The impact of Covid‐19 on innovation policies promoting Open Innovation


The analysis confirms that during the Covid-19 emergency, there is a more intense use of innovation policies promoting OI by governments. This finding aligns with the point made by previous scholars (e.g., George et al., 2015; Gascò, 2017). During these emergency periods, and even more urgently with Covid-19, innovative solutions need to be developed and deployed quickly, and this forces governments to push different actors to collaborate more intensively.

5.1 How did innovation policy strategies change during Covid-19?

Numerically, by comparing the distribution in the matrices in Figures 1 and 2, the number of countries making higher use of innovation policies promoting OI (conservative OI promoters and collaborators) increases from 18 (40%) to 24 (54.5%). In all 24 countries, a common characteristic is the presence of instruments to establish formal governance of innovation during Covid-19, with the responsibility assigned to specific departments (e.g., Education, Science, and Research Ministry in Austria), or to ‘ad-hoc’ task forces (like the ‘Research and innovation for preventing Coronavirus in Europe’ group in Portugal).

Only 10 countries did not experience any cluster change; of these, 4 were already characterized by their intense use of innovation policies promoting OI (Czech Republic, Germany, Korea, Russian Federation). In Germany, there have been multiple hackathons to stimulate innovative responses,1 paired with several open calls and challenges from the German Research Foundation for interdisciplinary research into epidemics and pandemics.2 In Russia, several measures were implemented to support SME research and development, both in terms of direct and indirect financial support.3

During the Covid-19 crisis, 4 countries (Columbia, India, Austria, and Costa Rica) completely revolutionize their approach to innovation policies with external organizations. On the one hand, Colombia and India moved from being collaborators to centralizers, thus decreasing the use of both aspects. On the other, Austria and Costa Rica experienced the opposite path, adopting the collaborators strategy. These countries are well-known in the news for several important innovation efforts. In Austria, an Epidemiological Reporting System4 which consolidates testing results and thus provides real-time information about the extent of the pandemic in the country was launched (and replicated in other European countries), while the City of Vienna has created a ‘Homecare’ app to support patients and potentially infected to be digitally monitored in their homes.5 Costa Rica was often referred to by the media as a country that is providing an unprecedented innovation effort during the Covid-19 period, especially noting the effective collaboration between public and private sectors.6

6 other countries (Chile, China, Slovenia, Japan, Luxembourg, and United States) experienced a decrease in the use of innovation policies with external organizations promoting OI (thus ending up in the collaborative supporters strategy quadrant).

Chile, China, and Slovenia decrease the promotion of OI in their policies but kept a high use of innovation policies with external organizations. Instead, Japan, Luxembourg, and United States decreased the use of policies promoting OI but increased the relative amount of innovation policies with external organizations. These countries focused their response more on the definition of an innovation governance in response to the emergency and more regulatory aspects. In China, efforts were made to introduce procedural and process innovations, to make procurement processes more flexible, and to support innovation in SMEs.7 This does not suggest that remarkable OI policies were not present in these countries. In the United States, the US National Institutes of Health launched a US$500m challenge to develop rapid coronavirus testing technologies, as well as an open call for a public-private partnership to develop an international strategy for a coordinated research response to the pandemic with leading biopharmaceutical companies.8

The remaining 12 countries (other than Austria and Costa Rica) were characterized by an increase of policies promoting OI (ending up in the conservative OI supporters strategy quadrant).

In Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Thailand, and United Kingdom, this was made with a relative reduction of the use of innovation policies with external organizations compared to normal times. In Belgium, Estonia, France, and Peru, initial low use of innovation policies with external organizations changed using a more ‘focused effort’. They recognized the value of the engagement with external organizations and focused policies on the most complex (but also with the highest potential return) instruments. Through IT collaborations, the Australian and the UK Governments launched a new application and WhatsApp chat feature to help keep citizens informed about the crisis.9 The Brazilian government developed a specific app for communicating important messages to its citizens.10 The UK Chancellor offered a billion-pound package of support exclusively to firms wishing to research and develop innovative solutions for Covid-19.11 From this fund, further financial support was being offered to rescue technology firms and to ‘Future Fund’ business startups.

For Greece, Iceland, and Portugal, the increase in the use of policies promoting OI happened by maintaining a high use of innovation policies with external organizations (thus moving toward the open collaborators strategy quadrant). The Greek Ministry of Digital Governance issued a ‘Rapid Implementation of Mature Digi-Tech Strategies’ call12 to accelerate the implementation of available technological solutions ready for quick implementation. The National Innovation Agency of Portugal provided reimbursable support and funding13 for the immediate development of relevant innovation projects that can help meet medical needs as well as an R&D incentive for relevant pre-commercial projects. Portugal also issued a call ‘Doctorates 4 COVID-19’ to fund 50 PhD scholarships on research relating to the pandemic14 and defined a mobilization plan to make the shift to working from home for public professionals easier.15

Finally, 11 countries did not modify their use of innovation policies promoting OI. Of these, 5 countries (Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden) have maintained a high use – and decreased or increased the relative use of innovation policies with external organizations (moving from being conservative OI promoters to collaborators, or vice versa).

5.2 The nature and impact of innovation policies with external organizations promoting OI during Covid-19

The analysis confirms that during Covid-19, governments launched innovation policies characterized by an increased use of those promoting OI in response to the emergency, and no particular pattern was found compared with the strategy adopted during normal (pre-Covid) times. In particular, the data confirms the prominent role of an OI approach during emergencies. For most countries, a great percentage of the innovation policies are made of policies that promote OI.

Direct financial support and collaboration infrastructure instruments are the most applied innovation policies for emergency management targeting external organizations. These include creating emergency funds for innovation development, establishing research grants, and creating horizontal collaborations with other countries and organizations. Special attention seems to be given to collaborative infrastructure policies, though data show a decrease in numbers compared to business-as-normal. Four instruments seem to have the most use during Covid-19.

Among the innovation policy instruments promoting OI, our analysis highlights that four, in particular, experienced an increase in use.

The increase in the use of formal consultation of stakeholders or experts is directly connected with the…


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