI Policy Responses to COVID-19, in which 57 countries, including Russia, participated.

OECD experts draw readers’ attention to the key trends of 2020, including the unprecedented mobilization of R&D funding to combat COVID-19, the digitization of science, the changes in business sector approaches to the funding of research and innovation (in particular, providing direct financial support to companies), and the development of international cooperation to address the pandemic crisis and other global challenges.

I would mention the following OECD recommendations that seem to be relevant for Russia:

  1. Set new ambitious STI goals based on a mission-oriented approach. OECD experts recommend setting more ambitious goals in the STI field, in order to address major social and economic issues such as increasing life expectancy, reducing economic inequality, combatting dangerous infections and diseases, etc. Although some of these ‘missions’ are documented in the Decrees of the Russian President No 204 as of May 07, 2018, and No 474 as of July 21, 2020, the role of STI in their implementation has yet to be defined. New political tools are required to achieve ‘big goals’. Complex scientific and technological programmes and full-cycle innovation projects, provided in the Russian Science and Technology Development Strategy can become relevant tools in this regard.
  2. Develop financial tools to support long-term and highly risky scientific and innovation projects and inter-disciplinary research programmes to address complex social and economic challenges. Over the past years, the necessity to expand the horizons of financial support for scientific research has been widely discussed in Russia, as most of the current financial instruments (including state assignments, grants, and subsidies) cannot be extended for more than three years due to budget planning cycles. This barrier makes it difficult for Russian science to compete with the rest of the world. It also prevents long-term research programmes and breakthroughs in science. A new model of long-term continuous funding should be developed and adopted so that scientific research programmes can be financed for six years or longer.
  3. Improve the system of highly qualified research workforce training (including issues of pursuing academic careers, developing appropriate skills, including digital ones). One of the publicly significant objectives of Russia’s National Science Project (as well as the new Science and Universities Project, which is currently under development) is to enhance the attractiveness of academic careers in Russia. We can see some positive steps taken towards this objective—the doctoral programme system is gradually improving, doctoral students can receive grants for their research, and new mechanisms are appearing in order to provide support for scientists (eg word-class research centres). At the same time, the issue of academic career attractiveness in Russia is still a top priority. The main problem is small doctoral scholarship awards and low salaries for researchers—both junior and senior—that cannot compete with those abroad. This problem increases the risk of brain drain against a backdrop of an increasing global war for talent.
  4. Continue to establish an evidence base for the development and evaluation of STI policy. Leading countries have long had systems in place to evaluate STI policy throughout its entire life cycle (e.g., ante, interim, ex post). The evaluation results are used to make managerial decisions (e.g., whether a programme is effective and should be further financed or is ineffective and should be closed). Russia has yet to establish a comprehensive STI policy evaluation system. Only several attempts have been made to receive feedback from the Russian scientific community about STI policy efficacy (see, for instance, the analysis of Business Climate in Russian Science—Doing Science). In my view, it is crucial to create a comprehensive system of STI policy evaluation and to improve its evidence base in Russia to enhance governance in this field. It is important that the policy assessment results be available to the general public and consider the opinion of all actors of scientific and innovation processes.

I am certain that this year—which President Putin declared the Year of Russian Science—Russia will make a breakthrough in a number of areas outlined by the OECD experts.

See also:

The website of the ISSEK Competence Centre for Cooperation with International Organizations provides information about the OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlooks 2016 and 2018.

In particular, OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook 2018 mentions the  ISSEK-developed big data mining system (iFORA) as one of the most successful initiatives in the field of science and innovation policy digitalization.

In 2020 the Centre of Science, Technology, Innovation and Information Policy (ISSEK) began publishing information bulletins of the series Russia—OECD: Monitoring of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. The bulletins are available in Russian and English.

Each edition provides analyses of key trends in science, technology, and innovation policy in Russia, governance practices of leading countries, and recommendations of OECD and other international organizations.

See also:

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