The UIS is developing a new data collection on innovation, which was the subject of an international expert meeting recently held in Montreal. Martin Schaaper, our expert on S&T statistics, describes the steps required to produce these statistics by countries at all stages of development.
What is innovation?
Innovation refers to the implementation of a new product, production process, marketing method or organization design in an enterprise. It is an ‘added value’ that makes workers more productive or efficient in the production process.
Consider the example of a line of furniture. The company might introduce new software to improve the design of the furniture. This is innovation. Or they might use new software to improve the shipping or the marketing of the product.
Innovation can also occur at the organizational level, whereby a company establishes new databases on best practices, lessons or other knowledge. These are just a few examples illustrating the importance of innovation.
How do you measure it? What are the key indicators?
Innovation occurs in both the public and private sectors. But for now, the UIS will be focusing exclusively on the private sector because it is easier to measure from a statistical point of view. We will be collecting information on the innovation activities undertaken by enterprises and its mechanisms to innovate. The indicators will also be designed to reflect the obstacles that firms face in the innovation process. Finally, we want to produce data on the financial investments involved in innovation. The aim is to produce the data that will help governments develop effective policies to stimulate and support innovation.
How do innovation statistics complement R&D data?
Research and experimental development (R&D) comprise creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge. R&D data also reflect the use of this knowledge to devise new applications in the fields of Natural Sciences, Engineering, Social Sciences and Humanities
Innovation is broader than R&D. For example, in addition to the firm’s own R&D activities, innovation statistics focus on the purchase of R&D, as well as technology transfer and staff training oriented towards a specific innovation in the firm.
By collecting these statistics, we can learn more about where and how R&D activities take place. Based on this information, countries can collect more specific data on R&D. It will also help the UIS to improve the coverage of data in developing countries, which is a major priority for the Institute. In many developing countries, it can be very difficult to collect R&D data because companies are generally reluctant to divulge information. For a variety of reasons, there seems to be greater transparency in developed countries.
What are the steps required to build a global data collection on innovation?
For the moment, 100 countries regularly collect innovation statistics. Europe—through the activities of Eurostat—is the leader in the field. Canada has also been conducting national surveys for the past 15 years. But, despite the obvious demand for this information, there is little data available on the subject. The United States, for example, released the results of its first innovation survey in 2010.
We want to develop an instrument that is specifically adapted for developing countries. At the same time, we must ensure that the data can be compared internationally so that countries can benchmark their progress and learn from the experience of others.
We began by collecting as many national surveys as possible from different regions. What kinds of information are countries trying to collect? To what extent are they succeeding? This perspective is essential to produce policy-relevant data.
We then started developing a draft UIS questionnaire based on the methodological guidelines and definitions of the Oslo Manual. This manual provides the framework to produce internationally comparable data on innovation. However, it was originally designed for developed countries. Thus, in 2005, the UIS and several partners produced a set of guidelines to help developing countries adapt the manual to conduct their own surveys. These guidelines are now included as an annex to the Oslo Manual.
We are currently in the process of refining the UIS questionnaire based on extensive input from a group of experts representing regional statistical organizations and national statistical offices around the world. This group of experts recently met in Montreal (8-10 March 2011) and the feedback was extremely positive.
Based on the advice from the expert meeting, the data collection instrument will be finalized in and a pilot survey will be carried out in 15 developing countries. The first results should be available by the end of 2011.
The UIS is planning to launch the first global survey on innovation in 2013. The Institute will be working with regional organizations to help collect the data from countries. Who are these partners?
Given their extensive experience, Eurostat and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are key partners in this project. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the UIS collaborates closely with the Network for Science and Technology Indicators – Ibero-American and Inter-American (RICYT).
The African Union has also launched a major new initiative specifically designed to produce innovation data through its New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). In 2010, 10 countries across the region conducted their first surveys on innovation.
What are you hoping to collect through the new survey and what are the practical limits?
Ideally, we want to collect data reflecting the diverse components of corporate innovation. How much are companies spending on activities related to innovation? What are they hoping to achieve through innovation? How do they cooperate internally and/or externally to introduce successful innovations? With whom? Other companies? Universities?
As for the practical limitations, it must be noted that we are breaking new ground. The first challenge is the UIS questionnaire design. Innovation surveys are complex and wide-ranging. Countries do not necessarily cover the same industries. And, of course, some industries are more innovative than others. For example, the software and retail industry are not the same.
So we must be very precise in the UIS questionnaire in order to collect comparable data. At the same time, the UIS questionnaire must cover a limited number of subjects otherwise countries will not respond. Therefore, we need to find a compromise between the political relevance of the data and the feasibility of collecting them.
The second challenge is the survey participation rate. For the pilot test, we expect a response rate of about 80% due to the countries selected. But for the global data collection instrument, the participation rate will be a big challenge. Part of the answer lies in training. We need to provide national statisticians with the support and training required to effectively respond to the survey. And they, in turn, will provide invaluable feedback on how to improve the data collection over time.
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