International policy workshops

Roles of national institutions in supporting innovation: Examples from the ‘digitisation of manufacturing’ agenda

20th January 2016

Held at the British Embassy in Berlin, the workshop brought together senior policy makers and agency officials from the UK and their counterparts in the Germany to discuss best practices and common challenges faced when implementing technology and innovation policy. Primary focuses of the discussion covered the digitalisation of manufacturing in both countries. It also looked at the roles of Catapult Centres, Fraunhofer Institutes and standards agencies in the national innovation system.

Innovation holds a central place in the policy agenda in Germany, UK and countries all over the world. There is therefore significant interest in understanding how national and regional institutions can support innovation policy development and implementation in an effective manner. In particular, there is interest in the ways institutions can help ensure that public investments result not only in new technologies but also in more competitive industries, a vibrant SME ecosystem, and increased national socio-economic value.

The debate in academia and practice, however, has largely focused on the role of government institutions in supporting knowledge generation primarily through R&D funding programmes. Relatively little attention has been paid to additional roles that public institutions could provide to support the diffusion and application of new R&D-based knowledge which are critical to ensuring efficient translation into industry.

Manufacturing innovation – including disruptive innovation – relates to the manufacture of new products based on new advanced technologies but also, critically, to new ways to manufacture existing products. Similarly, a country’s innovation performance is defined by its ability to nurture new technology-based firms but also, critically, by the ability of existing firms to quickly absorb and apply new knowledge to upgrade, diversify and gain competitive advantage.

A range of institutions – from universities and science and economic ministries to intermediate R&D organisations and standard development bodies – may therefore play critical roles in policy development and implementation, both individually and collectively. The range of challenges is diverse: not only performing R&D and supporting the scale up of disruptive/emerging technologies but also promoting commercialisation by business, adoption by SMES as well as supporting regional specialisation.

The diverse but complementary roles of institutions can play is particularly evident in themes such as the ‘digitisation of manufacturing’ that cut across industries, technologies and geographies. The ‘digitisation of manufacturing’ is already driving new challenges and creating new opportunities across industries and, if fully realised, has the potential to drastically reshape manufacturing as we know it. However, it is still unclear who the winners (and losers) across industries and nations will be. There is therefore significant interest in the roles and functions that national institutions can play in determining this balance.

“The digital revolution has already changed business models in the media and retail industries. In manufacturing, how things are made and where they are made will also profoundly change. Fostering a dialogue between policymakers and businesses is very important to create the right environment for industrial innovation. This workshop was also an opportunity to share experiences between German and British Ministries”.

Agnes Estibals, Deputy Director for Innovation at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

For more information about this series of events, please contact us. To download a copy of the workshop report please click below:

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