Germany’s sweeping innovation strategy is ‘ministerial wish list’

Flying taxis indicative of a free-for-all, say critics, who see a half-baked attempt at a whole-government approach

February 20, 2023
Source: iStock

An attempt to rally Germany’s federal ministries around a futuristic innovation strategy has had a lukewarm reception from sector leaders, who say the “how” is missing.

The country’s Future Strategy for Research and Innovation, designed to organise the work of ministries around six societal missions, was unveiled this month after lengthy internal and external consultations.

Led by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, it aims to link up government work on health, environmental sustainability, space, digitisation and social resilience and a circular economy. It swerves from such grand missions to 190 very specific research and innovation goals – including intensifying work on flying taxis.

“There are many beautiful phrases about a holistic approach to innovation. However, how this is actually to be implemented, how research at universities and scientific institutions is to be addressed and integrated, remains an open question,” said Dorothee Dzwonnek, who spent more than a decade as secretary general of the German Research Foundation, the nation’s main public research funder.

Uwe Cantner, professor of economics at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, who chairs the federal government’s committee for research and innovation, said the 86-page strategy was “incomplete”.

“I wouldn’t say it’s completely wrong, that would be totally unfair, but it’s only half the way and the essential parts: the governance structure and the operationalisation of the strategy – road maps, milestones, evaluation procedures – are missing,” he added.

Professor Cantner favoured the approach of Japan and South Korea, which pursue their own strategies through “science councils” of relevant ministries, led by the prime minister. “You need a council at the level of the chancellor where the big strategies with respect to missions and key technologies are coordinated and contracted on,” he said.

The German Rectors’ Conference spokesman said the text was a “good point of departure” for discussion of how universities can drive research and innovation. “We are looking forward to the upcoming discussions on how policymakers intend to promote this in a target-oriented manner,” he added.


Print headline: German strategy for innovation is ‘incomplete’

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