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Sustainable partnerships for research and innovation

Collaboration and partnership have made an important contribution to the development – and success – of the Finnish approach to promoting innovation. The priority now is to ensure that new structures and practices are put in place, where appropriate, to help guarantee continued success in the future.
Confederation of Finnish Industries, EK
Innovations and an innovative mind-set are the lifeblood of a knowledge-based society such as Finland. While the country's ability to rank at the top or close to the top of international studies on national innovative potential is an ongoing source of satisfaction, Finland also recognises that it will need to do even more in the future to stay ahead.

A favourable environment conducive to entrepreneurship, access to and the ability to develop effective business know-how, efficient markets, and a market-driven approach to risks are all essential for successful business. Innovations are of key importance, as they give companies long-term competitive advantage, enhanced productivity, and the potential to grow.

The Finnish innovation system has garnered extensive international praise, and ranked very well in numerous international comparisons. Finland's R&D investments relative to gross domestic product, for example, continue to be the second-highest among OECD countries. Providing the right incentives for R&D, international expansion, growth, and entrepreneurship are still major challenges, however.

Making the right choices

Faced with the challenges of ever-tougher international competition, Finnish companies – like many others – need to be on the ball all the time: in terms of things such as deciding which markets they can best operate in, where they should locate their production, which partners they should work with, and how best to secure the physical and intellectual resources they need to develop their businesses.

Many companies have decided to concentrate on their core areas of expertise and shift the focus of their R&D to product and process development, as a result.

As the cost of R&D increases, and as R&D cycles become ever shorter and faster, cooperation between companies and universities, polytechnics, research institutes, as well with other companies and end-users, is emerging as an increasingly integral part of the development of business know-how.

For small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, this type of cooperation offers much greater opportunities for participating in cutting-edge research and innovation than going it alone.

Companies need high-level research

High-level, high-quality research – and the fruits of this research in the shape of new knowledge – is an essential resource for Finnish business, as it forms the basis for new innovations and is a prerequisite for the long-term quality of the innovation system. Cutting-edge research is also essential for maintaining the dynamism of the educational sector and top-level education generally.

Finnish companies that have been prominent innovators have been very active in participating in innovation projects with other organisations, according to Eurostat's Community Innovation Survey. The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) came to a similar conclusion in its World Competitiveness Scoreboard 2006, which indicates that knowledge transfer between Finnish universities and companies is more highly developed than anywhere else.

Continued efforts will be needed, nevertheless, to further develop and deepen this type of cooperation and secure Finland's lead.

New structures and practices

Joint research and development projects represent one of the key avenues for collaboration between companies and research organisations. Commissioned research, sponsored research, expert assistance, and commercialising research results generated in the public sector are also important potential modes of development.

University teaching provided by researchers from the private sector, cooperation in researcher training, researcher mobility, the joint use of equipment and other infrastructure, spin-off companies, and informal networks and other contacts all have their part to play.

Common foresight activities can help to combat the fragmentation of research and innovation activities, and prioritise operations.

A national strategy to create and consolidate internationally competitive Strategic Centres for Science, Technology and Innovation was drawn up under the supervision of the Science and Technology Policy Council of Finland in 2006. The latter is chaired by the Prime Minister and advises government on questions relating to science and technology, and has had a significant role in the development of the Finnish innovation system.

This strategy envisages the establishment of Strategic Centres for Science, Technology and Innovation in fields that will be of key relevance to future areas of competence benefiting business and society as a whole.

Collaboration of this type, involving numerous players, should help make innovation more demand-driven. Closer collaboration also holds out the potential for further improving the ability of the research community to stay at the cutting edge of developments, ensure that the benefits of R&D feed down into society, and generate the type of innovations that increase national competitiveness.

> Janica Ylikarjula
(Published in High Technology Finland )