Looking at a distance most would assume that the Swedish innovation policy would tick all the boxes. On closer inspection it turns out that there is a lot of room for improvements. On Thursday 28 November an OECD’s evaluation of Sweden’s innovation policy was presented at a seminar organized by the Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum (Entreprenörskapsforum). The review, done on request by the Swedish Government can be accessed via this link and covers 270 pages.
Overall Sweden do well on most rankings but the OECD finds that the country lacks a vital and well functioning innovation system which the OECD deems is the key to the future. Without it Swedish companies will find it increasingly difficult to compete in a globalized world.
Sweden’s strengths, according to the OECD, is the strong macro economic position and the institutional framework, together with a high quality of living and an egalitarian society. In addition to that comes a high scientific level and a commendable industrial research with a strong international presence.
The list of weaknesses is longer, in addition to a lack of a national innovation policy, it is a deteriorating education system, with a few exceptions, weak centres of excellence at the Swedish Universities, limited contact between academia and smaller and mid-sized companies. Swedish academic research is loosing in international rankings as measured by the number of quotations in leading publications. Problems with financing of innovation projects, an unclear regional innovation policy and a lack of reviews are also listed.
Overall, as most would expect, Sweden’s is a leading innovation nation, but despite rather than due to the public sector. Or rather, due to what the public sector did decades ago, such as the fruitful cooperation between Ericsson and Televerket in developing telecom infrastructure and technology, and between Asea and Vattenfall for development of power generation technologies, to give a couple of examples.
OECD gives a number of recommendations to the Swedish Government and agencies, which are to be found in the report itself for those interested. To sum up: OECD recommends a prioritization of innovation policy throughout the work of the Swedish Government, an improvement in the cooperation between various Government departments in this area. The establishment of an innovation council, headed by the Prime Minister, similar to what exists in Finland. Extended use of international benchmarking, using a much wider perspective than today. Analyse and define the actors within the Swedish innovation system, concerning rolls and goals with the policies. End the fragmentation of the public sectors financing of the innovation system by merging funds and Government agencies.
To end on a brighter note, the OECD believes it is well within Sweden’s capabilities to have a world leading innovation system. But for this to happen, it has to start at the very top.