Enhancing the Impact of Public Investment in Science and Innovation

Enhancing the impacts of publicly funded research and public support for innovation has become a central concern of policy makers. In a fiscally constrained environment, this goal is largely driven by a desire to maximise the benefits of public investment in STI. 

Increasing the impacts of STI will depend on a range of policies linked to the governance of the science system, the exploitation and commercialisation of public research, the STI activities of the business sector, the development of well-functioning innovation eco-systems, as well as policy co-ordination across levels of government. Specific instruments have been put in place by governments to increase the impact of public support to research and business innovation.  These include: 

  • Performance-based funding instruments for public research. Policies and research funding instruments – such as performance-based contracts for institutional funding, competitive project funding, and research excellence initiatives – are increasingly being used to enhance the excellence and relevance of public research. 
  • Promoting research and its contributions to socio-economic development: Governments are confronted with a number of policy trade-offs, involving for instance short-term versus long-term payoffs; concentration of funding versus diversity; and a focus on basic research versus commercialisation. While basic research is recognised as critical for innovation, governments also want to promote applied research and the transfer of research results to the economy, through e.g. licensing of inventions, spin-offs, open science etc.  
  • A wider policy mix for business innovation. Over the years, governments have put in place a diverse policy mix to encourage business R&D and innovation. This mix includes direct and indirect support measures such as grants, tax credits, financial support for incubators and innovative start-ups. Other policies include innovation-oriented regulations, standards and public procurement, as well as support for technology-related networks. In practice, these policies often interact, but evaluations tend to focus on individual outcomes and programme impacts. Useful lessons learned could be drawn from evaluating the differential and joint impact of the policies in the mix.

Evaluation and impact assessment have made significant progress in many countries over recent years, both for science and innovation on the one hand and for the related policies on the other hand. Evaluation standards for research and innovation activities are being designed. Evaluation agencies are being set up, and wider research has helped improve understanding of how innovation activities carried out by public research organisations and universities affect socio-economic outcomes. However the current scale of impact evaluations for STI policies is modest: many programmes do not have a built-in monitoring or evaluation system; there is no agreed set of methodologies that would allow clear conclusions to be reached; and, access to evaluation data is often difficult so that it is difficult to conduct open and evidence-based discussions on the conclusions. Data limitations often constrain what type of evaluation is possible, but thanks to the digitisation of science, of program management and of the economy at large, more and more data are being generated that can be made available to evaluators.  

Furthermore, in a context where much of the funding for directed research is being focused on global challenges, the tools for assessing economic and societal impacts of science and innovation as well as the effectiveness of the related policies are still under-developed. New initiatives are needed to better evaluate the social, cultural and environmental outcomes of publicly funded research. New tools (e.g. randomized control trials) could be used more systematically and new sources of data (available notably on the Internet) and novel methodologies (including network analysis) could be mobilised. And without incurring significant additional costs, support for research and innovation could often be designed in ways which greatly facilitate policy evaluation.