The argument for a National Innovation Institute

Further to my last blog post on a need for a National Ministry of Innovation, I’d like to expand on this further as I’m presently here in Singapore and feel this is even more topical.

Always Singapore provides you with a positive impression when it comes to development. It is a country that consistently experiments and explores its options to grow its economy. Innovation is within this mix but I still think it should be more central, visible and coordinated to extract that little ‘extra juice’ often needed today.

Visiting Singapore on this trip I’ve been examining where innovation ‘fits’, and there are plenty of examples of experimentation backed up by investment seed money, but for me, innovation still lacks a certain coherency and consistency of purpose within policy. I feel with the changing nature of innovation and its increasing value creation aspect it does need to be given a greater sense of attention, so further investments can build innovation deeper into the fabric of society. A national innovation body can bring this coherency of purpose that Singapore strives for.

I have championed for a number of years this need for a clearer National Innovation Strategy to deepen and support all the different activities needed to be ‘housed’ within Singapore. It is at this national level you achieve a greater match between supply-side inputs and the demand side by understanding the roles played by all the parties. You can’t afford any form of hands-off approach today; you need a strong strategic focus on the roles and policies for the delivery of that innovative society that is needed to compete effectively in today’s world.

A national innovation policy structure can go well beyond a conventional set of prescriptions. Where? It can provide for a greater intensity in:

  • Channelling R&D into specific technology and industry challenges.
  • Clarifying what is around the world that is missing that needs to be brought into Singapore in nascent technologies etc, so as to support what has already been drawn in, thus anchoring the value of what is produced in Singapore.
  • A national policy allows for more comprehensive ‘roadmaps’ in key industries and research to be understood and the gaps narrowed.
  • The more focused funding of sector-based industry-university-government research partnerships that met this National innovation policy.
  • You achieve a more robust approach to clustering that has a broader regional need.
  • You create deeper knowledge to the methods, processes, approaches and techniques needed for innovation.
  • You add further impetus to where private sectors needs to adopt and where public sector needs to support.
  • You speed up the rate of knowledge transfer between the players with a more coordinated agenda.
  • A national policy gives fresh emphasis on the tax code to spur innovation and where to invest and can help to shape future trade policy in its championing.
  • Lastly you develop clearer ways to measure often those elusive innovation metrics that provide the justification on return on investments by the parties involved.

For me a National Innovation agenda, driven by a clearly identified body, helps in driving national and global solutions through coordinating innovation. It builds up the ongoing knowledge of innovation in its evolving process and allows for greater monitoring, peer review and the build up of good policy practices that stimulate the growth within the economy.

I’d just like to see innovation having this greater recognition of its role for society within Singapore. Having innovation as more central in policy decisions, recognised and seen would add further momentum to all the present good work invested in innovation activity. It connects and strengthens the dots that are already established. I still think it’s the way forward for providing Singapore an even more competitive edge .


A Need for a Ministry of Innovation

I am presently busy preparing for a visit to Singapore. I balance my time between Switzerland and Singapore as my business base and as they are ranked 1 & 3 in the WEF’s Global Competitive Index, it is sometimes hard to get an even deeper attention to innovation as this sort of ranking gives a certain belief, yet I often wonder why. I think countries often get blindsided in the pursuit of what they know and ignore what they seemingly can’t capture.

Let me be perfectly clear both countries I operate between, take competitiveness seriously; they both have a real need to maintain their attraction to foreign investment for their prosperity, as they have limited resources to call upon if you compare them to the USA, China, India or Germany for example, and do set about creating the right environment for this but they have their blind sides it seems to me still.

The GCI index

Firstly let me explain the GCI. The World Economic Forum defines competitiveness as the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country. Its latest report can be viewed here

The GCI covers three main areas (Basic Requirements, Efficiency Enhancers, and Innovation and Sophistication) among a total of 12 pillars against which competitiveness is measured. The twelfth pillar is innovation. There are a number of measurable ‘hard’ data indicators (e.g. broadband internet subscribers, mortality, infrastructure etc) and a number of ‘soft’ data indicators which are partly taken from the Executive Opinion Survey within these 12 pillars. There is also a weightings of these factors depend on the stage of development of the country.

Needing a deeper attention to innovation still in both

One of the arguments of the recent WEF report is simply: “In the long run, standards of living can be expanded only with innovation”, now that is music to my ears as this is my 100% focus! The report offers this further thought “Firms in these countries must design and develop cutting-edge products and processes to maintain a competitive edge. This requires an environment that is conducive to innovative activity, supported by both the public and the private sectors”

One of the things you always need to look hard at is the factors that drive the ranking and these are sometimes not as ‘focused’ on the innovation activity as we sometimes think. Each country has to dig a little deeper in this innovation pillar to maintain its ranking is how I see it. Let me explain where:


IP protection clearly plays a critical part in the Swiss attraction and in their emphasis on the technology and R&D competencies does seem to dominate the thinking for Swiss innovation.  R&D institutions in Switzerland are without doubt among the best; they also do try and create a good collaborative environment between the different parties. Where I feel it often misses out is in the softer, value enhancing aspects of service and design within innovation and working more closely with small and medium sized organisations. They make up the economic engine of Switzerland but are not given the innovation recognition and support they deserve.  Partly the reason for this is that innovation design and service is often difficult to capture in economic terms but its growing  part in Swiss economic activity needs to be captured more, it needs to be seen. It deserves a more thoughtful policy approach as service and design will make up an increasing source of productivity in the years to come.


In Singapore they are certainly far more ‘highly’ entrepreneurial and well coordinated in there management of creative innovation to attract foreign investment. There is a dedicated focus on what brings economic activity into Singapore. Their Economic Development Board (EDB) is a formidable extension of total Government commitment to competitiveness and inward attraction. When they decide on a focus, they put the required resource and commitment to it but sometimes I feel, they are ‘reacting’ and keeping pace with global changes but often innovation does not seem to be deepened enough as they continually move on. A broader value of innovation and all its different parts needs more adoption appreciation and understanding. As a country it must be the most ‘wired’ society around, it has a very involved and dynamic public sector engaged with society in general, yet it often seems to pull away from the final closure, that deepening of its innovation capability and bridging those gaps. It seems to sustain through change and not through sustainability of innovation.

A deeper recognition is needed.

Innovation needs more recognition and increased emphasis, not just in these two countries that I chose to operate within, but for all others that surround them that have the same equal need to grow their economies after this recent set of tough economic times. Innovation needs a more dedicated resource. For me this should be a move towards a Ministry of Innovation.

Innovation is far too important not to be well understood, not just to have a dedication policy unit but an ongoing deepening resource that has a ongoing understanding of the broad and deep needs innovation requires to contribute to our economic wealth.  Of course each country will focus on selected areas but it can miss out significantly if it does not evaluate across the entire spectrum that makes up innovation activity and that calls for a different approach in the future, a more holistic one, less opportunistic.

More on this will follow, as I believe innovation shapes our futures and countries need to deepen their understanding of it to thrive. At present I need to get back to my plans for my trip to Singapore. It is  a place that is always changing.