Government databases could be a powerful new spur for innovation, according to a leading global expert on innovation, Prof. Henry Chesbrough of ESADE Business School and the University of California, Berkeley. “Governments are the owners of the largest databases in the world with unprecedented possibilities for new and functional technologies, and information for commercial and other uses,” writes Chesbrough and colleagues in a new study of ‘open innovation’ policy.
Chesbrough presented his report during the European Commission’s Innovation Convention 2011 held yesterday in Brussels and opened by José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the Commission. The report was commissioned by the Science|Business Innovation Board, a Belgium-based non-profit scientific association founded by the business schools ESADE and INSEAD. Chesbrough co-authored this report with Wim Vanhaverbeke, professor at ESADE, the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School and Universiteit Hasselt (Belgium).
Open and innovative governments
One of the report’s main lines of thought is a firm belief in open and transparent governments. Policies of open governments allow greater politician-citizen interaction and improved efficiency and co-responsibility between the government and the general public. Open government policies in many countries are permitting citizens to interact directly with agencies and manage information about themselves – and in the process produce a more efficient government administration, argues Prof. Chesbrough. At the same time, databases of patents, land deeds and other publicly available data are growing – and could become a vital new tool for jobs and growth. But, he cautioned, it will be a difficult job for policymakers to strike the right balance between openness and privacy with the data.
However, the report written by the ESADE professors goes further and notes that governments have the world’s largest databases, with enormous possibilities to create new applications in technology, information, commercial purposes and other uses. Government databases can give a major push to innovation, and innovation could be one of the best tools to aid job creation and economic growth. What’s more, technical and scientific studies, public information or patent registers can be of great use for research if they are shared and made public simply and openly. On this note, the report mentions government-promoted scientific research in areas such as aerospace engineering, railway systems and major infrastructures, from which useful commercial applications for society can be drawn, as has happened in the US with NASA studies, for example.
The five-step guide to a new innovation policy
The report also outlines a five-step guide to break away from current innovation-related public policies implemented in Europe, which have focussed on local markets, protectionism for domestic companies, limits on foreign students and workers or on giving grants mainly to large European and domestic companies. Therefore, the report calls on Europe’s governments to:
- Boost university student mobility, not just within the EU, but around the world.
- Increase meritocracy in research funding, taking into account excellence and not merely territorial criteria, thus raising competition and competitiveness between universities or research centres and agencies.
- Cut intellectual property transaction costs and create a single European patent.
- Promote cooperation and competition. Abandon policies supporting large national companies and start backing SMEs so that they can innovate, grow and expand to compete with the major players. Encourage cooperation between companies and universities, research centres and start-ups.
- Encourage open and transparent governments. Make databases, public information and patents public and accessible to all citizens, which would foster innovation and, in turn, boost the economy.