Two policy papers relevant to research and innovation have been published in Iceland in recent months.
By Þorvaldur Finnbjörnsson, RightNow
Last year the Science and Technology Policy Council in Iceland (STPC) published its Research and Development Policy and Action Plan for 2017 to 2019, an ambitious paper.
STPC is to support scientific research, science education and technological development in Iceland, strengthen the foundations of Icelandic culture and increase the competitiveness of the economy.
The content of the new STPC policy publication is split into five main chapters: Research and innovation in a world of constant changes, Powerful participation in the knowledge society, Good education and key skills, Progressive firms and innovation and effective construction of research infrastructure.
Another paper relevant to the knowledge creation in Iceland was presented in late 2017, which is an agreement between the current ruling political parties on collaboration in the coalition government and on reinforcing the capacity of the Althingi (Parliament). These two papers could be viewed as the most crucial documents for research and development policy in Iceland right now.
The policy paper on research and innovation
In the new STPC policy paper research and innovation is recognized as an important factor in the development of a multi-faceted economic growth and welfare. The paper emphasizes the importance of developing a comprehensive innovation policy in Iceland, with participation of the political parties, the business sector and the education system.
In the introduction to the policy and action plan the former minister of education, science and culture stated that research and innovation are intertwined with most parts of the society. Together with education these are the driving forces of economic growth and a better quality of life.
The paper includes an action plan which perhaps has too high ambitions.
Improving the innovation system
The STPC paper states that a clear and common view on innovation and research leads to better and more focused cooperation between the government, institutions and firms and brings specialization and success for Iceland in all fields.
The activities of the plan are to lead to increased performance of the system of research and innovation through good decisions and effective use of finances. The government wants to prioritize innovation in the public and welfare sector and to meet goals on climate change.
In the introduction to the report the fourth industrial revolution is introduced as well as several societal challenges. Examples are environmental changes, raising age, general health and movement of people.
Research and innovation should be used as a tool to meet these challenges for the benefit of the society, the government argues. This reflects a common discussion within the EU, where mission-oriented R&D focuses on specific problems. But these are rather difficult to organise.
The role of Rannís
The cooperation between the knowledge and research sector and organisations is carried out through the Science and Technology Policy Council and the related the committees, one responsible for science, the other for innovation and technology. Policy related cooperation in Iceland is therefore mostly taking place around the STPC, not so much between stakeholder institutions and ministries, as in the other Nordic countries.
Rannís – The Icelandic Centre for Research – previously had the role of a research council secretariat. It is now administrating research and technology development funds as well as a number of other funds with no relation to research and innovation. It can hardly be called an essential part of the research and innovation policy system. Rannís is mentioned only once in the recent policy paper on research.
Indeed, Rannís states on its web site that it supports research and innovation, education, culture and art as well as youth work and sports. This broad focus is not likely to lead to a comprehensive strategy for research and innovation policy.
Rannís further states that its role is to analyse and present impacts of research, education and culture on the economy. It is interesting to see the institution emphasise its analytical role, since it closed down all such activities more than three years ago, and the institution is publishing almost no content on research and policy.
Evidence based policy making
There seems to be some ongoing misconception in the use of research and innovation statistics in the Icelandic plans, which may have political repercussions. STPC has been using these statistics as a basis for setting research and innovation policy goals, but since the methods used to develop or interpret these statistics are not as they should be, the policy goals are confusing or maybe even misleading.
One rather unfortunate example of the use of evidence-based policy making is the main objectives set by the STPC on which goal should be reached in terms of national R&D expenditures.
In the R&D policy for 2014 to 2016 the goal was to increase the funding of science and innovation as a rate of gross domestic productions (GDP) so that in 2016 this will reach 3 percent. Note that they were referring to science and innovation.
In the R&D policy for 2017 to 2019 the goal is to make sure research and development reaches 3 percent of GDP before year 2024.
Research and development is a much narrower concept than science and innovation. Note that the three percent objective of the EU or a country like Norway, refers to research and development and does not include other types of innovation.
It is very difficult to see the focus of those two statements. Are they proposing measurement of public funding or of overall investments? Do they want to measure research and development or science and innovation? This misunderstanding must be corrected, and the use of this terminology has to be harmonized.
I should add that if the objective is a 3 percent national investment in innovation in the broad sense of the term, Iceland has already met that target. Iceland has not reached the R&D objective, which is not that surprising, given that Iceland’s economy remains dominated by natural resource-based industries, as in areas like fishing and fish processing, agriculture, tourism and energy. The same applies to a country like Norway.
The Science and Technology Policy Council is at the core when policy is developed, but the relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Education and Science and Ministry of Industries and Innovation are responsible for the policy of research and innovation. The new policy for 2017 to 2019 is very ambitious and shows the continuous will of the government to aim at higher performance of those sectors than ever before.