Plenary Session I:
Technology Acquisition and Knowledge Networks
This first plenary session discussed key questions about the goals and design of science and technology policies to promote diffusion of technologies and knowledge. Among the alternative approaches available, it is important for policymakers to consider whether the allocation of resources will be made primarily on the basis of the scientific excellence of the projects and organizations involved, or with an industrial logic that is focused on specific sectors, clusters, or the type of firms. One of the challenges is making support more responsive to existing and expected industrial needs. Public-private partnerships (e.g., consortia, technology platforms) could allow industrial users of knowledge and technology to influence the modalities and outcomes of collaboration with public research organizations. Technology foresight has proved to be a useful public tool for matching future demand and supply of scientists and engineers, as well as to provide a vision about industrial development that can help private agents to coordinate their technology investments – yet, there are dangers to these exercises, if they are not open to all stakeholders and therefore reach flawed conclusions, or if the results are subsequently used to formulate industrial policies in an effort to counteract market forces.
Plenary Session II:
The Role of Government in Building Absorptive Capacity
This session offered policy recommendations to support knowledge and technology absorption by firms in the ECA region based on an analysis of examples of international best practice as well as survey data sources. The presentations explained why improving the absorptive capability of firms—their ability to tap into the world technology pool—is an important mechanism to increase productivity growth. A multidimensional approach is needed, in view that trade flows, mobility of people, licensing of knowledge, and foreign direct investment are conduits of knowledge absorption, but that adoption also requires a good investment climate, education and not infrequently minimal R&D. The proposals for government action were focused around areas that are critical for completing the transition agenda and where policy levers can have an effect in the short-medium term given the budgetary and political economy situation of ECA countries.
Plenary Session III:
Changing Skill Needs in the Knowledge Economy: the Challenge for Education Programs
This session presented an overview of changing skill needs in the global knowledge economy, and the implications of those changes for education programs. It began with a brief typology of government involvement to make education systems more responsive to changing skill needs, ranging from minimalist approaches to more interventionist approaches. Next, it summarized the key reform issues in vocational education in the new EU member countries. This was followed by a presentation on the “new skills” for which demand is growing most rapidly in the knowledge economy, and the recent experience of OECD education systems in responding to that demand. It concluded with an illustration of how diffusion of a particular new technology is affecting skill requirements in the global knowledge economy.
Plenary Session IV:
Replicating the Cambridge Phenomenon?
The Cambridge Phenomenon, as it has come to be called, likely happened due to a confluence of multiple enabling factors. This session identified the most critical elements, including the presence of quality tertiary education and research institutions, the environment that facilitated entrepreneurship and the spin-off boom, the role the central vs. regional governments played in developing the necessary infrastructure and providing business support services for the growing enterprise sector in the greater Cambridge region. With the objective of transferring relevant lessons to ECA countries, panelists discussed the challenges Cambridge faces today to its competitiveness and efforts being undertaken to address this through comprehensive regional development initiatives.
Plenary Session V:
Technology Adoption - the Investment Climate, Trade and FDI
This plenary session debated the role of macroeconomic conditions economic catch-up that follows different technology-trajectories. Technology adoption is an investment decision from the point of view of firms, and as such is affected by its expected payoff, which will be a function of the overall conditions of the investment climate. This implies that even if firms were to have access to an identical knowledge base, the technologies actually adopted may vary accordingly to the countries’ circumstances – i.e., comparative advantages, country “frictions” that prevent the profitable use of the most productive techniques, underlying structural weaknesses that discourage producers from deploying best-practices. In addition, because the technology adoption process takes place through channels such as trade and FDI, the openness of the economy towards certain countries of the world can be an important macro variable that affects the relative costs and benefits of technology adoption.