|National debates often discuss pressing societal challenges and how they are being address, with climate change being the most prominent topic.|
|Mission-oriented innovation policy is emerging as a popular methodology for countries to tackle these challenges.|
|The theme most frequently addressed by policy initiatives is the promotion of an STI culture, e.g. awareness campaigns (e.g. mass-media communications, open days and big events) and initiatives prompting participatory learning techniques.|
|More policies address public research organisations than any other target group, as governments aim to direct their research activities towards addressing societal challenges.|
|Countries primarily use national strategies to structure and align activities of public bodies, STI system actors and policy initiatives in addressing societal challenges, e.g. through priority setting.|
In their response to the 2019 EC-OECD STIP survey, countries described their main policy debates around government support to research and innovation for society (see Annex A for the raw data). In their responses, governments highlight a range of societal challenges including ageing populations, health, energy security and social inclusion. In several occasions, national strategies, agendas and plans emphasise a specific challenge that is considered critical to the national context. Korea, for example, projects that 10 million inhabitants will be over 65 by 2025. In parallel to social welfare policies aiming to reverse the declining birth rate, STI policies will promote innovation for high-quality senior care and health services.
Societal challenges are often pioritised through national strategies, agendas and plans. Norway, for instance, introduced "Blue opportunities", a dedicated strategy for the maritime sector, promoting an international framework for sustainable ocean management. As a path towards reducing carbon emissions, Hungary adopted a dedicated e-mobility plan (known as Jedlik Ányos) supporting R&D and innovation activities related to the production of e-vehicles. Poland's Strategy for Responsible Development aims to foster inclusive growth for all, while also increasing social, economic, environmental and territorial cohesion. National strategies addressing societal challenges are often framed by the United Nation's 2030 Agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Belgium's Vizier 2030 strategy (Flanders authority), Brazil's Social Development Strategy, Spain's 2021-2027 STI Strategy and Canada's 2030 Agenda, among others, have been explicitly designed to address SDGs.
In several instances, the UN 2030 agenda also frames activities of key horizontal coordination that foster multi-stakeholder engagement. The Greek Economic and Social Council, for example, led consultations across major stakeholders and social partners to determine the SDGs the country should prioritise. When it comes to incorporating SDGs in STI policy, Portugal, Japan, France and Germany report flagship initiatives that involve various actors, including from the public research sector, industry, citizens and policy makers.
Addressing climate change is the challenge that gathers most attention among country responses. Through its “Green Deal for Europe”, the European Union established a roadmap for making its economy sustainable and carbon neutral by 2050. Aligning to this commitment and also the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, several EU countries have introduced national strategies tackling climate change with a 2030 time horizon, including Ireland, Slovenia and Spain. Austria set up an intra-ministerial working group on climate change and resource scarcity, with a particular emphasis on the future global energy supply. The Netherlands reformed the Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2017, adding 'and Climate Policy' to its name.
Some countries tackle climate change and environmental sustainability through strategies dedicated to the bioeconomy sector, which covers the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. Costa Rica, for instance, adopted a Bioeconomy National Strategy, a joint effort between four Ministries as a means towards sustainability that aims to reconcile objectives of productive development, environmental protection and the sustainable use of biological resources. Ireland's National Policy Statement on the Bioeconomy recognises its crucial role for sustainability while also providing an impetus to rural and regional development and employment. In Thailand, a Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economic Model is being promoted by the government as a new economic model for inclusive and sustainable growth.
Mission-oriented innovation policy is emerging as a popular methodology for countries to tackle societal challenges. In the Netherlands, for example, many of the SDGs were incorporated in 2019 into the mission-oriented Topsectors programmes around agriculture, water, food, health, security, clean energy, transport, and circular economy. Turkey's mission-oriented Call Planning for 2019-2020 prioritises technologies enabling advancements in SDGs in energy and food sectors, notably: renewable energy technologies, low carbon technologies, food biotechnology and food production and processing technologies. Australia is currently assessing the potential to implement a missions-based approach to policies addressing societal challenges.
Some countries report ethical concerns around emerging technologies. New Zealand, for example, is considering reforming its regulations to give scientists greater flexibility and freedom in their use of gene editing technology. However, officials recognise that gene editing technologies also have the potential to be unsafe and pose biosecurity risks. In Australia, there are concerns on the possible disruptions caused by innovation, particularly adverse effects on certain individuals and communities, e.g. resulting in existing job being displaced and existing businesses becoming unprofitable. To monitor such concerns, the United Kingdom's Public Attitudes to Science survey produces useful evidence of the public's level of comfort with particular technologies and the overall pace of technological change.
Figure 1 displays the number of policies for each theme within the research and innovation for society policy area. The theme with the largest number of reported initiatives is Science, technology and innovation culture, including awareness campaigns (e.g. mass-media communications, open days and big events), initiatives promoting participatory learning techniques, major revisions of educational curricula and innovation prizes and contests. After this theme comes Research and innovation for society strategy, which gathers national agendas seeking to improve societal wellbeing and cohesion, and Multi-stakeholder engagement, containing initiatives aimed at orienting research and innovation activities towards societal issues and ensuring that their benefits are broadly shared across society. The fourth, least often addressed theme by policies in the database in this area, is Research and innovation for developing countries, which includes international technology transfer schemes, cooperative and joint research and innovation programmes, and initiatives to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals through research and innovation, among others.
The largest numbers of initiatives in this policy area are targeted towards Higher education institutes (Figure 2), aiming to support their efforts in addressing societal challenges. Initiatives targeted at Public research institutes also aim to incite them to contribute towards these challenges. Many initiatives aim to benefit Civil society as a whole, and thus this target group displays a relatively high number of initiatives in the Figure compared to other policy areas. A large number of initiatives target Established researchers, Postdocs and other early-career researchers and PhD students. The National government also displays a large number of policy initiatives, related to a high number of strategies, agendas an plans reported in this policy area. Policies also frequently engage Firms,, e.g. seeking to involve the business sector in addressing societal challenges.