Earlier this week, ASTRA (the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America) released its report – Riding the Rising Tide: A 21st Century Strategy for U.S. Competitiveness and Prosperity. The report is really a call for the various Presidential campaigns to take the issue of competitiveness seriously. It echoes and builds upon the now familiar concern about the lack of an innovation strategy in the US. The ASTRA report offers a 14 point plan:
1. BALANCE DEFENSE/CIVILIAN SHARE OF FEDERAL R&D PORTFOLIO
2. INCREASE FEDERAL FUNDING FOR PHYSICAL SCIENCES AND ENGINEERING RESEARCH
The Congress and the Administration should fulfill the physical sciences and engineering R&D commitments made in the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). However, to ensure that funding expands beyond increases in inflation, the timetable for these investments should be accelerated. In addition, investment should be increased beyond the ACI recipient agencies.
3. INCREASE AND STABILIZE FUNDING FOR APPLIED RESEARCH
The Federal government should increase and stabilize funding for applied research and advancing promising, high-risk technologies with substantial economic potential to bring them to a stage of maturity that is attractive for private sector investment. This includes funding for the new Technology Innovation Program (TIP) and other programs that meet this objective.
In addition, the approach to SBIR funding should be reviewed to determine how this program could maximize its ability to contribute to the U.S. innovation base.
4. FOCUS R&D ON LEADING EDGE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
A large share of Federal R&D investment should focus on the leading edge of science and technology, especially in fields expected to have revolutionary impacts, such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and high-performance computing.
5. INCREASE R&D TO SUPPORT GROWING SERVICES SECTOR
The Federal government should increase R&D to support the U.S. service economy, including support for services innovation, productivity, efficiency, competitiveness, and technical workforce development.
6. INCREASE FOCUS ON INTERDISCIPLINARY AND MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RESEARCH, NEW FORMS OF COLLABORATION, AND NURTURING INNOVATIVE CAPACITY IN GEOGRAPHIC REGIONS WHERE INNOVATIVE CAPACITY EXISTS BUT IS UNDER-USED
While investigator-driven research remains the cornerstone of Federally-supported academic R&D, the Federal government should increase attention to emerging opportunities for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, including a focus on centers of research excellence where rapid development of innovations requires this type of collaboration. This includes reaching out to academic institutions in geographic regions in which the potential for innovative capacity exists—such as high quality research and researchers—but needs further nurturing.
7. PROVIDE INCENTIVES FOR BENEFITS OF FEDERAL R&D TO BE CAPTURED WITHIN THE U.S.
To ensure that the US. reaps the benefits of Federal R&D investments, the Federal government should examine what incentives can be put in place to enable adequate returns from public R&D to be captured domestically For example, the U.S. should consider devoting a small part of the Federal research portfolio to investments in applied research,
technology prototyping, demonstration, testing, pilot-scale production and other precompetitive activities to increase the likelihood of eventual commercialization on our shores.
8. EXAMINE ADEQUACY OF U.S. SKILLS FOR INNOVATION ECONOMY
The U.S. needs to examine whether prevailing skill levels are adequate for an innovation based economy, and for our success in the growing global “trade in tasks” in which routine knowledge work is easy to ship offshore.
9. IMPROVE STATISTICAL AND CAREER INFORMATION ABOUT THE U.S. SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND ENGINEERING WORKFORCE
The U.S. should provide better and more detailed information on the nation’s need for scientists, engineers and information technology workers. The National Science Foundation should: encourage employers to better articulate their current and prospective STEM workforce needs, and the types of skills and disciplines needed; ensure students and workers understand what these specific skills and disciplines are; as well as encourage a significant shortening of the feedback loop between employers and their needs, and the responses by education and training institutions. This includes providing career information and nurturing to groups underrepresented in STEM—such as minorities and women—to increase their knowledge of opportunities in STEM education and careers.
10. IMPROVE HIGHER EDUCATION FOR SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS BY FOCUSING ON GLOBAL AND CULTURAL AWARENESS, COMMUNICATIONS, BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT SKILLS
The Federal government should encourage university educators to broaden the skill sets of U.S. scientists, engineers and information technology workers. University educators should ensure that scientists, engineers and IT professionals have: global and cultural awareness;
knowledge that helps them understand business, markets, marketing and customers; the ability to work as a member of and communicate effectively in teams of diverse disciplines; some understanding of business finance such as cost-benefit and return on investment concerns; as well as project management abilities.
11. STRENGTHEN EFFORTS TO ATTRACT TOP FOREIGN STUDENTS AND STEM PROFESSIONALS TO THE U.S.; REMOVE BARRIERS TO IMMIGRATION OF TALENT
The U.S. should strengthen efforts to attract top foreign students and PH.D.-level professionals in science, engineering and technology. This includes developing a national strategic plan for recruiting top international students, scientists, engineers and technologists, and evaluating the U.S. immigration system to remove barriers to these talented individuals migrating to the U.S.
12. PERFORM WHITE HOUSE REVIEW OF LAWS, REGULATIONS AND POLICIES; ADDRESS INHIBITORS TO INNOVATION
The next President should launch a White House level initiative to perform a comprehensive review of U.S. laws and regulations relating to the business climate for innovation. This would include regulations promoting human health and safety, standards for environmental protection, as well as tax, trade and antitrust policies, to determine whether changes are needed to meet the nation’s public policy goals while, at the same time, promoting innovation and competitiveness.
13. DEVELOP A MEANINGFUL SET OF INNOVATION INDICATORS TO GUIDE U.S. INNOVATION POLICY AND STRATEGY
The Federal government should lead efforts to determine where the priorities are, and to begin the process of developing some high level indicators around the key drivers of innovation that are known and recognized.
14. CREATE, AND PROVIDE ADEQUATE SUPPORT FOR, BETTER GOVERNMENT ANALYSIS OF U.S. AND FOREIGN INNOVATION SYSTEMS
The U.S. must create—and provide meaningful financial resources to—institutions within the Federal government capable of performing high quality analysis of U.S. and foreign innovation systems, and formulating a Federal innovation policy and investment agenda commensurate with the new economic realities and 21st century competitiveness challenges.
What I especially like about these points is that they incorporate but go beyond the current calls for more R&D funding and more attention to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. For example, the report discusses the range of innovation relevant skills needed in the US economy and highlights the need for STEM workers to have a broad skills set.
The last three recommendations are of particular interest to me. The report calls for greater efforts to understand the innovation ecosystem. We need to understand that the nature of innovations has changed in the I-Cubed Economy. It is no longer a linear process that begins with men in white coats in labs. Innovation is a complex set of interactions — truly an ecosystem. By calling for better measures, increased analytical capabilities and new ways of thinking about innovation, the report sets a direction for innovation policy.
Now if the policymakers will only follow ASTRA’s lead.