TUAC SUBMISSION

 

 

 


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OUTCOME OF MEETING OF THE OECD COMMITTEE FOR SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL POLICY AT MINISTERIAL LEVEL  

Paris, 22-23 June 1999

TUAC EVALUATION


Background 

1. Science and Technology (S&T) and more recently Research and Development (R&D) are subjects of broad public interest, of government support as well as of business activities. They are considered to be the most important elements of innovation and technological change and drivers of productivity, competitiveness, of economic growth and employment. Therefore, the ability to create, distribute and exploit knowledge is of crucial importance to both the economy and the society. 

2. The growing importance of knowledge has brought about new policy challenges. Efforts to address these challenges have led to programmes to strengthen national innovation systems. Furthermore, technology policy has sought to speed up the process of innovation and to promote innovative behaviour. In general, it has been the central aim of S&T policies, to strengthen effectiveness and efficiency in order to improve conditions for the transfer of scientific and technological knowledge into marketable goods and services. 

3. S&T policies as well as the reorganisation of public and private R&D institutions have been to some extent successful in increasing the mobility of information, scientific staff and of capital. But they have failed in providing for solutions related to many existing challenges and alarmist developments like high and persistent unemployment in many countries, the global climate change, inequality and poverty within the least developed countries. This has caused a public debate, which calls into question the credibility of science and research. 

4. It was against this background, that ministers for science and technology in the OECD’s 29 Member countries, plus ministers from Israel, Russia, the Slovak Republic and South Africa, met in Paris on 22-23 June 1999. The meeting was intended to discuss “The contribution of science and technology to sustainable growth and social well-being: new opportunities and policy challenges”. 

5. The issues paper prepared by the OECD for the meeting suggested that the discussion should focus on three key challenges facing science and technology ministers: 

- How can they, by promoting innovation, contribute to sustainable development and job creation?; 

- How can they better respond to the globalisation process and enhance international co-operation?; and 

- How can they contribute to the setting up of regulatory structures better adapted to rapid scientific progress and the exploitation of advanced technologies? 

6. Ministers were invited to examine scientific and technological advances in the areas of health and the environment, with a view to discussing ways of involving the scientific and business communities and civil society more closely in policy formulation. The involvement of the latter was also discussed during joint consultations, prior to the meeting. Because of the outcome of the G8 Cologne Summit the previous weekend considerable attention was given to the OECD role on food safety. 
 

Prior to the Ministerial Meeting: Joint Consultations with BIAC and TUAC 

7. In preparing the consultations with the CSTP, TUAC issued a statement regarding both recent trends in R&D and challenges faced by S&T policies. It urged the OECD Ministers to provide for a reorientation of strategies promoting innovation and economic development in order to achieve environmentally and socially sustainable growth. In particular, TUAC urged ministers to: 

- refocus competitivity so that investment in the labour force and intangible assets are seen as an investment and not a cost; 

- reverse the relative decline in R&D expenditure and employment; 

- integrate Science and Technology policies with employment strategies based on raising skills and productivity; 

- develop participatory strategies involving employees and their unions in the introduction of new technology and organisational change at the workplace; 

- give confidence and security to research workers; 

- ensure that macro-economic policies support knowledge intensive growth strategies by expanding demand; 

- avoid the concentration of knowledge and intellectual property in a few hands; 

- support the development of effective labour and environmental rules in the global trade and investment system; 

- prevent harmful tax competition; 

- re-orientate industrial location strategies to support knowledge based clusters of economic activity; 

- rebuild public confidence in Science and Technology through transparent and open systems of technology assessment; 

- improve regulatory systems; 

- to develop the OECD's role in multidisciplinary work in the fields of safety and health.

8. During the joint consultations with the Chair and the Vice-Chairs of the CSTP, TUAC delegates (Gerd K÷hler, DGB-GEW; Val Ellis, TUC-IPMS; Roland Schneider and John Evans of the TUAC Secretariat) emphasised that the development and application of new technologies would need public trust. In order to preserve and strengthen the necessary trust and confidence, they called upon scientists and researchers to act in a responsible manner regarding both ethical norms and social values as well as risks related to new technologies. Moreover, they called for an inclusive approach and urged ministers to provide means for a consultation of all groups of stakeholders during the decision-making process in the fields of S&T Policy, regarding the social and economic impact of new technologies. 

9. With regard to the work of scientists and researchers, TUAC delegates warned against conflicting interests of private business and the public. Conflicts may arise regarding both the funding of research and the regulatory framework. TUAC delegates referred to a particular danger, which could be caused by a promotion of R&D focusing almost exclusively on the achievement of commercial results. To avoid such a danger and to ensure a rather broad focus of R&D, public funding of independent research is required. 

10. Furthermore, TUAC delegates emphasised the need to ensure the existence of a basic regulatory framework, which covers social as well as environmental requirements. They strongly argued against calls for a “new policy approach”, particularly favoured of a recent OECD policy brief, by which governments should step back further from efforts of fostering technological progress and leave more to the market. In order to underline this TUAC delegates pointed out that success in science and research does not necessarily lead to economic success. With reference to the findings of the former OECD-TEP project they called for R&D taking into account the whole spectrum of scientific and technological activities from basic research to technological mastery, from invention to diffusion. 

11. The representatives of BIAC referred to recent trends and changes in the fields of science, research and development. They pointed out that industrial R&D has recently undergone a major change in emphasis and that particular attention and importance is being placed on ‘speed’ and ‘intellectual property rights’ as key issues of all stages of the innovation process. BIAC is considering these changes as precursor of a new paradigm: scientific discovery, industrial application and societal impact don't occur any longer, as it previously has been the case, in a serial way but almost simultaneously. Moreover, these elements of the process of innovation are mutually influencing each other’s development. Because current government S&T policies and plans have not kept pace with this trend, BIAC called upon governments to adjust policies in accordance with the new paradigm. 

12. BIAC, like the TUAC presentation, also raised the fact that government-funded research has become increasingly short-term and commercially oriented. Not surprisingly, the conclusion drawn from that points in a quite different direction. According to BIAC public funded basic research should no longer be considered as just an academic pursuit but as a means to trigger creation of novel industrial markets based on significant breakthroughs. Thus, to facilitate the results of public funded research into industrial developments, BIAC called for an improved consultation between science policy officials, industry as well as academia, on science and issues at the intersection of science, the economic world and other public policy domains. A venue for such a consultation could be provided by the creation of the Global Science Forum, where business wanted to be represented. 

13. With regard to current debates focusing on both new opportunities and risks brought about by new technologies, particularly by biotechnology, BIAC complained about the absence of political leadership and a lack of credible information and science-based regulation. Due to these circumstances some groups would be able to manipulate large segments of public opinion and instil public distrust of new technologies, regulators and enterprises. To provide sound framework conditions for further innovation, BIAC called for work in favour of an improved scientific understanding and communication of risks and rewards of biotechnology, in particular consultation between the CSTP Working Party on Biotechnology with industry and academia was recommended. 

14. BIAC representatives did not go so far as to call explicitly for an exclusive approach, refusing involvement of workers, consumers and the concerned public into a debate on new technology. But their presentation led to the conclusion that due to the new paradigm of innovation and industrial developments, which makes “time to market” crucial, a social dialogue on technological change would face the danger of hampering technological progress. However, Ministers did not share this conclusion. 

15. With regard to the call for a better involvement of stakeholders in S&T Policies made by TUAC, Ministers agreed on the need for a social dialogue focussing on a broad range of issues related to technological change. During a press conference being held after the meeting, the Minister of Education and Science of Sweden, one of the Vice-Chairs of the CSTP, stressed the crucial importance of public confidence into science and research. He declared that ministers had agreed on the principles of openness and transparency as prerequisites of public confidence. At the same time he pointed out that OECD should promote the implementation of a dialogue on technological change involving all groups of stakeholders. According to the final conclusions of the meeting ministers agreed that the CSTP of the OECD “should play an important role in identifying best practices to foster such an interaction among the different stakeholders”. 
 

Assessment of the CSTP Ministerial Meeting  

16. During the meeting ministers discussed first, as suggested, both the need and the opportunities to promote innovation in order to contribute to sustainable development and new employment opportunities. They agreed that “significant effort should be devoted to scientific research on technologies for sustainable growth that can contribute to solving global scale issues in areas such as environment, health, food production and energy supply”. 

17. With regard to the achievement of a higher eco-efficiency ministers showed a greater openness towards a market-oriented approach. In line with the mainstream in economics they stressed the importance of institutional, regulatory and fiscal framework conditions to promote innovative and entrepreneurial behaviour, the removal of obstacles to collaborative research and networking, and improved access to venture capital and long term financing. 

18. Ministers did not take into account explicitly the positive experience related to demand-pull approaches of the promotion eco-efficient technologies triggered off by changes of the regulatory framework. Moreover, they did not consider that a high degree of external flexibility would hamper both the implementation of high performance work systems and the acquisition of new skills and competencies. Instead, they repeated calls for better functioning labour markets and an increased mobility of workers as prerequisite of an improvement in innovation capacities as well as its translation into the creation of more and better jobs. 

19. With regard to the promotion of innovation ministers recommended that future work of the CSTP should give particular emphasis to: 

- enhancing its ability to track, measure and understand changes in national S&T and innovation capabilities, and their impact on economic performance and employment, notably in service activities; 

- benchmarking and identification of best policy practices concerning industry-science relationships and the development of research-based spin-offs; 

- ensuring an effective contribution to the OECD horizontal project on Sustainable Development; 

- assessing practices aimed at a better involvement of civil society in policy making pertaining to the exploitation and diffusion of new technologies; reviewing the role that social sciences can play in this regard and, more generally, in policy assessment and formulation. 

20. The second part of the meeting was devoted to the discussion of responses of S&T Policies to globalisation. Ministers recognised the need to embed national S&T policies directly into an international perspective so as to increase the capacity of economies to access and exploit the results of global scientific and technological activity. Moreover, they expressed support for measures to facilitate international co-operation among firms at the pre-competitive stage and ease international mobility of S&T personnel while taking due account of possible adverse effects concerning the brain drain. 

21. Ministers expressed their appreciation for the accomplishments of the Megascience Forum and they welcomed the decision to create a new “OECD Global Science Forum” to succeed the Megascience Forum. Since 1992, the Megascience Forum has provided a venue for regular consultations about Big Science among senior science policy officials. It has delivered practical and action orientated recommendations for co-operation in the fields of big scientific projects. 

22. The new forum will bring together twice a year government science policy officials, directors of laboratories and professionals responsible for the management and development of new scientific projects and programmes. All will be involved in decisions that require international co-operation to advance better planning and funding of crucial scientific infrastructure which requires more than one country to fund it. The Forum will seek to identify and to exploit opportunities for strengthening the global research infrastructure (site facilities such as new neutron sources, instruments such as new telescopes or drilling exploration vessels, databases such as those which contain material on Biodiversity resources, as well as research and education networks and programmes). The Forum will seek to promote the sharing and more rational use of existing or new resources among participating members. 

23. After a controversial debate during the preparation of the ministerial meeting and in the light of the G8 discussion Ministers agreed to endorse efforts by interested countries and encouraged initiatives aimed at establishing an international co-ordinating body that would implement a Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The purpose of GBIF is to co-ordinate the standardisation, digitisation and global dissemination (within an appropriate property rights framework) of the world's biodiversity data. The importance of such a facility in the areas of health, resource management, environmental protection, agriculture and education was acknowledged by the Ministers. They also welcomed the efforts of several countries to undertake preparatory work necessary for the establishment of GBIF by mid-2000. 

24. During the final part of their meeting Ministers discussed ways to adapt the regulatory environment to the needs of scientific and technological progress. Obviously they shared the view that some regulatory provisions would limit the contribution of S&T to economic growth and sustainable development by hampering scientific advances and the generation and commercial exploitation of new technologies. Therefore, Ministers called for an appropriate regulatory reform to unleash innovative capacity by encouraging innovative behaviour and the diffusion of knowledge. But they noted too, that new regulatory frameworks need to take account of social and environmental policy objectives, promote diversity of technological choices and command public understanding and confidence. According to Ministers the latter is particularly the case in areas of rapid change such as the application of biotechnology to health and agriculture. 
 

Conclusions and follow-up 

25. Ongoing debates about the information society and the knowledge-based economy are characterised by a lack of a social dimension. Many contributions made are still based on economic as well as technological determinism. With regard to the limits of markets the fact cannot be overlooked that civil society needs realms of political rights protected from the market. A knowledge-based economy cannot be based on the superiority of free markets and on technological determinism. 

26. The rejection of technological determinism and the recognition of the social aspects of new technology have important consequences. They make it obvious, that policies to promote the widespread use of new technology “cannot and should not be limited to the economic integration of technological change”, as a High Level Expert Group of the European Commission has put it in a recent policy report. Accordingly, all aspects of a broader social integration of technological change must be included in S&T Policies. The development and use of new technology, technological change as a whole, must be considered as a social process. 

27. With regard to the process of globalisation, trade unions are concerned that policy attention related to new technology has mostly focused on liberalisation of markets for products and services based on new technology as well as on ensuring competition. Little attention was given to establishing, and enforcing a set of common social standards. This must be overcome. 

28. Recent developments within national systems of innovations are indicating that by many public and private actors in charge of the promotion of science and research, of education and training as of innovation, expenditures related to the generation, accumulation and application of new knowledge are simply being perceived as costs. Expenditures related to these activities are hardly considered as strategic investments and contributions to existing assets. This perception is guided by the idea, that competitiveness is determined by the evolution of costs, in particular by wage costs. This assumption does not hold true. 

29. What are needed are new ways to measure competitiveness which reflect the idea that competitiveness is not synonymous with competition for market share. An up-to-date and compelling concept of competitiveness should not only refer to the capacity of business enterprises to produce goods and services which respond to the demands of international markets, it must at the same time refer to the demands of workers and citizens to enjoy an improving standard of living. 

30. The promotion of so-called “intangible investments”, education and vocational training as well as the enhancement of skills, the redesign of traditional taylorist forms of work organisation, the introduction of team work must become a characteristic mark of Science and Technology Policy. Extended S&T policy approaches must be accompanied by efforts to upgrade skills and competencies of both the workforce and companies. Skills and knowledge must be recognised as important assets of both companies and societies.   

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