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The innovation scoreboard - an academic's viewpoint

In preparation for the publication of the innovation scoreboard, which is due to be published by the European Commission later this year, CORDIS News interviewed Professor Bengt-Äke Lundvall, an expert in benchmarking, based in Denmark. Below is a summary of his comments. Coo...

In preparation for the publication of the innovation scoreboard, which is due to be published by the European Commission later this year, CORDIS News interviewed Professor Bengt-Äke Lundvall, an expert in benchmarking, based in Denmark. Below is a summary of his comments. Coordination is the key to benchmarking, according to Professor Lundvall, who sees a great disadvantage in not looking at issues in relation to their environment. 'The Portuguese presidency had an agenda of combining innovation and the knowledge-based economy with social cohesion - there is a logic in keeping together areas that may appear not to be related,' he says. Professor Lundvall goes on to highlight how this can work using the example of Denmark, which had a policy called the DK21 plan, which was designed to look into the country's industrial development. It involved nine different ministers, all saying 'we want to look at innovation, society and environmental sustainability and cohesion', thereby keeping all related issues together. 'A coherent vision of context and goals implies policy coordination,' says Professor Lundvall. There is also a need to keep the information together rather than disseminating it to too many sources, which Professor Lundvall feels may have occurred in the past in dealing with innovation. He would like to see the kind of coordination that takes place in the monetary arena. 'There is no direct coordination because there is no agreement like there is in the monetary area. Those who coordinate in monetary affairs have shorter term outlook,' he says. This coordination should also extend to what is analysed, something which can be off the mark because of genuine inaccuracies and because of political decisions. In the case of the former, innovative surveys just a couple of years ago may have included the number of 'dotcom' startups in an economy, whereas now these are often viewed as weaker elements of an innovative economy due the collapse of a large number. 'What happened was that people made interpretation of what was happening. Some even put into benchmarking the ownership of [hi-tech] stocks in households, they saw this as part of an innovative environment. But you have to be extremely sceptical because what is good one year is not the next,' says Professor Lundvall. In terms of the second possible weakness, benchmarking has been used in the past to further certain ends and this has been one of the difficulties of transferring the process from the private sector, where it began, to the public sector. 'Figures and statistics can get extremely politicised. You may want the result to come out badly so that you can use it to change things.' This is why the procedures which are set up for the benchmarking are almost as important, if not more so, than the results. ' If you only do this top down, to a limited number of people, you can't expect much. You could aggregate, with lots of local ideas put into a meaningful form within the EU. You should have a process at the national level, but you need to start at a level where change of behaviour is wanted and involves the people, otherwise the impact will be limited. It is much easier to get people to take on this information if they have been part of how it was formulated,' says Professor Lundvall. Another aspect which will have a real effect is making sure that it is the right type of benchmarking. Professor Lundvall sees two common types. 'There is naïve benchmarking which is a unique best practice which one feels can be transferred from one to another. But innovation takes place very differently depending on the systemic context. Intelligent benchmarking is learning by comparing, looking at what you need and how others are doing it.' Finally, the Professor warns against relying too much on statistics and trends. He warns that bad figures can emanate from the most reasonable of environments. He also says that history has not always shown that transfer of innovative techniques and technologies has always had the desired effect. He highlights the 1960s, which was a decade that showed one of the highest rates of growth in productivity but had no introduction of new radical technologies.