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Assessing policy for innovation in Asia Pacific economies PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Thursday, 08 December 2011 13:56

(a commentary on the recent ITIF report)

CMA LogoAt first sight the recent study assessing innovation capacities in countries bordering the Pacific has very little to do with the UK and our European position. Most businesses in Britain are unlikely to be much concerned that Chile seems to have a greater capacity for innovation than, say, Indonesia.   UK business readers and policy developers are even more unlikely to be attracted to a detailed 162-page report about 21 faraway places.

There are however three very good reasons why the study should be a focus for attention in Westminster – and not just in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills but in HM Treasury, probably throughout central government and most certainly in the devolved administrations.

Firstly it has an interesting methodology.  It’s a good example of the score-card approach for aggregation of multiple research factors – and whilst critics may argue about the relative weighting of each factor (or their component sub-indicators) the overall result provides useful reference points for comparison of each of these countries.

Secondly the report holds truths that apply globally and includes some important clues regarding the current intent of distant countries that we might do well to understand.  One could perhaps argue that the section on Digital Policies might overstate some country positions or that the entire study, being US funded, might be biased in their choices of key analysis factors, but the academic references are sound and the stated policy positions are sobering.

Thirdly, the study reminds us that our European and global viewpoints (so often based on advanced wishful thinking) might well benefit from this type of critical analysis and that ‘innovation’ and policies to foster it are the life-blood of economic recovery.  On topics such as this, reaching beyond the borders of specific departments, the message that comes across most clearly is that most elusive of governmental capabilities – joined-up thinking.

In assessing the relative strength of core innovation policy areas the study gives equal weight to four major factors and a slightly reduced emphasis on two more.  Here again one might argue that some factors are disproportionally more important than others but, at the end of the day, it is the overall relativities between countries that count – and if this is not a national PR exercise we can dispense with spin motivated by political wishes to flatter some areas more than others.

In this type of study definitions are always difficult but the authors seems to have a preference for the quantitative and have minimized qualitative opinions.  Whether the full inner workings are freely available to all comers is not entirely clear – and, no doubt in the interests of diplomacy (and avoiding arguments), the published results are only banded into three upper/middle/lower categories and reported in alphabetical order.

The sections on policies for Science & R&D and Digital info/communications are the most interesting – not least because they are the areas most open to easy amendment and emulation. Section 4 in particular (Digital policies starting on page 57 of the full report) has very useful references to studies that are globally applicable and has a strong emphasis on the relevance of infrastructure investment.

It is not surprising to find that the Asian/Pacific economies that score well are those like Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore with high-quality broadband access networks, good mobile network coverage and intense Internet access in schools.  Singapore also emerged as a leader in terms of ICT Policy Governance – and anyone evaluating the UK’s stance on broadband commitment would be well advised to look at Table 4-6 on page 55.

Whilst ‘innovation’ can only be fully assessed by looking across several areas of policy, the conclusion of the section on Digital Policies should at least cause policy developers at home to pause for thought.

'As regional economies increasingly depend on each other in a globally networked ecosystem, and access to high-quality ICTs and ICT applications becomes more pervasive worldwide, economies with strong aspirations for ICT, passion for ICT-based innovations, and concrete action plans for digital policies will find themselves at the forefront of new market opportunities, extended growth potential, and improved sustainability, having better chances to generate welfare for citizens.'

But if that sentence is too long to deconstruct or if the message is lost on policy developers and their political masters, it is likely that the very basic understanding of the need for a concerted high-quality and cross-sector approach will be appreciated by those in UK business and by those managing large public sector organisations who most want to see a return to economic growth and societal development.

The words chosen for the synopsis are succinct.

'Information and communications technology (ICT) is the global economy’s strongest enabler of productivity and innovation.

'Effective digital policies focus first and foremost on spurring the use of ICT throughout the economy, as the vast majority of benefits from ICT, as much as 80 percent, come from the widespread usage of ICT, while only about 20 percent of the benefits comes from its production.

'Leading economies recognize that the greatest opportunity to improve their economic growth lies in increasing the productivity of their domestic sectors, particularly through the application of ICT.'

Three questions arise.

Does anyone imagine that we are investing anywhere near enough in high-quality local digital access networks?

Do we place anywhere near enough emphasis on ‘dark fibre’ to enable business innovation?

To what extent are public sector organisations being ‘ripped off’ by not taking control and ownership of their own networks?


The synopsis of the ITIF report (and a link to the full report PDF download) can be found here

This editorial was written for members of the UK's Communications Management Association (CMA) - part of the BCS, the chartered society for ICT professionals.


Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2011 14:27

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