OECD Science and Technology Policy Ministerial

Parallel break-out sessions concluding remarks

Apr 23, 2024 | 1:50 PM - 2:30 PM


Key issues

Achieving sustainability transitions requires sharing information, aligning plans toward common goals and implementing joint actions extending well beyond the science, technology, and innovation (STI) area and between different levels of government. For instance, developing and deploying clean hydrogen on a large scale – vital for meeting net-zero goals in transportation and industry – demands coherent interventions and possibly cooperation of national and subnational authorities in charge of research and innovation (advanced technologies), infrastructure (distribution and storage of hydrogen), education (skills of electrolysers’ engineers), transport and industry (regulations and incentives).

However, many silos exist in most countries between organisations pertaining to different policy sectors and disciplines. While specialisation and the resulting fragmentation have enabled the efficient management of individual components of complex systems, it limits the ability of governments to agree on common agendas, pool resources, and undertake the needed collective actions to realise them. To overcome this challenge, enhanced coordination is crucial not only between research and innovation policies in various sectors but also between these policies and other policy areas, such as skills, tax and welfare policies. Furthermore, as new generations of greener technologies become available, the scope of coordination needs to also encompass instruments and incentives for scale-up and deployment (including regulations and price-based mechanisms to encourage investing in low-carbon technologies).

While decentralisation of STI and industrial policies is not new, the growing importance of experimentation, demonstration, scale up and deployment of new technologies gives a more prominent role to regional, local and city authorities in sustainability transitions. In connection to national authorities, they are particularly well equipped to mobilise the relevant ecosystems of public and private actors and support their activities in agile ways. This is especially true in federal countries but is increasingly critical in all countries, regardless of their governance structure. Despite efforts to ensure synergies across levels of government, several administrative and political barriers exist between them. In Europe, the process of decentralisation and devolution to lower political and administrative levels has been concurrent with a shift of research and innovation policies from the national to the EU level, making multi-level coordination even more challenging. As regions are also moving from policies focused on knowledge transfer, clusters and commercialisation towards more systemic policies to address specific challenges, this runs the risk of multiplication of ecosystem or mission-based policies at different levels, addressing related challenges.    

Various governance arrangements have emerged over the years to improve the overall coherence of policies, programs and instruments across government departments and agencies beyond the STI area and across different levels of government to support sustainability transitions. These include, for instance, shared national visions, roadmaps, transition funds, joint programming initiatives, strategic oversight, and coordination by high-level cross-departmental committees and the centre of government. Various types of Mission Oriented Innovation Policies (MOIPs) involving national and local authorities are also experimented in different countries and areas to address complex societal challenges that are beyond the reach of any individual policies.  

However, cross-government and multi-level coordination initiatives encounter numerous challenges. Notably, they can blur lines of leadership and accountability among various organisations within institutional contexts and funding frameworks that often do not readily embrace shared power. Additionally, negotiations and interactions between these partners across borders and at different levels of governance tend to amplify the complexity and transaction costs associated with policy-making. Finally, securing high-level political leadership - essential for ensuring the necessary legitimacy and support for a proactive whole-of-government approach that spans policy sectors and government levels - often proves challenging in the medium to long term due to election cycles.