Reforms of national innovation policies in Europe

Many European countries have introduced important reforms in their innovation policies since the year 2000. Countries with traditionally “mission-oriented” policies have introduced many new “diffusion-oriented” instruments, and vice-versa. Are we witnessing a trend towards convergence of innovation policies, and ultimately of innovation systems?

The answer is very simple, and yet quite complex. Simply put the answer is no, we are not witnessing a convergence of policies or innovation systems if that is understood as a unison move towards the same end-point. Innovation policies and systems remain largely diverse in many dimensions: the socio-economic dimension with distinct industrial profile and dynamics; as well as the socio-political dimension with centrally placed actors’ preference for some specific solutions and distaste for others.

What we are witnessing is a series of simultaneous and significant trends towards national reforms of innovation policies, with more or less depth, and with more or less impact in their respective innovation systems. This is particularly the case in the context of the European Union. How can this be explained?

In my chapter about innovation policy reforms in the new edited book “Sources of National Institutional Competitiveness” (Oxford University Press, 2015), I compare the reforms undertaken in the period 2000-2010 in four countries: Denmark, Sweden, Germany and France. I first look at the reforms that these countries have introduced, and thereafter I look at the socio-political dimension of these institutional changes. The focus of the book is on processes of sensemaking by central actors in situations of national institutional change. Hence in this chapter, I examine the sensemaking of national civil servants as core actors in these innovation policy reforms.  In the EU, the Open Method of Coordination, a procedural mechanism to bring national experts and civil servants from the EU member states together to exchange experiences and insights about innovation policy, has had a prominent role.

The interviews of 38 experts and civil servants on these 4 countries show that the Open Method of Coordination gave an overview to the participants about each other’s policies and systems, and created international networks of influence across Europe for national reforms. However the Open Method did not upgrade national knowledge competences, nor it developed common concepts and approaches across national countries. In other words, the EU did not provide a basis for common sensemaking across national actors. This means that the significant innovation policy reforms that described in the chapter for each of the four countries cannot be ascribed to cross-European sensemaking processes. Instead, national civil servants and experts find inspiration for innovation policy reforms elsewhere: in their own traditions and in their own independent analytical considerations about the pitfalls and challenges their innovation systems are facing. Therefore, although some national reforms might have some similar features, the reforms of national innovation policies and systems are truly unique and not moving necessarily in the same direction.

Photo credit: my own from Taarbæk Strandvej


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