Since their independence, countries in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus (EESC) – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine – have introduced far-reaching reforms to boost innovation and benefit from the potential of the growing knowledge-based economy. Innovation is seen as pivotal for sustainable development, including the COVID-19 recovery and the transition towards a circular economy.
This ambition involves a substantial re-think of the role of governance: EESC countries should target increasingly scarce fiscal resources clearly to enable and catalyse innovation, or experimentation with ideas for creating value to see what works and what does not. By building the capacity of firms, strengthening linkages between public and private innovation stakeholders, and introducing incentives to innovate, policymakers can encourage innovative activity across economic sectors. Therefore, shaping effective innovation governance and public policy to play a catalytic role, or to make sure public support enables more experimentation to take place than would otherwise be the case, is imperative.
The pilot Sub-regional Innovation Policy Outlook (IPO) 2020 has already created substantial momentum in this direction. EESC countries have taken several steps to put its recommendations into practice, including new initiatives for innovative entrepreneurship and linkages between public research and business. To sustain and build on this trend, UNECE plans a range of activities to nourish and foster policy dialogue and peer learning.
A central, common challenge is policy coordination among the range of policy areas that influence innovation systems in the region – especially in view of the limited traditional purview of innovation policy proper. Some EESC countries have recently established national research and innovation councils to support innovation policy coordination, typically including representatives from relevant line ministries, academia and sometimes from the business community. These initiatives, however, are not fully effective, as they do not have clear mandates, do not meet regularly and in some instances are not operational.
Effective policy requires a broad, holistic view of innovation policy, which integrates relevant policies and policy instruments that have an impact on innovation processes in the country and coordinates policy efforts across all relevant government bodies. National innovation councils, or Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Councils supported by a solid mandate, subsidiary bodies, and a secretariat, serve as vehicles to assemble relevant ministries and stakeholders to guide and supervise across relevant policy areas systematically, ensuring alignment, effectiveness, and synergies. An example of this is the Swedish National Innovation Council, created and chaired by the Prime Minister.
At a virtual meeting on 30 September, representatives from EESC governments, international partner organisations and experts engaged in a policy dialogue on innovation policy coordination and STI Councils, with a leading expert in the field, Professor Charles Edquist from the Centre for Innovation Research at Lund University (CIRCLE). Following the policy dialogue, participants also discussed plans for the next IPO iteration, supported by UNECE, and explored ways of how to further ensure synergies and complementarities among various UNECE work streams on innovation policy, including the IPO, the Innovation for Sustainable Development Reviews, and sub-regional and national capacity building activities. These activities were made possible with the funding from the Government of Sweden.