Innovation: stronger but still uncoordinated

A national strategy for innovation is urgently needed to identify what can give the best results for both the scientific community and the business community.

And behold, in the whirlwind of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are puffed up with good news: Portugal has gone from “moderate innovator” to “strongly innovative” country, according to the European Innovation Scoreboard. This means that we have reinforced our capacity to convert the scientific, technological and creative knowledge that we produce internally into an economic and social value. Portugal was, in fact, one of the five member states of the European Union (EU) that has made the most progress in terms of innovation in the last two years.

It is important to underline that, for the second consecutive year, Portugal is a leader in one of the critical areas of the report: innovation in small and medium-sized companies. Although, according to the same European report, our country continues to sin in terms of partnerships between the public and private sectors in terms of R&D. Companies and knowledge producers at the State level (universities, scientific institutions, interface institutes, innovation centers, technological centers, etc.) continue to show some difficulty in creating synergies between themselves, which penalizes the country's competitiveness in highly specialized sectors.

In the last decades, Portugal has made very significant advances in human qualification and its scientific system today develops more research, with better results and greater international repercussion. However, the country is still unable to transform the potential of both its human capital and the scientific knowledge produced in its research centers into investment, wealth and employment. And this is what the European Innovation Scoreboard refers, when it points to a less achieved performance in cooperation between companies and public institutions that produce knowledge.

The characteristics of the business fabric help to explain the difficulties in partnerships. In Portugal, and the report also says, there are many companies that do not have capital or large technological resources for considerable investments in R&D. In addition, as is well known, the number of doctorates working in our companies is among the lowest in Europe. Therefore, there is a lack of both financial and technological capacity and human capital to carry out more common R&D projects between the public and private sectors.

On the part of public institutions of higher education, science and technology, in turn, there are also important financial limitations, at the same time that there is a certain gap between the research projects and the concrete problems of the companies and between the time availability of researchers and the timings constraints of the business fabric to profit from investments in innovation. Institutions do not yet reveal the flexibility, intensity and focus necessary for more effective support to the economy, which is why desirable measures that value, in academic careers, the role of researchers within companies.

As Portugal is preparing a new community support framework, as well as access to the European Recovery Fund, it seems pertinent that, considering the good results but not forgetting our persistent weaknesses, a national strategy for innovation should be devised. This strategy, where the guidelines for a more coordinated and synergistic relationship between the different actors of the national innovation system, including companies and business associations. It is interesting to know who does what and to identify what, together, can give better results for both the scientific community and the business community.

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