For over a decade, Europe has been working on improving the performance of Open Innovation (OI) and Knowledge Transfer (KT) to promote a smooth, direct, and successful transfer of its research base, including public research, to a competitive market environment. These efforts have been implemented against a backdrop of increasing recognition of the link between effective and comprehensive KT policies on the one hand; and innovativeness and competitiveness on the other. Based on the knowledge and experience acquired in the European context, this advisory service has sought to provide recommendations aimed at allowing Ecuador to embark on a transformative journey, to build further bridges between its research community and other sectors of society who may benefit from its work.
Ecuador is in possession of a number of significant assets which may lead to the development of a strong and dynamic KT system in the medium-to-long term. It’s a resource-rich country, which has developed an important knowledge based around historically important sectors of the economy such as agriculture, energy and life sciences. It has an important researcher community, much of which is hosted in universities who are increasingly invested in research activities; as well as in public research institutes which have historically acted as bridges between science, the private sector, and the public sector.
Yet, in spite of recent efforts to increase the competitiveness and resiliency of the national economy, Ecuador still faces significant bottlenecks when it comes to ensuring research is translated into practical and marketable solutions. Many of these are directly tied to the key framework conditions which are characteristic of strong KT systems: institutional capacities, availability of financing, a sound regulatory environment, the existence of strong and mature intermediary organizations, and a relevant and coherent policy mix.
In recent years, the country’s main research and innovation government authority, the SENESCYT, has taken important measures to strengthen and develop the national policy mix and regulatory framework in favour of KT. However, SENESCYT’s institutional capacities to address the national innovation system’s existing challenges remain limited. This is mainly due to the limited pool of human and financial resources at its disposal. This has far ranging implications for the country’s KT system as a whole. Most importantly perhaps, it has kept the central government from being able to inject additional resources into enhancing the country’s policy mix and providing direct support to its key stakeholders. It has also limited the government’s ability to steer the country’s researcher community towards existing external international sources of funding, such as the European Union’s Research and Innovation programme.
A more systemic approach is necessary to promote public-private innovation networks, human capital mobility from universities to firms (and vice versa), and a reorientation of universities’ agenda towards the needs of industry and society. Based on the existing policy momentum in Ecuador, a number of further actions could be taken in light of strengthening the country’s KT framework and culture. In this context, it’s recommended that potential measures to improve the general framework conditions may include:
- Enhancing the existing policy mix in support knowledge transfer in Ecuador, in a way which consistent with the country’s general strategy to reduce inequalities and foster a more regionally-balanced development. An inclusive policy mix for knowledge transfer should provide policy instruments adapted to the heterogeneous institutional and territorial capacity levels, rather than focusing only on the most advanced institutions and regions. For this purpose, knowledge transfer and innovation strategies in Ecuador should become more closely aligned with the specific socioeconomic challenges of its different regions, a future agenda that could be inspired by the European smart specialization framework. In addition to improving individual policy instruments, it is also important to assess the interactions between them as part of a policy mix, with the aim of exploiting possible synergies and avoiding duplications or contradictions. This assessment should also consider the interactions with policy instruments from other domains not directly related to knowledge transfer.
- Maintaining the current level of investments in KT in order to build up a base of stability and confidence with regard to the continuity of existing policy instruments successfully launched in the past two years: Given the unlikelihood that financial resources in support of KT will increase in the short term, it’s of paramount importance to at least maintain the current level of investments in knowledge transfer policies. With the current budget, it is preferable to consolidate the existing policy mix, since launching new policy instruments would lead to split funding across many small programmes, higher operational complexity, confusion for target groups, and increased administrative costs. This said, in the medium to long term, it would be desirable to expand SENESCYT’s budget in order to attain more ambitious goals. This could be achieved through a more creative use of other funding sources, including contributions from the private sector, from multilateral organizations and from international NGOs. This could include making a more effective use of the opportunities offered by the European Union’s research and innovation programmes.
- Introducing cost-free regulatory reforms that could generate new incentives for knowledge transfer: In order to push these reforms forward, it would be advisable to nominate a high level expert group with representatives from different ministries, universities and firms, which would be responsible for conducting a systematic review of the various regulations affecting knowledge transfer. The result should be a clear plan with a proposed sequence of regulatory changes needed to simplify existing regulations and to avoid contradictions between different regulatory frameworks that currently coexist. Regulatory reforms should be accompanied by dissemination and outreach campaigns, as well as clear guidelines to facilitate their application.
- Leveraging the role of public sector procurement to promote innovation and knowledge transfer. Indeed, the expenditure of national and regional governments represents a large share of GDP that could be used more explicitly to promote knowledge transfer through innovative public procurement.