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Mid-term evaluation of Nordic innovation policy 2005-2010

  • Published 06/03/2010
  • Last updated 10/03/2011
Regions, nations and companies that are capable of changing and adapting to new circumstances will over time have the best chances of sustaining a healthy balance between growth and prosperity within their societies. It is by no means given from nature that the Nordic countries should be among the richest societies in the world. But the Nordic countries have, especially since the breakthrough of the industrial and modern age, shown themselves capable of steady development and renewal. Co-operation between industry, government, academia and civil society has been one of the defining characteristics for the Nordic countries’ development in this achievement. Nordic co-operation is in this sense a natural ingredient to the Nordic way of development.

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In 2005, the Nordic Council of Ministers formulated a common Nordic innovation policy, with the goal of strengthening innovation within each of the Nordic countries as well as for the region as a whole, including the Baltic countries and neighbouring regions. The Icelandic chairmanship has prioritised an assessment of the achievements for the Nordic innovation policy for the last 4–5 years as one of its initiatives during its chairmanship for 2009. In addition the assessment should encompass a number of chapters dealing with future trends that seem likely to shape the Nordic and global agenda for innovation. 

The assessment of the previous 4–5 years Nordic innovation policy reveals that much has been achieved at the operational level. More and more Nordic innovation institutions do co-operate on innovation projects and in some cases this co-operation has been established in relation to EU Framework programmes. The key institution driving this kind of co-operation forward at the Nordic level has been the Nordic Innovation Center (NICe) in co-operation with national Nordic stakeholders and its Nordic sister organisations. 

Looking at the Nordic countries’ global rankings in 2005 and 2010 on a number of selected innovation parameters like access to venture capital and overall innovation show that the Nordic region in general has been able to remain within the best performing nations in the world. Nevertheless, there have also been setbacks. For instance, the recent Nordic Innovation Monitor study shows that the Nordic countries have weaknesses within the area of entrepreneurship, a high priority area for Nordic innovation policy. 

At a more strategic innovation policy level the goal of Nordic co-operation has been to establish higher levels of national co-ordination for innovation funding and programmes within a Nordic framework, and to create a Nordic research and innovation area (NORIA) as a Nordic parallel to the European Research Area (ERA). Bibliometric studies among main Nordic government innovation white papers show that the concept of NORIA has gained less impact than anticipated in 2005. This raises the question as to whether it would be better to establish a Nordic innovation area (NIA) within NORIA and thereby strengthen both NORIA and innovation. 

The development of stronger integration between each of the national Nordic innovation systems into a more unified and coherent Nordic innovation system has been another goal for Nordic innovation policy. Based on the assessment it is difficult to make clear conclusions as to the achievements for this goal. On the one hand, if the measure of success is some kind of institutionalised framework for co-ordination among the key actors of the Nordic innovation systems, the goal has not been met as such. On the other hand, there might very well have been increased informal co-ordination and exchange of policies and programmes, and the establishment of common Nordic reference groups for studies such as the Global Innovation Index and the Nordic Innovation Monitor point to some level of co-ordination and development of Nordic perspectives. 

Yet, goals like integration of innovation systems and innovation policies are probably always going to be more elusive to assess, measure and achieve than, for example, the development of clusters around a particular technology or industry. Hence, it is recommended that a future Nordic innovation policy takes the aforementioned elusiveness into consideration when formulating the next generation of Nordic innovation policy.

The Nordic Council of Minister’s work in the area of innovation also encompasses Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and St. Petersburg, all which have Nordic offices and are mentioned as regional partners for innovation. The mid-term evaluation is partly based on an assessment of developments from 2005–2009 and partly based on a survey among central decision makers from Nordic and Baltic innovation environments. The survey shows that there is generally a high degree of recognition about Nordic innovation policy, and it plays a role in national Baltic innovation policies. There are, however, also comments stating that Nordic statements and agreements for co-operation need more action in order to become truly significant. 

Another general observation from the assessment is the relatively strong institutional role of government and academia in Nordic innovation co-operation and the relatively weak role of industry. In the White Book on Innovation it is stated that a new policy arena for growth oriented innovation policy has emerged, and that the ambition is to develop and improve the co-operation between the tripartite actors from government, academia and industry, where the innovation policy has the aim of creating sustainable growth in Nordic business environments.

The evaluation has been written by Nordic Innovation Centre. The evaluation has been in hearing among national Nordic key stakeholders e.g. innovation agencies and other organisation as well as the Nordic Council of Minister’s Business and Industry Committee. The comments from national Nordic stakeholders and the Minsterial Council’s Business and Industry Committee have been implemented in the evaluation. The views of the evaluation are the responsibility of the author and Nordic Innovation Centre. 

The mid-term evaluation was undertaken as an iniative under Iceland’s chairmanship for Nordic Council of Ministers 2009, and it was carried out in accordance with the stated goals of the Book of Innovation and the Nordic co-operation programme for innovation.