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OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook

From climate change to population ageing to far-reaching geopolitical adjustments, the world is facing unprecedented changes marked by uncertainties and unknowns. These are exacerbated by disruptive shocks, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis. The fast pace of technological change, including developments in artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, adds to these uncertainties and makes policy oversight of emerging technologies increasingly difficult.

These developments present opportunities and challenges for science and innovation (S&I) policy. In a time of rapid change and high uncertainty, responsible policy-making requires identifying and preparing for new and unexpected developments. Accordingly, the COVID-19 crisis has triggered an unprecedented mobilisation of the science and innovation community. Public research agencies and organisations, private foundations and charities, and the health industry have set up an array of newly funded research initiatives worth billions of dollars in record time. Science is the only exit strategy from COVID-19.

Science and innovation have played essential roles in providing a better understanding of the virus and its transmission, and in developing hundreds of candidate therapeutics and vaccines over a very short period. Digital technologies have enabled large parts of the economy and society to continue to function, mitigating the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic has underscored more than in other recent crises the importance of science and innovation to being both prepared and reactive to upcoming crises. The pandemic has also stretched research and innovation systems to their limits, revealing gaps that need filling to improve overall system resilience and preparedness for future crises. It is a wake-up call for all and highlights the need to re-set science, technology and innovation (STI) policies to better equip governments with the instruments and capabilities to direct innovation efforts towards the goals of sustainability, inclusivity and resiliency. 

The STI Outlook 2020 has six broad themes: S&I policies in a time of crisis; Technology governance; Sustainability transitions and missions; Human resources for science and innovation; Financing of R&D and innovation; and Digitalisation of science and innovation. The topics covered include: S&I policy responses to the Covid-19 crisis, the precarity of research careers, digital innovation and inclusiveness, funding for high risk / high reward research, and the ethics and global governance of emerging technologies, to name just a few.

Leading themes for policymaking in 2020

COVID-19

Science and innovation to combat the COVID-19 crisis

While the COVID-19 crisis threatens the resilience of innovation systems, it also calls on them to provide new solutions to the immediate health, societal and economic challenges posed by the pandemic. In the longer term, investments in R&D and innovation will be essential to promote economic recovery and sustainable growth.

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COVID-19

Science advice in times of COVID-19

Scientific evidence related to COVID-19 is conditional and dynamic. How can scientists and policy-makers most effectively work in a situation where much of the evidence is uncertain and rapidly evolving?

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Digital innovation

Digital innovation and inclusive growth

Digital technologies are transforming our economies, but are also raising new inclusiveness challenges. How can governments ensure that digitalisation benefits all? In addition, what roles could innovation policies play?

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Research precariat

The precarity of research careers

Academic structures that mainly link training and careers to ‘research excellence’ - as measured by publication outputs - are not fully adequate to meet the future needs of science and of society as a whole. This poses several important questions for STI policy.

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Governance

Technology governance

OECD countries perceive the need to not only innovate more, but well, and to make the innovation process more goal-oriented, inclusive and anticipatory. Engaging governance within the innovation process has the potential to embed public good considerations into technologies.

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Ocean economy

Ocean economy and innovation

Managing a wide diversity of maritime economic activities and exploiting marine resources requires judiciously improving ocean-related knowledge and taking precautions to preserve fragile marine ecosystems.

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STI Outlook recommendations

The world is still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and many uncertainties remain. In the short-term, governments should continue their support for science and innovation activities that aim to develop solutions to the pandemic and to mitigate its negative impacts, while paying attention to the uneven distributional effects of COVID-19. Scientific advice will remain in the spotlight as governments seek to strike the right balance in their responses to COVID-19. This will affect public perceptions of science that could have long-term implications for science-society relations.

At the same time, many governments view the pandemic as a stark reminder of the need to transition to more sustainable, equitable and resilient societies. This is highlighted in many countries’ recovery packages, which include expenditures for R&D. Science and innovation will be essential to promote and deliver such transitions, but the pandemic has exposed limits in research and innovation systems that, if not addressed, will prevent this potential from being realised.

There is therefore a need to re-set STI policies to better equip governments with the instruments and capabilities to direct innovation efforts towards the goals of sustainability, inclusivity and resiliency.

  1. 1. Recovery packages will need to include a mix of measures that direct private-sector innovation efforts towards sustainability and resiliency goals. This may mean rebalancing current policy mixes away from a reliance on R&D tax incentives towards direct support instruments, such as grants.
  2. 2. Research systems will need to be reformed to promote the transdisciplinary approaches needed to deal with wicked problems like the climate emergency, and to diversify the career paths of postgraduates.
  3. 3. The global nature of challenges like these suggests that solutions will require international co-operation. The pandemic has created momentum that offers opportunities to establish effective and sustainable global mechanisms to support the range and scope of R&D necessary to confront a wider range of global challenges.
  4. 4. Many key uncertainties will remain over the next few months and years, and governments will need to develop dynamic capabilities to adapt and learn in the face of rapidly changing conditions.

Dive into STI qualitative and quantitative data

DATA

STIP Compass

STIP Compass is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the OECD that aims to collect together in one place quantitative and qualitative data on national trends in STI policy.

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DATA

MSTI database

The Main Science and Technology Indicators (MSTI) database provides a set of indicators that reflect the level and structure of efforts in the field of science and technology undertaken from 1981 onwards by OECD Member countries and seven non-member economies: Argentina, China, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Chinese Taipei.

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Background on the STI Outlook

The OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook is a biennial publication that aims to inform policy makers and analysts on recent and future changes in global STI patterns and their potential implications on and for national and international STI policies. It also serves to showcase the STI policy work of the OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy and its working parties, and to explore new topics that might be covered in future projects. The latest edition of the STI Outlook is largely devoted to the impacts of COVID-19 on research and innovation systems and their responses to the crisis.

An important source of the STI Outlook’s value added is its forward-looking analysis and its potential to synthesise various strands of work and opinion. The STI Outlook leverages various types of content developed across multiple lines of activity, including thematic OECD project work, OECD statistics, and country policy data in the EC-OECD STIP Compass.

The STI Outlook has a dual format. First, this website provides a structured repository of various types of content, including thematic and country analysis, statistics, qualitative policy data analysis, and opinion pieces. The OECD will update this material throughout as new content becomes available. Then in January 2021, the OECD will publish an e-book containing the STI Outlook’s main findings and messages.

You can contact the OECD’s STI Outlook team to find out more.