The Covid-19 pandemic is no longer a global health crisis alone. It is also a socio-economic crisis, on the top of an environmental crisis.
Few days ago, the OECD organized a virtual workshop bringing together national policy makers and experts in research and innovation (R&I) policies. The leading questions formulated by the organizers were: What are the short- and long-term opportunities and risks for STI systems? What should be the STI policy responses and what has proven useful to date? How to achieve economic recovery and build more sustainable, inclusive and resilient systems?
During the pandemic, national R&I policies have responded very quickly with an impressive mobilization of research activities (as mentioned in a recent DEA report), and an impressive mobilization of development activities (particularly for new testing devices and producing new models of ventilators), among others.
These short-term initiatives were deployed under extraordinary time pressure, given the acute public health needs.
The workshop focused on the mid- to long-term policy responses, once the pandemic is over. How are R&I policies going to contribute to get our economies and societies back on track? How are they going to contribute to solve the grand challenges we are facing?
During the workshop many relevant arguments and comments were put forward. However, three concrete ones caught my attention:
First: “It is not about recovery, but about reforming and transforming”. The path towards a resilient, inclusive and environmentally sustainable socio-economic development, is about overcoming previous imbalances and deficiencies, and about grasping the new opportunities that have emerged during the crises (particularly the rapid uptake of digital solutions). This might require a careful assessment of R&I policies at all levels of government, examining whether our current portfolios of R&I policy instruments are up to that task.
Second idea: “We need to think holistically, as knowledge is produced and used in complex socio-technical systems”. This is related to the idea that R&I policies must make clear efforts to integrate different knowledge bases, different industries, and different types of partners, in the search for new solutions. Hence, it is not about traditional disciplinary scientific boundaries, creating knowledge for the sake of it. It is about co-creating knowledge with different stakeholders in the context of socio-technical systems where that knowledge is applied.
Third idea: “We must enhance the agility and capacity of public organizations to engage in transformative R&I initiatives”. Public organizations like municipalities, public utilities, public hospitals, national regulatory agencies, etc, are key actors for bringing new technological and innovative solutions to life. This takes typically the form of public-private innovation partnerships (for example in cities, or in hospitals). Yet, these partnerships require that public organizations are agile and have the knowledge, the coordination, and the operational capacities to make these opportunities happen.
I look forward the coming years’ debates on these crucial matters.