Building a science and innovation culture (OECD STI Outlook)

Rationale and objectives

Innovation requires developing and mobilising a broad range of skills throughout workplaces and society (Hanel, 2007; OECD, 2010; Toner, 2011). Skills for innovation span a wide range of personal attributes, including relevant subject knowledge (from theoretical to practical expertise and know-how), creative thinking (such as analytical and critical capabilities), and behavioural and social traits (e.g. self-confidence, risk taking, leadership, teamwork, attitudes towards change). Innovation can be influenced by the social and cultural values, norms and behaviours that can create an “innovation culture”, in which public perceptions of science, technology and entrepreneurship play a very important role.

While the importance of innovation for sustaining economic growth and driving improvements in living standards is generally acknowledged, there is also widespread evidence of significant attitudinal and knowledge “gaps”. Public perception surveys in a large number of countries indicate that, although most people have a positive view of the impact of science and technology (S&T) on their personal well-being, a significant proportion have mixed or negative opinions about the effects of scientific research (Figure 8.6) (OECD, 2013a). It can be difficult to make survey results internationally comparable (Bauer, 2012) but they do point to significant differences across regions. From the perspective of the adoption of new goods and services, a European poll found that nearly half of the EU25 population was significantly hostile to new innovations or very reluctant to try new products or services or pay a premium for them (European Commission, 2005).

There is significant policy interest in the attitude towards innovation of individuals in different age groups. More recent youth cohorts have shown less interest in science and innovation than was hoped for, and governments are concerned about how to motivate individuals to pursue science and innovation careers. The ageing of the population and labour force in most OECD countries also means that individuals in the middle of their careers and later need to deal with the challenges and opportunities created by technology developments and innovations. Governments can play a role in unleashing talent, fostering vocations, providing youth with the skills to participate in rapidly changing knowledge-based economies, and allowing the elderly to adopt solutions that can help them remain active and independent.

Policy makers will need to identify and monitor systematically skills and attitudes of relevance to science and innovation in order to improve them. Individual and collective attitudes are complex and constantly evolving phenomena, although some changes only occur over generations. At the same time, some social and environmental challenges require more immediate action in terms of consumption behaviour and social habits, for instance (see Chapter 1). Efforts to promote a science and innovation culture can be undermined not only by high-profile incidents and crises of confidence (e.g. Fukushima), but also by a less apparent erosion of trust in the decision-making process and in its use of science and evidence. This has triggered some serious rethinking about the impacts of S&T on the economy and society and a reassessment of the appropriate policy responses.

Major aspects

Policy measures directed to civil society, schools, universities and workplaces have sought to develop a science and innovation culture in view of the fact that innovation is science-, business-, practitioner- and user-driven (Vincent-Lancrin, 2012) and pervades many spheres of human activity (Table 8.2).

Such policy measures seek to improve public access to information on the future of science, technology and innovation and to promote society’s participation in policy design. The OECD Declaration on Future Policies for Science and Technology underscored the importance of raising awareness of S&T and recommended public participation in the definition of major technological orientations (OECD, 1981).

Other policy measures aim to raise awareness of and interest in S&T, especially among youth. Traditionally this has meant broad dissemination of scientific information, via the mass media, promotion of science events and other initiatives and support for the activities of science museums. The development and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), the increasing access to digital infrastructures and the Internet, and greater interactive online communication – e.g. social media – have helped engage the public but have also reduced reliance on traditional sources. For example, it is common for individuals to consult health or technical information on Internet sites, the quality of which may vary. Some initiatives focus on specific fields: Germany’s BIOTechnikum double-decker truck travels around the country to spread information on biotechnology and related career prospects; the Slovak Republic has an annual “Innovative Deed of the Year” competition to select the best young designer; Germany has competition on solar-energy-driven model cars.

Promotion of science and innovation among youth largely takes place in classrooms. However, the evidence suggests that individuals in many countries think that schools do not make a substantial contribution to promoting entrepreneurial competencies and attitudes (Figure 8.7). Major reforms of education systems seek to add new disciplines and new learning practices to curricula. They have concerned all levels of education, from primary schools to higher education institutions and have required building capacity in teaching and infrastructure (see the policy profile on “Strengthening education and skills for innovation” and on “Start-ups and innovative entrepreneurship”).

Policy initiatives to build a science and innovation culture also target workplaces.They encourage a new research and innovation culture to help universities fulfil their “third” mission of transferring and co-creating relevant knowledge with the rest of society. Training, information workshops and revised remuneration and promotion frameworks seek to raise awareness of intellectual property rights (IPRs) and interest in the commercialisation of public research results in the research community. Researchers, especially early in their careers, are helped to launch start-ups (see the policy profile on “Commercialisation of public research results”). Firms receive technical assistance through financial and non-financial channels such as innovation vouchers, extension programmes and seconding of experts.

Recent policy trends

In recent years, policy efforts aimed at strengthening a science and innovation culture have also attempted to go beyond science and technology, narrowly defined, to reflect the broader and changing nature of innovation. Policy initiatives similar to those previously implemented to nurture a scientific culture now aim to nurture an entrepreneurial spirit and broader forms of creativity and to promote the exploitation of links between them.

Recently, several countries have implemented new policy initiatives to build a science and innovation culture (Figure 8.8). Among the countries reporting new policy initiatives, this has been one of the most active policy areas in the overall policy mix for innovation and the most active on for human resources and education related policies. Most of these initiatives are large public events (e.g. Australia’s national science week, Greece’s research night, Korea Science Festival, Start-up Expo and Start-up Fair), promotion campaigns (e.g. Chile’s Year of Innovation and Imagine Chile initiative), competitions or awards (e.g. Australia’s Innovation Challenge, Canada’s new awards for entrepreneurial culture, China’s innovation and entrepreneurship race, Costa Rica’s Innovation Champions publication, Turkey’s Entrepreneurship Competitions).

Several countries have included developing a science and innovation culture in their strategic STI agenda (see the policy profile on “National strategies for STI”). In middle-income economies such as Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica, building an innovation culture is a key component of their national STI strategy. Malaysia has identified this as one of its five main STI policy priorities for 2014. The same is true of more advanced economies with a traditionally high level of performance on STI indicators. Finland is broadening the scope of its Action Plan for Research and Innovation Policy (2012) to encourage experimentation and risk taking through longer-term basic research funding. The 4th Japanese S&T Basic Plan (2011-15) is based on the concept of “science in society, science for society” and promotes a wide range of S&T communication activities. Likewise, Korea has adopted a “Creative Economy” initiative to foster creativity, imagination, challenges and start-ups and has developed a new S&T culture programme.

Some countries are adapting their governance structures and building capacity in this area although it sometimes remains insufficient (European Commission, 2013). Following the USD 117 million PPP (EUR 100 million) allocated by the Investment for the Future Programme to develop projects of S&T culture, France recently established the National Council for Scientific, Technical and Industrial Culture. A comprehensive evidence-based strategy is also being prepared. In Finland a working group is examining the current state of national science education in order to formulate policy recommendations for new national curricula, learning materials, teaching methods, qualifications and training for the early childhood and pre-primary levels. The Russian Federation is devoting USD 164 million PPP (RUR 3.3 billion) over 2014-20 to finance activities to develop researchers’ communication channels and popularisation of science: organisation of S&T communications events, museum creation, and creation and maintenance of Internet resources and mass medias.An additional USD 135 million PPP (RUR 2.7 billion) is granted in the form of subsidies to target youth at schools through information infrastructure, competitive incentives for science and education personnel, and traditional S&T communication channels.

The European Innovation Union has noted the need to strengthen links between universities and businesses and to create knowledge alliances that foster combining scientific, entrepreneurial and creative skills. New Zealand’s Science and Society project is a joint education-science plan to increase engagement and achievement in science, technology, engineering and maths and improve the understanding, skills and adoption of S&T in society.

Austria introduced a new teacher training model for pupils in primary and secondary schools in 2013 and the Federal Framework Law created the legal foundations of its implementation.

References and further reading

Bauer, M. (2012), “Science culture and its indicators”, in B. Schiele, M. Claessens, and S. Shi (eds.), Science Communication in theWorld – Practices, Theories and Trends, Springer, NY, pp. 295-312.

European Commission (EC) (2005), “Population Innovation Readiness”, Special Eurobarometer No. 236, August 2005,

EC (2013), State of the Innovation Union 2012 – Accelerating Change. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, European Commission, Brussels,

Hanel, P. (2007), “Skills required for innovation: A review of the literature”, Working paper (07-23), Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche sur la Science et la Technologie (CIRST) and Groupe de Recherche en Economie et Développement International (GREDI), Université de Sherbrooke (Quebec),

Innovation Policy Platform (IPP), module on skills for innovation, available at

OECD (1981), “Declaration on Future Policies for Science and Technology”, 19 March 1981, Annex to C(81)51,

OECD (2010), The OECD Innovation Strategy: Getting a Head Start on Tomorrow, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2013a), “Science and innovation today”, in OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013: Innovation for Growth, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2013b), “Culture: The role of entrepreneurship education”, in Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2013c), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2014a), Skills and Education for Innovation web page, Centre for educational research and Innovation (CERI),

OECD (2014b), Science, Technology and Industry Outlook Policy Database, edition 2014, Science and Innovation Culture, available at

Tether, B. et al. (2005), “A literature review in skills and innovation. How does successful innovation impact on the demand for skills and how do skills drive innovation?”, CRIC report for the UK Department of Trade and Industry, ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition, University of Manchester, September 2005.

Toner, P. (2011), “Workforce skills and innovation: An overview of major themes in the literature”, OECD EducationWorking Papers, No. 55, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Vincent-Lancrin, S. (2012), “Towards a culture of innovation: motors and brakes”, presentation to India-OECD Initiative Collaborative Workshop on Education and Innovation, New Delhi (India), May 09-10,

Contributed by Asako Okamura with input and comments from Fernando Galindo-Rueda and Sandrine Kergroach, all of the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI).