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R&D management model is changing

Discussions at the “Foresight and STI Policy” conference the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge is hosting for the sixth year in a row, highlight the changes in approaches to studying the current state and expected development trends in the S&T sphere. Major trends of Russian and international Foresight studies include deep integration of their results into science, technology and innovation (STI) policies at all levels, growing number (and complexity) of analytical techniques, and involvement of new actors.

 

Major changes have occurred in the Russian S&T landscape in recent years, shifting the focus of relevant national policy towards upgrading innovation infrastructure, and developing mechanisms for technology transfer and application of R&D results in the economy. Having identified the main new features, Sergey Salikhov, director of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science’s Science and Technology Department, stressed that “we’re currently entering a new stage of S&T development in the RF, when the state perceives R&D as a sphere where new knowledge is created and mastered – as opposed to a specific sector of the socio-economic system. The state sees R&D as a major economic player, the development core, and a fundamental resource ensuring the country’s independence and competitiveness”.

Two documents are expected to support this vector: the Russian Long-Term S&T Development Strategy recently presented to the government, and the new law on research, science, technology, and innovation activities in the RF which should be drafted in 2016-2017 and introduced to the State Duma in 2018. The strategy for the first time sets external objectives for the R&D sector in the “grand challenges” format (detailed discussions of relevant matters were held at the 2012 Foresight conference “Foresight for Innovative Responses to Grand Challenges”), which determine new priorities for S&T development. The draft strategy sets quite strict requirements for the public R&D management system, though the actual document “is not about reforming the R&D sphere but about changing the model of R&D management in Russia”, stressed Sergey Salikhov.

Implementing the S&T Development Strategy and the RF Law on Science involves changing the whole system of relationship between science, society, business, and the state. The representative of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science invited the participants of the Foresight conference to discuss various aspects of managing the R&D sphere and forecasting its development, keeping in mind adoption of the abovementioned strategic documents.

Results of HSE ISSEK research are applied in shaping substantiated STI policies and drafting relevant legislation. Discussing them with high-level national and international experts, and analysing various theoretical issues (together with applied and empirical ones, and relevant tools and techniques) is one of the objectives of the annual Foresight conferences. This year presentations by young HSE researchers were given absolute priority. “Such discussions always give a powerful impulse to our young colleagues’ further academic growth. It’s yet another professional competency test for them”, noted Leonid Gokhberg, HSE First Vice Rector and ISSEK Director. The agenda comprising highly relevant Russian issues and a broad range of international studies makes the HSE Foresight Conference a major, important and influential event for science and technology scholars the world over, noted First Vice Rector citing reviews by international organisations and colleagues in academic and expert communities.

 

Europe shifts into smart specialisation mode

 

The EU countries are trying to increase their productivity and global competitiveness, reduce the gap with the US, and increase potential of their domestic markets. Jennifer Casingena Harper (Malta Council for Science and Technology) spoke about the EU approaches to shaping STI policy based on smart specialisation principles, which among other things include analysing the national context, assessing innovation potential, setting sensible priorities, creating a vision of the future shared by key stakeholders, and designing integrated systems to manage and monitor implementation of the agreed priorities. Multilevel Foresight studies would help to coordinate global, regional, and national-level objectives in the course of STI priority setting and monitoring their implementation, and ultimately achieve higher returns on R&D investments. The expert described how such policies were applied in Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Italian Toscana, and in Malta.

 

Stakeholders of the future – children, teenagers, and neural networks

 

Marcio de Miranda Santos, Executive Director of the Brazilian Centre for Strategic Studies and Management (CGEE), spoke about his country’s main think tank’s major areas of work, and analytical tools it applied. The CGEE is HSE ISSEK Foresight Centre’s long-time partner in optimising research tools, particularly in the data mining area, and in coordinating the International S&T Foresight Centres Network.

The CGEE provides ongoing support to the national government and relevant ministries (such as the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Planning, Management and Development), the National Development Bank, the World Bank, major corporations and foundations. The centre’s experts prepare analytical materials to help make better decisions on allocating R&D funding in such areas as energy, space technologies, agriculture, bio-economy, sustainable environment development, education and human development, smart cities, etc. In their work they use a wide range of tools including computerised data analysis, bibliometrics and scientometrics, expert surveys etc., which, according to Marcio de Miranda Santos, are constantly being improved and developed.

The CGEE involves a large pool of experts in many projects, and while doing so is building a platform to facilitate their networking. E.g. to check whether postgraduate programmes really cover the topics actually in demand in the economy, the centre’s experts consult with 4,000 coordinators of Brazilian educational courses, compare the results with national and international databases, analyse them, and prepare recommendations on curricula priority setting.

Notably, children play an important role in the CGEE latest Foresight projects. “They’ve brought a lot of new things into our studies”, noted Marcio de Miranda Santos. “Of course it’s very important to involve experts, sift through various databases, but look what pleasure it gives the children to take part in research, to imagine how cities of the future would look like – cities where they are going to live” [The speaker showed the audience a video of a Foresight session with participation of very young stakeholders]

The scope and the range of topics of Foresight studies in Russia are also growing due to involvement of young people, noted Alexander Chulok, Deputy Director of HSE ISSEK Foresight Centre. “We’ve learned to consolidate the business and expert communities around the long-term Foresight idea. Results of the studies are integrated into the decision-making system. However, building scenarios covering the horizons until 2030-2040-2050 (and some even reach as far as 2100) we must not forget about those who will live there, and make these scenarios come true”. To take interests of all “recipients” and “beneficiaries” into account in the new S&T foresight studies to the maximum possible extent, the HSE Foresight Centre launched National Youth Foresight Study in 2016. Alexander Chulok suggested that cooperating with the Brazilian colleagues would benefit both centres in this area too.

 

Shifts of basic prerequisites

 

As a platform for working out common decisions and shared visions of the future, Foresight methodology evolves under the influence of fundamental economic and social changes. These processes affect not just applied but also basic sciences. According to the expert, “the very concept of “basic” implies building a basis of knowledge. But we can see that even the basics of this basis are changing, so we need to review the basic prerequisites to find new growth points”.

Speaking about such prerequisites, Alexander Chulok highlighted the following ones: changing value chains (emerging markets wipe out traditional ones); moving on towards a new technology paradigm; moving on from knowledge-based economy to action-based one (ability to provide “turn-key” solutions is beginning to command a very high demand). Universities are turning into major “knowledge reactors”, which creates the need to constantly check the education process in the perspective of new challenges, new needs of companies, and new demand for skills and competencies.

Basic prerequisites are also changing in the domain of Foresight studies.

Futures studies projects have always been interdisciplinary and inter-industrial, but these aspects are going to become crucial factors determining the quality of these studies’ results.

Foresight projects are moving away from building visions of the future and scenarios based on the views of stakeholders which make decisions “here and now”. As the speaker from Brazil has noted, people who are going to make decisions in the future are increasingly involved in this work – the present-day children and teenagers. Participants of Foresight studies who belong to various generations will also pay more attention to earlier results obtained by other teams. Emergence of such “institutional memory” of Foresight studies will be no less important at the key stakeholders level, too. Management information systems of various levels will be increasingly based on online platforms with updating and adjustment functionality important for decision making. Ability to quickly obtain independent, objective, well-substantiated forward-oriented estimates based on analysing big volumes of data will become a cornerstone of the next-generation Foresight projects.

 

Achieving technological leadership by the PRC’s centenary

 

Liu Youfa of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies presented a new strategy for China’s STI development, designed following an instruction by president Xi Jinping.

At the preliminary implementation stage (2016 – 2020) the government will try to optimise the national industry structure on the basis of technological innovations, which are turning into the main driver of the country’s economic growth. E.g. high-speed railways have already become the new business card of the Chinese economy. China is going to crown the success of its space programme by launching its own space station in 2020.

Accelerated advance towards technological and innovation leadership is the new “national goal”, achieving which by 2049 (the centenary anniversary of the establishment of the PRC) is announced as the main objective for the second stage of the strategy implementation (2020 – 2030). During the third “decisive action” stage (2030 – 2050) China is supposed to become an affluent welfare state, a global centre of science, technology and innovation, one of the richest nations in the world. Currently 120 million out of the country’s 1,4 billion population are living below the poverty line, according to the UN standards.

The Chinese government is striving to provide sustainable funding for STI projects, and steadily increases its R&D expenditures. “Our current contribution to the global production capacity is more than 40%; China is more of a large shopping mall than a large factory”, noted Liu Youfa. “Last year China’s GDP amounted to 10,4 trillion USD. We’ve managed to invest about 2,1% of the GDP in R&D (1,5 trillion yuan, or more than 421 billion USD in purchasing power parity terms). 66,5 billion yuan were invested in basic research (or more than 18 billion USD in purchasing power parity terms). This allowed to generate significant results, but they are still not sufficient. If China really wants to become a global STI power and develop knowledge-based economy, R&D expenditures must be increased further. At this stage more than 4 million people are employed in the R&D sector, but we should increase young researchers’ and engineers’ potential to make them competitive both at home and abroad”. Private initiative is becoming the main driver of innovation-based development in China (among other things, the anticorruption programme is expected to encourage this process).

Moving on towards global technological leadership, China is trying to pursue a balanced national policy – so all population groups and key players would feel the advantages accomplishing this “national goal” would bring. Liu Youfa used the following metaphor: “It’s going to be very hard to climb to the top of the mountain, and even harder to pull the rest of the population there. This would require national unity”.

 

Moderator’s summary

 

Luke Georgiou, Vice President for Research and Innovation of the University of Manchester (UK) and Chairman of the International Advisory Board of HSE ISSEK Foresight Centre, summarised the discussions on shaping STI policy with the help of Foresight tools held during the first part of the session.

Professor Georgiou noted the closer than ever integration of Foresight studies’ results into developing various-level strategies, and increased demand for Foresight projects. Recently this process was helped by emergence of new Big Data analysis techniques allowing to make more substantiated and accurate estimates, which is important for shaping substantiated policies.

As to the Russian and Chinese experience presented during the session, the moderated noted: “I have a feeling that what we have heard about science and technology development in China and Russia, it didn’t stem from Foresight but was born in a broader political context, with Foresight joining it later. I mean it wasn’t the original driving force. But let us think about it”.

To be continued

By Elena Gutaruk

Photographs by Mikhail Dmitriev, Daria Olerinskaya, Andrey Kucherov