Impact Assessment of Innovation Policy

A. Identifying the most effective impact channel

Public research organisations support innovation by means of providing research outputs that can serve as firms as basis for developing innovations. They may also collaborate more directly by engaging in the commercialisation of their research outputs, by conducting co-operative R&D with industry, and by providing consulting services and ad hoc advice. While the former has received particular attention, a much more substantial share of university revenues comes from consulting services and the provision of ad hoc advice (Perkmann et al., 2013). Industry surveys also point to the larger importance, on average, of more informal linkages (Agrawal, 2001; Cohen et al., 2002). However, patenting by universities has proven of high impact for MIT and Stanford, where those engagements supported critically the development of bio-based industries (Colyvas et al., 2002; Nelson, 2007).

Engaging in the commercialisation of their research and conducting co-operative R&D with industry has received policy attention. A major reason is that those collaborations may accelerate the adoption of knowledge produced by public research on top of the traditional channel – i.e. research outputs omitted in publications. While meaningful, it is widely recognised that these might take long before they reach industry (Adams, 1990). The transfer of scientific knowledge might be hampered as knowledge is not easily accessible to industry, particularly in increasingly complex knowledge environments. Collaborations will become critical to speed up and improve the quality of information transferred. The most effective channel for impacts may differ depending on context - notably industry needs and characteristics as well as characteristics of public research institutions.

Many of the most recent analyses of impacts of public research on industry have focused on formal knowledge transfer mechanisms, notably patenting and licensing activities. They paid less attention to complementary contributions from traditional research activities and from more informal channels of collaboration. The latter are much harder to evaluate, particularly in a comparative framework because longer time lags may need to be considered to evaluate impacts of research (Adams, 1990). Moreover, quantitative data will not be available to document more informal collaborations, requiring either indirect approaches to evaluating effects or the use of specific surveys of industry and public research organisations.