This section discusses the findings from implementing the above-mentioned methodology to address what have been the main themes of the global STI policy agenda represented by the WP TIP as well as stability or change in those themes over the 1993–2019 period.
Main policy themes
To uncover the main policy themes and their linkages, we produce a semantic map of the WP TIP documents as shown in Fig. 3. Each term can belong to several different topic clusters—the classification is not exclusive. The proximity between words on the map is reflective of their spatial proximity (co-occurrence) in the WP TIP documents. In most cases, this is because the terms feature in a same WP TIP project, which is directly reflective of contextual, semantic proximity, i.e. the closeness of terms in a same STI policy sub-domain. Proximity could also emerge from different projects that were conducted at the same time and present in contiguous items on the WP TIP agenda. While not necessarily reflective of a semantic link, this proximity is informative of the “mood of the time” regarding the STI policy discussion. In view of these observations, the semantic map derived from our iFORA-based experiment indicates the following automatically identified main STI policy themes (topic clusters):
International linkages between businesses
Higher education and public research
Usual innovation policy features
Involvement of civil society in innovation
System level analysis
Core ‘machinery’ of innovation
Sectoral and thematic policies
Macroeconomic and budgetary approach to innovation policy
Economic impact of innovation
These STI policy themes are described in the following.
International linkages between businesses: international trade, global value chain, global market. These terms are close on the map to “comparative advantage” and “structural change”, which are important economic concepts: the latter notably reflects one expected impact of international trade and investment on national economies. At the same time this cluster is separate from terms like “international cooperation” (which is included into the usual innovation policy features cluster) and “international students” (which goes together with higher education and public research): that might reflect a weak integration of business and public sector dimensions in the policy mix for internationalization as viewed by the WP TIP.
Higher education and public research: research institute, scientific research, public research, public sector, scientific community, higher education, international students, knowledge transfer, technology transfer, technology transfer office, commercial spillover, etc. This thematic cluster gathers science-related institutions with public missions and government funding, and their strategic orientations. Commercialization has become a major mission of higher education institutions over the years. It is therefore not an accident that this cluster borders with both business R&D and technology diffusion related topic clusters on the semantic map. On the other hand, it is quite far from the “knowledge triangle”. The latter is used in a different policy and semantic environment, related to broader system approaches rather than higher education policy per se.
Usual innovation policy features: demand side policy, public policy, business and public research sectors, industry-science linkage, innovation policy, innovation strategy, regional innovation policy, priority setting, new public management, etc. This is a set of instruments that are used in a coordinated way (“policy mix”) to constitute the innovation policy toolkit. In many respects it is the core mission of the WP TIP, to analyze the design and implementation of these instruments for different purposes, in different contexts, to different objectives. This thematic cluster is close to the “system level analysis” and “higher education and public research” clusters, more than to the macroeconomic and finance clusters: this might reflect a certain orientation of the WP TIP views giving more weight to the corresponding conceptual approaches and instruments.
The involvement of civil society in innovation: civil society, public interest, social capital, user-driven innovation. This set of themes is rather recent as we will see, it reflects the emerging trend across countries for new channels (beyond markets and governments) to influence the orientation of innovation, so as to take into account considerations and objectives that existing channels have tended to underestimate (in relation with various aspects of individual or collective well-being like health, the environment etc.).
System-level analysis, looking at the various actors and their interactions, embodied in terms like: National System of Innovation (NSI), system innovation, system transformation, transition management, smart specialization, and knowledge triangle. These terms refer to broad concepts that have been used by the international STI policy community to characterize major trends in the economy and policy of innovation. Interestingly in all of these cases, the central idea is about linkages between actors, used to leverage some policy objective: this is reflective of a systemic view of innovation. Each theme has been the subject of at least one dedicated WP TIP project at some point in time. In the case of the NSI, the TIP played a significant role in the development of the concept in its early years (1990s), and applied it widely for more than a decade subsequently. Each other term in the list points to a specific phenomenon having a broad impact: system transformation is a specific approach to the dynamics of adapting societies to societal and environmental challenges; smart specialization focuses on the regional dimension of innovation-based development; the knowledge triangle is centered on higher education institutions and their contribution to innovation. System-level analysis tends to put as much or even more emphasis on non-market relationships between actors as on market relationships, to emphasize the role of institutions, the embeddedness of economic development in societal networks and the specific features of human communities at various scales—regional or national.
Openness: open innovation, open science, open data. Access to skills and knowledge is key for innovation, and the way it is structured has a direct impact on innovation performance. The years 2000s have experienced a dramatic change in that regard, with the progress of the Internet and digital technologies, which have reduced the cost of communication and increased its density. New opportunities arose for circulating information, but their realization required certain policy conditions to be met. This is what the WP TIP discussed in the fields of data, science and innovation.
The core “machinery” of innovation: knowledge creation, innovation process, know-how, technology diffusion, technology foresight, linear model. These terms reflect various aspects on the generation and diffusion of innovation. In order to strengthen its policy analysis, the WP TIP has investigated these deeper aspects of the innovation system, with a view notably to establishing a “post-linear” model of innovation. The linear model states that science precedes technological innovation, which precedes marketization; while the alternative models insist on feed-back linkages in this chain. For instance, the linear model which is still present in many national strategic documents across the globe tends to justify a separation of innovation policy from science policy, an approach opposite to the systemic view, according to which actors and activities are closely interconnected and such separations are detrimental to the efficiency of the system.
Sectoral and thematic policies: digital (artificial intelligence, Big Data, software, digital transformation, digital economy, etc.), services, specific technologies (advanced manufacturing, fuel cells, energy storage, renewable energy, smart city), and specific social needs (health sector—health care services, medical devices, environment—environmental policy, environmental degradation, environmental protection, sustainable development, green growth, green innovation, sustainable city). These dimensions are strongly interconnected, the corresponding terms tend to occur in the same documents, demonstrating that the WP TIP has taken a broad, holistic view of these issues, emphasizing their generic aspects in relation with innovation: sector specific aspects were enlightened with broader considerations like technological transformation (digital) and social demand (health and environment). Interestingly in that regard, two policy terms connected with environment (environmental R&D and environmental scientific affairs) are not in this cluster but rather in the proximity of the policy instruments they use (R&D and science respectively), showing that the WP TIP has been working to connect social demand with the core policy instruments of its domain.
Macroeconomic and budgetary approach to innovation policy: business R&D, public R&D, R&D tax credit, budgetary approach, environmental R&D, environmental scientific affairs. The WP TIP has complemented the systemic analysis with economic analysis, investigating the structure and impact of R&D spending (one of the major sources of innovation, for which reliable statistical data is available) and the policies that can influence it. It has conducted several quantitative studies on the R&D tax credit instruments, that were embraced by a dozen of countries in the mid-1990s, at the WP TIP’s inception, and appeared again in an exercise implemented by nearly all (36) OECD member countries in 2019. The conceptual framework for doing that is complementary from the systemic approach, it relies more on mainstream economic concepts like rate of return, optimization, etc.
Finance: venture capital, stock market, technology investment, interest rate, capital gain, financial market, financial crisis, high tech industry. This thematic cluster is close to the “macroeconomic and budgetary approach” cluster mentioned above. Both have to do with resource allocation, the former by firms and markets, the latter by government. This domain makes use of economic concepts, like risk and information asymmetry. The main justification for government intervention in a classical economic framework is the existence of market failures: this term is linked to high-tech industries, a sector whose development raises complex financing issues related to risk and information asymmetries (as it is the main recipient of venture capital) and where government is active due to alleged market failures.
Economic impact of innovation: economic growth, economic development, sustainable growth, job creation, human resource development, climate change. Governments allocate significant resources to innovation (including R&D), and want to know how effective this effort is, notably in terms of growth and job creation. Consequently, this has been a major issue of the WP TIP, and an important component in many STI policy projects.
Overall, tracing the activities of the WP TIP over the past decades points to two separate but complementary policy frameworks:
a structural, systemic one, emphasizing the linkages between actors on the one hand, and
an economic, budgetary one focusing on the allocation of funds and the encouragement to business innovation on the other hand.
They have been used for different purposes (e.g. the former to address system transformation, the latter to analyze venture capital), and sometimes in conjunction, e.g. regarding the commercialization of public research: the terms reflecting this mission (knowledge transfer and technology transfer) are positioned in between the innovation policy domain and the business R&D field. However, the finance thematic cluster is relatively isolated from the rest of the semantic set, suggesting that the systemic approach has not resulted in a transformation of the thinking around policy instruments used for STI itself. Also, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are close to no specific cluster or set of topics: that might reflect the fact that IPR is a very transversal, cross-themes topic, used in various contexts like international trade, technology diffusion, technology transfer, industry-science linkages, innovation policy, sectoral policies, etc. This is one limit of the semantic technique, since it cannot reflect the variety of contexts in which a particular term is used, but it just averages them.
Stability and change in the WP TIP thematic priorities
We now turn to understanding how the WP TIP thematic priorities evolved over the 1993–2019 period. The vertical axis of Fig. 4 reflects the relative frequency of terms’ appearance over the entire time period, while the horizontal axis demonstrates the change in frequency over the periods Hence terms positioned in the north-east quadrant are both highly significant and in relative progress over time, while the ones resting in the north-west quadrant remain influential under the current mainstream but eventually losing momentum. Terms located in the south-east quadrant represent emerging STI policy fields gaining greater dynamics, and those attributed to the south-west quadrant are weak signals with a promise of further growth. We did not make an explicit analysis of the evolution of terms during specific sub-periods, namely the 2008 financial crisis and the 2012 EU budgetary crisis in Greece. The reason is that the 2008 financial crisis did not impact the discussion at the Working Party much. This is mainly due to the overall modest impact of the crisis on R&D spending during this period. Following a short dip in spending in 2009 related expenditures recovered quickly and continue to grow since then (OECD, 2009; Rehm, 2018). Certainly, the picture was different during this period where countries with traditionally strong innovation performance (namely the Nordic countries, Germany, Switzerland, the US) faced rather low decrease while other countries (Southern and Eastern European countries) experienced stronger decrease of R&D expenditures. The latter however were rather quickly offset with funds from the European Union (structural funds) (Rehm, 2008). In addition, it was evident to the WP TIP that R&D expenditure follows a mid to long term planning schedule which is usually not affected by short term events (Alfranseder, Dzhamalova, 2014). Kincso and Radosevic (2017) argue that the crisis has led countries to reconsider their STI policy mix composition by means of streamlining the number of policies in place and supporting co-funding of business R&D expenditure by public funds which aims at replacing otherwise decreasing volume of private funding due to financial constraints (Peia and Romelli, 2022). In the end, the 2008 financial crisis did not seriously affect R&D on broader scale industry-wide but did impact mainly those companies which were already under financial constraints anyway, e.g. companies who had to restructure their own finance towards short-term meeting financial obligations. Therefore, the impact topic was not at the WP TIP agenda explicitly and thereby not affecting issues discussed. Instead, the agenda continued as usual. Although there are special developments in selected countries one has to remember that the OECD WP TIP includes countries from all around the world, not limited to regions. Therefore, specific regional challenges are not an issue of discussion but the overall global picture is. This also explains why this paper does not split the sample according to events which occurred during the period under investigation.
The figure provides the evidence of a substantive change. The NSI, a concept central to the WP TIP original DNA, has experienced a sharp decline in policy use. In reality, this does not mean a decline in the application of the systemic approach, as the notion of system innovation remains among the top terms. Rather it reflects growing awareness that the sub-national level (with smart specialization) and the supra-national level (with global value chains and international cooperation) have become more important relative to the national level. It is also explained by the emergence of substitute terms like system transformation or knowledge triangle, which in certain respect reflect the NSI approach for particular applications—hence reducing the need to directly use the term NSI but not signaling the demise of the systemic approach role in the STI policy discourse.
Three policy concepts feature prominently among the terms that experienced high growth in use: smart specialization, system innovation (or transformation), and the knowledge triangle. These STI policy concepts are popular notably among the EU policy makers and have been subjects to dedicated WP TIP projects involving experts from European countries and the European Commission. Smart specialization has been promoted by the European Commission as an instrument for making innovation a driver of economic growth at regional level. It is based on systemic principles, emphasizing the market and non-market connections between actors and between economic activities, and attempting to leverage those linkages in order to support collective learning dynamics within regions. As for smart specialization and system transformation, the WP TIP documentation analysis demonstrates that these policy approaches are actively promoted by Nordic countries which have triggered interest of others. Also based on systemic principles, they ambition to leverage linkages in the NSI in order to diffuse innovations across the economy and exploit dynamics that are nurtured in specific segments—the higher education system for the knowledge triangle, or particular sectors like energy or transportation for the system transformation.
Looking at the usual innovation policy features, the terms technology diffusion and regional innovation policy have declined, while innovation policy has been kept at the top. Like mentioned above, this reflects not only just a cosmetic change, but also a broadening in the scope of innovation and innovation policies. Innovation is no longer seen as just technology implementation, it concerns new ways of delivering services, new business models and marketing strategies; social and environmental innovation have also become focal areas of public policies and corporate strategies. Accordingly, innovation policies are not conceived anymore as just targeting technology per se but all its environment, and they have also to do with most aspects of the economy: education, competition, trade and so on—in other words technology diffusion and technology foresight remain on the agenda but mainly in the context of innovation. Having said this we mean that technology is seen as a silo notion and innovation has determinants and impacts all across the economy and society. This is further evidenced by the fact that most terms featuring the word “technology” have declined in fact (technology transfer, technology diffusion, technology investment, etc.).
References to international cooperation have also significantly decreased, although the phenomenon has grown in importance in the global economy. One prominent WP TIP project addressed global value chains, which have to do with businesses: but most policy projects have focused exclusively on the national and regional levels, and international cooperation have seen its priority reduced on the WP TIP agenda. This is not a general phenomenon in the field of policy analysis, but specific to this international expert group: the growing role of the European Commission, which manages the largest program in the world for international cooperation in R&D (the Framework Programme) could partly explain that the WP TIP experienced a weaker involvement in this matter, in view of not duplicating activities implemented elsewhere.
By contrast, some of the most prominent terms have remained at the top, reflecting stability in their importance and probably in their meaning, including public R&D and business R&D. R&D tax credits diffused to more and more countries and increased their financial importance. As for public R&D and business R&D, these are central activities without which no innovation policy can be conceived.
Figure 4 illustrates also the emergence of a more strategic and integrated way of designing and implementing innovation policy: this is reflected in the rise of terms like innovation strategy, priority setting, impact assessment. The WP TIP work played a central role in the “OECD Innovation Strategy” that was published in 2010. This very much mirrored the mainstreaming of innovation across all policy domains. The WP TIP devoted several projects over recent years to various aspects of impact assessment, a theme of growing interest in countries where budgetary conditions command stronger surveillance of the efficiency of public spending. At the same time, the term technology foresight relatively declined, possibly because of the recognition that innovation policy should be less focused on technology per se, even sometimes technology neutral (the “end of pipe” approach). This may be changing with the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic crisis with concepts of technology resilience appearing on the policy agenda although not shown in the analysis yet.
The terms service and software have moved outside the cutting-edge fields, probably being replaced by digital economy terms, which are more adequately reflective of the growing importance of the digital technologies in innovation matters. It is illustrated by the fact that terms associated with new modes of knowledge sharing, linked with digitalization, are on the rise: open innovation, open science, open data. The WP TIP has addressed the digital transition through several projects over the years, focusing on its impact on science, innovation and the economy.
New concerns of the 2010s gave birth to integrating such concepts as civil society (that should be stronger involved in policy design and implementation), or green growth and climate change (new structuring themes for policies), into the emerging global STI policy agenda. The WP TIP implemented a study on green innovation in the late 2000s already and has kept active in this area since then.