President’s editorial: Research results need to be used more effectively

Research-based innovation is key for Swedish exports, our prosperity and our social support systems. We all know this. Rapid technological development and digitalisation are changing the game for industries and requiring them to transform to incorporate more research-based knowledge. Using research results effectively is of utmost importance in this transformation.

The systems that exist today for utilising research results are not perfect, so expectations were high when the outcomes of the government’s innovation support commission were presented last autumn. Proposals were presented on how research from our universities can better and more quickly benefit both the public and private sectors. The report contains many good proposals, but also describes areas where further exploration is needed.

The term “utilisation” can be problematic because we don't have a common definition of it in this context. IVA therefore supports the commission’s proposal to expand the concept and define it in more detail. The common definition needs to include both export-driving discoveries and softer issues such as contributing to positive development in society. But to improve the process it is necessary to follow up and evaluate all forms of utilisation. The way in which objectives are designed is therefore critical as they need to clearly describe the desired effects.

A crucial factor in ensuring that research results and knowledge can reach out and actually be of use is to they surround them with incentives and make sure our universities have a culture that promotes utilisation and commercialisation. As yet, not all of our universities have this. Although not all research is mature enough to be utilised right away, the long-term goal must be for research to generate value for society.

The way in which resources for utilisation/commercialisation of university research results are distributed is also an important factor. I don’t consider the proposal to redirect money from basic funding a solution. Basic funding is there to create a solid foundation for independent research that leads to new knowledge and, over time, to new discoveries and innovations. Universities have a responsibility to identify and present research early on that has the potential to be turned into something of actual use. Earmarked resources for these early phases give universities an incentive to start doing this. Research that achieves good results should of course be rewarded, including in terms of its utilisation/commercialisation. 

The basis for effective utilisation/commercialisation is a combination of cooperation and entrepreneurship. IVA therefore welcomes the commission’s proposal regarding better advice, incubation and investments. Similarly, governance, experience, incentives, commitment and a culture of cooperation and entrepreneurship are factors of utmost importance in making innovation funding a better catalyst for research and value-creation.

Basically I have a positive view of the proposals on national coordination and knowledge dissemination. On the other hand I have my doubts about a national centre for entrepreneurship and a joint financing company. Funding for utilisation/commercialisation of fresh research results must land close to where the researchers and entrepreneurs are, and understanding the universities in question is therefore important. University holding companies and external innovation grants are important in early phases of development.  Venture capital and talent are crucial in turning research-based ideas into innovation and commercialisation. I consider designing formats and structures for this part of the process to be the most important goal in further development of the Swedish innovation system.