Innovation policy 2.0 (part2) : 18 practical advices for universities and public knowledge institutes.

This is part two of a blog about innovation policy. Part 1 did provide a blueprint. Roughly eight years ago I did wrote this article in Dutch. I never updated or translated this into English. At that time I did use the term “Netherland Innovation country 3.0”. I unfortunally think that the Dutch situation has not improved, on the contrary I think the Dutch innovation Policy has been screwed up. Probably due to internal politics combined by no (practical and theoretical) experience in understanding what a good innovation policy needs.    

18 practical advices to create a modern innovation policy :

  1. We’ll separate innovation (bringing something new successfully to the market) and research (analyzing how something is put together or works) again. Innovation is primarily a task for entrepreneurs and companies. To become a more innovative country private organizations and start-ups must also understand the difference between ‘research’ and ‘developing’, companies need creative developers and not scientists.
  2. Economically speaking I’d rather live in an innovation country (that creates money and new jobs) than a knowledge land (that mainly costs money). Mind you, less than 5% of the knowledge in the world comes from The Netherlands. Jan Wouter Vasbinder rightfully mentions there are different arenas (his vision will be translated into English soon).
  3. Rather search than research! Reinventing the wheel is (from a social as well as a business point of view) dumb. Less than 3% of the global knowledge is created in The Netherlands; you could also say: 97% of the ideas and knowledge can be found abroad. Go search abroad, travel, make smart alliances.
  4. Universities stop working one-to-one with companies, hence I propose a third money stream funded research (in reality often poor development i.s.o. great research). First and second funding should grow. Universities just focus on (1) fundamental research, (2) excellent education. Universities close all advice, consultancy, design and developing departments and foundations they own. Hence, stop public-private constructions and let is be it 100% market or 100% private.
  5. All fundamental research financed by society becomes 100% accessible to that society (and this in an open source way, a .pdf on the internet, but also the underlying raw data). No more secrecy agreements. This is part of the raw-data, open-data and open-source policy.
  6. All (future) patents of universities and public research organizations will be auctioned in public domain (task of the ministry of Economical Affairs), 30% of the revenues of these auctions will return to the university, and the rest is for society. The revenues should 100% be used for new fundamental research. An alternative business model is that all Dutch -especially SME- companies receive a free license.
  7. Knowledge institutes (like TNO, DLO) become 100% private WITHOUT basic government financing (excluding the parts with a 100% public function like for defense). Compare the situation of those institutes with the Dutch Public Media Broadcasting networks. We should promote the growth of private R&D&I initiatives like private broadcasting networks (RTL, SBS6, etc.) were founded many years ago
  8. We will regard knowledge and innovation services as a normal “market” (except thus for our universities). Creating a level playing field amongst private R&D service providers is essential. Do read Commission Cohen “Market and Government”. Hybrid organizations are two-faced monsters in our real world. Current public research organizations mostly face an identity crises and due to that identity crisis they falsely compete with private initiatives but also use research budgets that should belong to universities.
  9. Research assignments or needs are commissioned by the government using a public tender method (currently research is as yet excluded from European procurement rules, that is strange). And this includes all project requested by the Ministry of Agriculture or Economical affairs. In short, government is commissioning research and will act as launching customer or risk taking client. For example through SBIR-programs (if 100% according to USA model).
  10. Every company (large or small or multinational it does not matter) gets a subsidy/grants limit of -for example- maximum 5 million Euro per year. I don’t mind about the exact amount, but I do mind there being a maximum. Compare it to the restrictions on mortgage interest tax relief for houses worth over X. Why should large organizations need more R&D grants?
  11. I prefer a lot of small projects instead of a couple of large ones. Rather 10x 500K projects than a 1x 5,000K program. Sow a lot and some flowers will certainly grow. The mega FES-like projects are not always effective and innovation conducive.
  12. More loans and less giving (= subsidy). A loan can always be converted to a gift as soon as the target objective is delivered. And please: specific, tangible targets (paper is (too) patient). But I’m again not against subsidy or grants.
  13. Shortly, governments have to act more like (risk taking) launching customers (see also discussion on LinkedIn Innovation 2.0 – community of Talents – January 2009). The government can become a risk taking client for new innovations that promotes more sustainability or health.
  14. The themes promoted by the large innovation platforms and such are always one step behind. Innovation is by definition an intangible and unmanageable process (compare it with biology and Darwin; “the best adapted survives”). The usual suspects are never capable of being flexible enough to change. History has thought us that the usual suspects rarely start and if they start they are mostly too late to be successful.
  15. We use one central subsidy organization (in Holland : RVO, formally known as AgentschapNL). Holland is a small country (in fact only a large European region), however providing subsidies is a specialism. Municipalities and provinces have to stop these activities (or commission the total process to RVO/AgentschapNL). Lower governments can only determine the ‘theme’s’, they may allocate funds, and propose judges. But the procedures are developed by a centralized team of professionals.
  16. We will realize that the knowledge is now in mostly available in the society. Experts nowadays often work at companies, and thus for a long time not exclusively at universities or knowledge institutes (see also discussion on LinkedIn #Cot). The majority of the great experienced engineers, PhD-students and other highly educated personnel works thus in society (check out the statistics). Use these professionals, and ask their advice!
  17. Design Doing. Practice what you preach. And even better: you may only preach if you have practiced (with thanks to Harold van Garderen – StoryConnect). Successful innovations require professional to adjust the innovation policy. Professionals have a proven and practical track record. Hence, experience not only based on ‘text book knowledge’.
  18. The situation of the knowledge and innovation sector is comparable to that of the public broadcasting channels. It looks nice and friendly on paper, but in practice it doesn’t work at all. We stop with PPS constructions, Universities should only focus on training and teaching and knowledge institutes have to choose : become private or obey modern rules.

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