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Government Innovation Policy In Norway Essay

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“Government innovation policy in Norway”

Moscow 2012
OVERALL ASSESSMENT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Norway’s economic performance has been consistently very good for a long time, and average real incomes are now among the highest in the world. The growing size and profitability of the offshore hydrocarbons sector has been a major factor, but even if it is excluded from the calculations, per capita GDP in mainland Norway is comparable to that of neighbouring Finland and higher than that of the major EU countries. Norway is also one of the best-performing countries in terms of growth and level of labour productivity, especially in private services. However, the “summary innovation index” (SII), a synthetic indicator used in the EU’s “Innovation Scoreboard”, puts Norway below the EU25 average in 2007 (and the EU25 average is well below the US and Japanese scores). In addition, Norway’s performance on this synthetic indicator has deteriorated over the years. Against this background, the “Norwegian puzzle” – i.e. that Norway “underperforms” against conventional S&T and innovation indicators despite its persistently high economic performance – has received some attention. However, it is well known that contributions to innovation and economic performance include forces such as, inter alia, the strong “social contract” between the state, labour and capital that promotes social welfare, and a high level of acceptance of technological change in the labour force. Low business sector R&D expenditure today can be largely “understood” by the industrial structure’s smaller share of R&D-intensive industries than the OECD average. Non-R&D-based innovation, such as innovation in the service sector and in the organisation and the business model of enterprises, which is difficult to capture by available quantitative indicators, seems to underlie the exceptional productivity performance of the private services sector, which would otherwise be hard to explain. The key strategic task ahead is to maintain high, sustainable growth even after oil and gas production has peaked. Any foreseeable restructuring of the Norwegian economy compatible with this goal will entail a shift towards other knowledge-based activities. Policies to strengthen innovation capabilities, including the R&D component of the innovation system, are needed. While this review argues that improved innovation capabilities require sustained increased investment in R&D, it also emphasises that Norwegian policy must translate these needs into concrete, mobilising and credible goals for all stakeholders. The “Barcelona objective” of 3% aggregate R&D intensity does not fulfil all of these criteria. In particular, given the nature of the Norwegian economy and its specialisation patterns, the likely failure to achieve this quantitative target could unfairly damage the credibility of Norway’s science, technology and innovation policy. A preferable approach might involve developing a (set of) sufficiently large programme(s) which could build on Norway’s comparative economic advantages and capabilities in science and technology, and mobilise public and private actors towards common goals supported by a broad social con- sensus. More than many other countries, Norway has nurtured strong social support for action to contribute to solving problems of global relevance, such as sustainable development1 and related issues. Large-scale programmes to address such topics could potentially have widespread impact on Norwegian industries and science and technology fields. Carefully crafted, they would strengthen the shift towards a more knowledge-based economy. While framework conditions for increasing R&D and innovation are largely in place – especially those relating to the overall education and skill levels of the population – some changes in the governance of the innovation system seem necessary to facilitate prioritisation and efficient delivery of co-ordinated policies.

Main strengths and weaknesses of Norway’s innovation system It is important to take specific aspects of the country’s geography, eco- nomic specialisation patterns and cultural and institutional characteristics into account when assessing the state and potential of Norway’s innovation system: ␣Norway’s topography is an economic asset, e.g. for developing inter- national shipping, hydroelectric power, and more recently aquaculture, tourism, etc., but it is challenging in several respects (e.g. transport infrastructure, relatively isolated communities, scarce arable land). ␣ The development of the Norwegian economy has been shaped by the exploitation of natural resources. A long tradition in fishing has recently been complemented by a strong export-oriented aquaculture industry. The discovery and extraction of oil and gas, including the development of related industrial activities in engineering and services, have strongly affected the economy and have had a profound impact on the country’s innovation and R&D system. ␣ Norway shares many cultural features with the other Nordic countries, including an egalitarian society, a high degree of individualism, and relatively high tolerance for uncertainty. These characteristics, on balance, seem to be conducive to innovation on the shop floor. Management tends to be consensus-oriented while individuals are expected to take responsibility and, in turn, resist being micromanaged. ␣ Nordic countries also share to some degree an organisation of the labour market which has become internationally known in its Danish version (“flexicurity”). This consists of a combination of a flexible labour market, participation of social partners in designing policy, generous arrange- ments for safeguarding the standards of living of those unable to work, and an active labour market policy focused on strengthening the compe- tencies of the unemployed. In addition, Nordic countries have small wage disparities. Analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats Main strengths

␣Competitive natural-resource-based sectors, most importantly oil and gas. Their demand for specialised goods and services provides oppor- tunities for knowledge-intensive/value added businesses. In contrast to some other resource-based economies, Norway has made good use of this potential, notably by requiring foreign investors in the early development of the petroleum sector (before 1993) to invest in R&D and thereby to reinforce local technological learning. ␣A dynamic, high-performing private services sector. There are many examples of innovative business models in many types of services, from telecommunications to media to retail trade as well as in services related to resource-based industries. ␣ Disciplined and forward-looking economic policy. Norway has ensured that oil revenues do not destabilise the domestic economy and that they will be available to meet long-term social needs. ␣Sound macroeconomic management and competition policy. The economy is reasonably stable at the macroeconomic level. Competition policies have been tightened and are now on the same footing as in EU countries, so firms have incentives to “innovate their way out” of market pressures if policies are rigorously applied. ␣ A highly educated labour force (including scientific and technical skills) as concerns most age groups and both men and women strongly supports productivity and the ability to innovate; yet potentially serious challenges appearing in the OECD PISA 2006 results suggest that efforts must be made to secure the right quantity and quality of skilled personnel in the long term. ␣Strong consensus on the desirability of technological change and productivity increase generated by co-operation between the social partners. This key social asset has helped Norway to build strong positions through technological modernisation and innovation in a number of traditional industries. ␣ A labour market with sufficient flexibility for introducing new processes and products without too much disruption. There seems to be less ingrained resistance to change in workplace conditions than in other OECD countries and an acceptance that there is no progress without change and that innovation benefits society as a whole, not just the innovating enterprise. It is not particularly difficult or expensive to lay off workers for economic reasons, and the unemployed – including older people who wish to continue working – normally find new jobs relatively quickly. Undesirable aspects of the labour market are the very high incidence of sickness absence and disability pensioners. ␣Political commitment and institutional capabilities to foster science, technology and innovation. Fostering innovation has been a priority of successive governments. Well-functioning institutions encourage inno- vation via information flows and both direct and indirect financial support. All levels are aware of the importance of innovation for economic performance and competitiveness. Norwegian policy makers have over the years been very active in developing a broad portfolio of support instruments for S&T and innovation. An important mission of Norway’s research institutes has been to support industrial development through applied research. Policy formulation and delivery benefit from rich national sources of strategic intelligence on the research and innovation system. Main weaknesses

␣A comparatively low level of R&D/innovation in some parts of the Norwegian business sector, especially in manufacturing. This is a cause for some concern not because it reflects backwardness (in international comparisons Norwegian industries often perform acceptable levels of R&D) but because it reflects the need to restructure towards more knowledge-intensive industries while building on strength in existing ones. Increased R&D intensity in existing industries can also increase the competitiveness of the industries concerned, spillovers to other domestic sectors, the size of the market for knowledge generated by public research and the absorptive capacity of the Norwegian economy. Once oil and gas revenues peak, other exports will increasingly be needed to finance imports. ␣In a rapidly globalising world, Norwegian industry does not profit enough from R&D conducted abroad and needs to adopt a more international perspective. Given its level of economic development and human capital, Norway does not attract enough R&D investment from abroad. ␣ As in most other OECD countries, students and potential students are relatively uninterested in mathematics, science and technology courses. The problem has been identified and measures to tackle it are in place. Threats and opportunities

␣ Failure to diversify, in terms of energy sources and industrial structure, is widely recognised as a significant threat to future welfare, in light of the inevitable depletion of the oil and gas reserves and the demographic trend towards ageing. Government research and innovation policy, building on dynamic entrepreneurship in certain fields, actively pro- motes the development of new energy sources and industries. The risk of being locked into established industries, at the expense of new ones, should not be underestimated. ␣ Policy contradictions may result in ineffectiveness. An obvious example is the conflict between the centripetal forces needed to build critical mass and strong capabilities in many fields of research and the centri- fugal forces of regional policy. Policy mechanisms to satisfy the need for both critical mass and regional empowerment are not in place. ␣ A shortage of people with appropriate research skills. While there is no fundamental shortage for the moment, there has been a fall in the numbers of students opting for scientific and technical disciplines. If the economy is to restructure in a more knowledge-intensive direction, the supply of people with scientific and technical skills must rise. Education policies have been reformed to address this challenge, but the results of these efforts are not yet clear. Norway also has noteworthy opportunities:

␣ Its current specialisation provides a strong base on which to develop and strengthen related economic activities. A balance needs to be struck between policies to establish wholly new activities and those that build on existing strengths. Few new companies or industries arise out of no- where; to emerge and grow they require customers, capabilities and ideas based on needs. Profitable industries and services can provide a springboard for the creation and growth of new related or unrelated activities by allocating the necessary resources provided that corporate governance (for firm diversification, spin-outs) and financial markets (for new technology-based firms) can play their role efficiently. ␣Norway’s unique combination of capabilities and resources can be matched with global opportunities to create and expand market niches, especially in areas in which global needs are pressing (e.g. clean energy, food, water, health, security, etc.). A dynamic, high-performing private services sector – which has received comparatively little policy attention so far – represents an important asset for developing such niches, which increasingly have characteristics of both manufacturing and services. Strategic tasks and guiding principles

␣ A key strategic task for Norway is to prepare for “life after oil” even though advances in science and technology progressively push depletion of this source of income and wealth further into the future. A consensus seems to be emerging that structural change underpinned by strong innovative performance can help to maintain high, sustainable growth. ␣ Economic diversification requires a balanced strategy to develop existing knowledge infrastructure strengths and build new ones and to minimise institutional and infrastructural lock-ins to declining technologies and areas of knowledge. ␣ To be a successful competitor and partner in research and innovation, Norway must continue to raise the quality of Norwegian research. Best- practice research and innovation funding instruments are in place but they must be embedded in a governance framework which better safe- guards against a recurring tendency towards fragmentation. In accomplishing these tasks policy should be subject to key guiding principles: ␣ A comprehensive approach to innovation. Innovation policy should avoid an “R&D and high-tech myopia” and recognise the importance of non- technological innovation. Norway’s strong resource-based sectors and services offer considerable scope for economic growth through the application of advanced science and technology. The “servicification” of manufacturing and the increasing technological component of services mean that both the manufacturing and services sectors need common capabilities to increase their knowledge intensity. ␣ A systemic and evolutionary approach to the promotion of innovation. A clear overarching strategy should inform policies that affect the dynamics and efficiency of innovation processes. Such policies should adapt to changes in the global environment and respond to the evolving needs of actors in innovation. They should help to improve the performance of the innovation system and sub-systems through continuous monitoring and assessment rather than define in advance an optimal innovation structure. ␣Competition and trust. The increasing complexity, costs and risks involved in innovation enhance the value of networking and collaboration in partnerships between actors with complementary assets. This helps reduce moral hazard and transaction costs. Norway is well endowed with the necessary social capital to benefit from such co-operation and an appropriate competition policy framework. ␣ Quality, relevance and critical mass. Reconciling these objectives entails rigorous selection of research projects and teams eligible for public support, active involvement of research end-users in defining research priorities, and some concentration of resources in selected areas. An active regional policy should not lead to dispersion and/or duplication of research efforts. ␣Mobilising goals rather than quantitative targets. The overriding objectives of science, technology and innovation policies should be formulated in terms of desired outcomes which can then be translated into resource requirements. ␣ Market-friendly “clever” targeting. Neither “picking winners” nor a pure bottom-up definition of policy objectives is the best way to use very limited resources. Some degree of top-down prioritisation is needed to focus efforts on areas in which national capabilities fit well with oppor- tunities in national and global innovation networks. Market-friendly focusing devices include public-private partnerships for innovation. ␣ Balanced internationalisation. Most sources of the knowledge needed to sustain innovation-led growth must be “imported” from abroad in ways that already work quite well in Norway (FDI, labour mobility, cross- border licensing, etc.). They can also be accessed through outward invest- ment and, more generally, active participation in innovation networks located abroad. There is scope for developing further the Norwegian innovation system’s inward and outward linkages. ␣Good mix of public support instruments for R&D. There is no known “correct” balance between tax incentives and grants for promoting R&D and innovation. Because both have advantages and disadvantages, offering both allows a wider range of actors to respond to a wider range of incentives than if only one or the other was available. ␣Advanced governance principles. A clear distinction should be main- tained between policy formulation and policy implementation. The latter draws on an effective mix of proven instruments: co-ordination, competi- tion (e.g. competitive funding), co-operation (e.g. joint research projects); performance-based steering mechanisms (e.g. performance contracts, funding criteria). Changes in innovation policy governance should be embedded in Norway’s proven system of disciplined and forward-looking economic policy. Recommendations

Improving framework conditions for innovation
Existing framework conditions and policies are adequate for supporting a high level of innovation activity. However, there is scope for improvement in certain areas. ␣ Identify obstacles to the growth of SMEs. As in many OECD countries, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) receive favourable treatment in terms of public support and employment regulations. Economic theory suggests there is a risk that this support may “crowd out” firms’ own innovation priorities and activities, although there appears to be no evidence of this in Norwegian practice. ␣ Correct mismatches in the demand and supply of skills. Like most OECD countries, Norway needs to counteract a “flight from science” among young people. It has put in place a programme of action that appears to be coherent. However, its results are not yet clear. Monitoring and further efforts may be needed to increase the number of people trained in mathematics, science and technology to underpin a shift toward a more knowledge-intensive economic structure in future. Efforts to encourage students to study science and technology and to increase the supply of scientifically and technologically qualified teachers in schools should continue. ␣ Achieve more balanced decentralisation. A recent administrative reform (Forvaltningsreform) that delegates increasing budgetary authority to the regional level creates a significant challenge for developing overall research and innovation strategies that make sense at both the national and regional levels. Critical mass and consistency issues need to be addressed if Norway is to keep up with international trends (such as the concentration of effort implied by the European Research Area), given that its population is roughly equivalent to a single region of Germany or France. ␣Address regional disparities in access to venture capital without establishing too many regional funds. When the government plays a smaller role in innovation-related venture capital – especially seed capital – its overall capacity to take risks is likely to be undermined. There should be a small number of national funds, such as Innovation Norway and SIVA, with access to regional distribution channels rather than many, small, locally controlled ones. Improving governance of the innovation system

While innovation requires good framework conditions, OECD experience shows that effective public policy measures are needed to boost innovation performance. Overall, Norwegian science, technology and innovation policy corresponds to international good practice. Nevertheless there is room for improvement in some areas. Strategic orientation, policy co-ordination and priority setting ␣ Correct weaknesses in priority setting and governance in the public part of the research and innovation system. Because of the strong sector principle in Norwegian governance many ministries micromanage policy implementation and under-exploit the capabilities of their agencies. This impedes overall priority setting for innovation in areas for which these ministries are responsible and prevents the design and implementation of the comprehensive innovation policies that are almost universall...

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