Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dissonances between research and Innovation policies

Last Tuesday we had the opportunity to have Yochai Benkler (in the photo) in Barcelona, who together with Pankaj Ghemawat and Josephine Green contributed to the pressentation of the new Strategic Plan for Innovation in Catalonia 2009-2013.

Yochai was on the line of his TED presentation or his book "The Wealth of Networks", maybe stressing more how corporations try to play in the world of peer production by redefining its boundaries, by making them more permeable. This role of mix production systems is also one of my interests, especially in the case where they are mediated by technological platforms that facilitate or enable coordination.

However, what was more surprising was the big picture of the event. Out of the 3 speakers, two of them where focusing in one way or another on the role of users in innovation. In the case of Josephine Green from Philips, users as an input of the innovation process and the role of capturing user experience early on in innovation – a common set of practices that many label as Living Labs – and in the case of Benkler on User Innovation and peer production, where is the user the one that directly innovates without any mediation by designers or facilitators.

This picture sharply contrasts with the lack of support for user innovation in Europe and in general in the world. Although we must note that Living Labs – co-innovation with users in real life environments – where mentioned more than a couple of times in the presentation of the Catalan policies, policies supporting user involvement or user innovation are notably absent.

The importance of users and the societal climate in general in innovation is clearly being stressed more and more, and this is a domain where even if we know a few things, much work and research has to be done, especially in the softer areas like services, etc… However policies insist many times in forgetting this area while stressing high profile research, which nowadays is highly specialized and therefore many times very difficult to transfer in concrete innovations that could make an impact in a region (don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this is not an area that should be pursued, only that economic results are possibly situated in a long term horizon). This dissonance between policies and research is especially notorious when we address the Information Society, where policies are driven almost exclusively by connectivity.

This was not the only dissonance that was visible in the presentation. Probably the most notorious one was Ghemawat stressing the importance of going step by step in the internationalization process, building ties first with the neighbors where cultural differences are minimal and understanding is easy to build in contrast with innovation policies that almost always aim to connect SMEs with emergent economies like India or China.

Incorporating research into policies is always a process that takes time. Here in Europe we are witnessing how Open Innovation is becoming policy in the Nordic countries and to some extend in Netherlands and Belgium. Support for User Innovation is still mostly absent. Here in Catalonia the picture is even more mixed, with a mosaic of measures where is hard to find a clear concretion and assess how much financing is backing them. However, I must honestly say that there is some evident progress also in this area.  


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