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Innovation – National System of Innovation

In the previous articles I reviewed the concept of open innovation and highlighted the benefits and challenges of this form of innovation. Another innovation concept that deserves attention is the National System of Innovation (NSI, also sometimes called a National Innovation System).  Wikipedia defines it as “the flow of technology and information among people, enterprises and institutions which is key to the innovative process on the national level”.
Let me first take a step back and explain how the concept has evolved. Innovation is a concept that has been studied by scholars and applied by change agencies since before World War 2, that is approximately 70 years ago. During the 1960s the concept gained in popularity as one that could be used in fields as diverse as the adoption of new medical procedures and the diffusion of new farming practices by traditional farmers in isolated communities. However, it was not until the 1980s that the concept became of key importance in describing and understanding the dynamics and influence of science and technology on society. One of the reasons why the concept took root so well in the scientific, political and bureaucratic environments is the observation that it is outcomes orientated – innovation is the process that entails the actual concretisation of knowledge and can therefore be better managed and audited.
It was but a small step from the dynamics of the innovation process to systems thinking and the emergence of the National Systems of Innovation model. According to innovation system theory, innovation and technology development are results of a complex set of relationships among actors in the system, which includes enterprises, universities and government research institutes, referred to as the “triple helix” in a NSI context.
 National Systems of Innovation
You can imagine from the above explanations the complexities and intricacies involved to realise value on a national level from the NSI. So how do nations achieve this? Most countries of the world have implicitly or explicitly adopted the notion of a National System of Innovation in their governing and managing science and technology in their countries. However, this transformation of a science and technology system to an innovation system is fraught with potential pitfalls since the concept of innovation is in principle cross-sectoral in nature and as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development somewhere observed, governments are not always that adapt to governing functions that cut across different ministries. Three strategies often used to address this problem are to develop a dedicated innovation policy (e.g. in the form of a white paper, supporting strategies, institutions and programmes), or to establish a high level policy advisory body preferably reporting to the head of state or prime minister, or to opt for a combination of these.
Closer to home, the Namibian government has opted to start the process by developing a framework policy on innovation that, if fully implemented, would help transform the country into a knowledge-driven society. Important in this regard is the fact that this process is the outcome of a national strategic plan. The framework policy on innovation should therefore right from the start be systemically embedded in the national vision, mission, objectives and priorities. I was actively part of the process of drafting the framework policy and I am eagerly looking forward to progress  in Namibia’s NSI.
Next Time
This will be the last article for this year. I wish all the readers a blessed Christmas and please remember to make a New Year’s resolution to be (even) more creative and innovative in 2013! I will kick off the New Year with some innovative inspiration to help readers to achieve this objective. The final quote for 2012 comes from Bill Gates: “Governments will always play a huge part in solving big problems. They set public policy and are uniquely able to provide the resources to make sure solutions reach everyone who needs them. They also fund basic research, which is a crucial component of the innovation that improves life for everyone”.

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