Impact Assessment of Innovation Policy

D. Identifying priority areas of research in view of industry needs

Wider impacts of public research depend on how relevant research is to industry needs. Research in applied sciences and engineering and, in particularly, the research aimed at directly addressing challenges faced by industry has contributed substantially to innovation. However, the overall contributions need to be evaluated with caution: the longer-term and often more indirect contributions of basic research render demonstrating impacts more challenging. Notwithstanding, the greater role of more applied research in public research organisations points to the need for differentiation within the research sector. The nature of research support for industry differs, as do optimal ways for delivering such support. For instance, tight collaboration matters more for applied sciences than for other research fields. 

Moreover, the different industries will require research inputs from a different range of fields of research. That is, the pharmaceuticals sector will require different inputs than will the machinery industry. Only few research fields benefit a wider group of sectors: material sciences (cf. Cohen et al., 2002) and possibly also social sciences may qualify. Social science, often disregarded from analyses of public research contributions, might contribute at the stage of introducing and selling products on markets, for instance, with perspectives on how to best target products to consumers. The contributions of research will be maximised where research capacities meet countries’ specialisation patterns and comparative strengths (OECD, 2014). Some industries stand to benefit more: most important benefit on industrial R&D have been identified in drugs, medicine, chemicals products and electronics (Nelson, 1986; Klevorick et al., 1995; Moretti and Wilson, 2014; Zucker and Darby, 2014a). Conversely, where research orientations do not meet industry needs, there will be limited opportunities. Thus, the correspondence of fields of research to industry requirements is critical with regards to maximising impacts.

In addition, in “incipient” industries research capacities are not contributing but a major driver of industry development, such as biotechnology and biomedical sciences. Effectively, it is in those sectors where most university patenting worldwide is centred (Mowery et al., 2002; Mowery and Sampat, 2005). The potential of “incipient“ industries to become a source for competitiveness and generator of employment, render those research sectors particularly important for policy support. While there is uncertainty as to what will be the leading sectors, cross-disciplinary research is increasingly recognised important to support major scientific breakthroughs (Heinze et al., 2009).  Enabling a research environment where cross-disciplinary approaches are fostered is not straightforward, with the peer review process operating on a strong disciplinary basis. It is, however, an area where support of “incipient” industries may be hampered by research structures.