A new OECD study assesses the implementation of the recommendations from the OECD Innovation Policy Review of Norway 2017.
Philippe Larrue, policy analyst at the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation
Rebecca Santos, policy analyst at the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation
First introduced in 2015, the Norwegian Long-term plan for Research and Higher Education (LTP) establishes ten-year objectives and priorities to set the course for policy development and investment in research and higher education, while still specifying goals and priority areas for the more immediate four-year horizon. The LTP is subject to revision every four years.
The 2017 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Innovation Policy Review of Norway (hereafter referred to as the ‘2017 OECD Review’)1 supported the first LTP revision that took place in 2018, by providing an assessment and recommendations to help strengthen the Norwegian Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) system to fulfill four objectives:
- Developing research communities of outstanding quality
- Enhancing competitiveness and innovation capacity
- Tackling major social challenges
- Improving the governance of the system, especially supporting STI policy coordination.
In 2021, the OECD was once again called upon to provide inputs to the third edition of the LTP (covering the period 2023–2032) by monitoring and following-up on the outcomes of the last Review.
To do this, the OECD devised a mixed-methods study, using an online survey administered to STI stakeholders, a template to collect information specifically from agencies, semi-structured interviews with selected actors in the STI system, and a workshop open to STI stakeholders.
This study has several findings, organised along the four above-mentioned objectives. Ultimately, by using the 2017 OECD Review as a baseline, this study produced useful inputs for Norway’s LTP revisions cycle. It derived valuable lessons on the implementation of the Review’s recommendations; investigated their ongoing relevance and prioritisation; and identified new opportunities for changes and reforms that the LTP could support.
It also focused on stakeholders’ conversation on key transversal issues, such as the sustainable transition of the Norwegian economy and the key role systemic policymaking plays in enabling it.
Developing research communities of outstanding quality
The main thrust of the options for change in this area is to balance and link the two imperatives of excellence and relevance to maximise the economic and societal impact from high quality research. The recommendations of the 2017 Review related to excellence have been well implemented, reinforcing the trends that were ongoing at the time.
The priority should now be on building upon this level of excellence to deliver more innovation and economic and societal impacts. Stakeholders affirmed that the excellence and relevance imperatives, which still drive most modern STI systems, do not go hand in hand in Norway, leading to a dual system.
To achieve this, Norway could review the selection and evaluation criteria of SFFs2 to collectively find the adequate ‘excellence and impact profiles’ of each centre; Establish collaborative research platforms, to bring together, and allow exchange of information among, various types of centres and research-oriented clusters and; continue to experiment, learn from and improve research-funding processes.
Enhancing competitiveness and innovation capacity
A first series of proposed options aims to institutionalise and systematise innovation in universities to strengthen capabilities at all levels.
The ‘third mission’ in universities is increasingly acknowledged in Norway but the required innovation capabilities and incentives at all levels required to instantiate it, are not sufficiently developed. Flexibility and differentiation in university profiles has proved effective in several countries to enhance the contribution of universities to innovation performance in line with their specific collective aspirations, competencies, and surrounding communities.
To achieve this, Norway could improve and strengthen ongoing initiatives to support university strategic profiling; enhance the flexibility of careers to accommodate different profiles of faculty and; revise the structure of incentives in universities at all levels in order to better balance innovation
The study also proposes to find effective ways to go beyond the traditional division of the research landscape between universities and research institutes (RIs) and reinforce the cooperation between them.
The traditional division of labour based on the level of Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) has become largely obsolete in many areas due to the natural evolution of the missions of these institutions and to the complexity of the scientific, technological, and societal challenges with which they contend.
Norway could for instance systematically review the various incentives and instruments supporting cooperation between universities, RIs, and industry; and experiment with ecosystem-based initiatives in which different actors in priority areas are incentivised and supported to collectively develop and implement common strategic agendas to strengthen competitiveness and/or address societal challenges.
Norway also needs to leverage the full potential of its research institute sector to tackle economic and societal challenges, not least by increasing its level of basic funding.
Finally, Norway could improve its various types of thematic innovation centres, starting from the review of the SFI selection and evaluation criteria to increase their innovation performance.
Tackling major social challenges
Norway has implemented novel and ambitious mission-oriented policies as joint initiatives between agencies, covering in a coordinated way the different types of support across the innovation cycle. The ‘next stage’ in this policy approach is to build on these initiatives to collectively design and implement wider scope and more transformative national missions with high-level legitimacy and strong interministerial cooperation.
To do this, Norway needs to anchor strategically and institutionally national mission(s) in the Norwegian system and ensure a stable and effective funding of these national missions, potentially with an integrated budget. Norwegian missions should be linked to EU missions, while keeping their national specificities.
While Norway strives to implement high-level national missions, it should also keep on developing and improving the existing challenge-led mission-oriented schemes run jointly by agencies.
Improving the governance of the system, especially supporting STI policy coordination
After seven years of operation, the LTP still plays a useful role to structure the annual budget negotiations, but its concrete impact on the orientation of funding remains limited, in particular, outside the Research Council of Norway (RCN). Furthermore, its role to formally strengthen interministerial coordination has diminished.
Against this backdrop, Norway could take the opportunity of the LTP revision to improve its content and process in order to increase its impact on STI priority-setting and holistic coordination. To do this, Norway needs to include clearer and sharper priorities in the revised LTP and use it to collectively discuss, commit to, and present some key reforms of the STI system. It is also important to establish formal processes for coordinating the implementation of the revised LTP.
• Continue to experiment, learn from and improve research funding processes
• Enhance the flexibility of university careers to accommodate different profiles of faculty
• Progressively increase the level of basic funding of research institutes
• Ensure a stable and effective funding of national missions
• Think through ways to anchor strategically and institutionally national missions in the Norwegian system
• Include clearer and sharper priorities in the revised LTP
• Establish formal processes for coordinating the implementation of the revised LTP, in parallel to designing its content.
1. Key options for change to develop excellent academic communities
2. Key options for change to enhance competitiveness and innovation
3. Key options for change to tackle major social challenges
4. Key options for change to improve the governance of the system
Larrue, P. and R. Santos (2022), Towards a new stage in Norway’s science, technology and innovation system: Improving the longterm plan for research and higher education, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers, No. 133, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/ce07b7c3
Photo of OECD headquarters in Paris by Herve Cortinat