Photo: iStock Oleg Gr.

Innovation policy advice

Independent expertise on innovation policy questions

Technological developments can provide solutions to global challenges such as climate change, demographic change and urbanisation whilst at the same time generating growth, value added and employment at a national level. Innovation is thus key to a country’s long-term global competitiveness. Since 2010, acatech has coordinated a dialogue process between government, science, industry and civil society aimed at continuing to strengthen innovation in Germany.

The Innovation Dialogue: Providing expert policy advice to the Federal Government

acatech provides independent expert advice on innovation policy issues through the Innovation Dialogue between the Federal Government, industry and science. The dialogue comprises twice-yearly technical discussions between the German Chancellor, the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, the Federal Minister of Education and Research and the head of the Federal Chancellery and 16 representatives of science, industry and civil society. Each meeting focuses on one particular strategic innovation policy issue.

The basis for the discussions is provided by a policy paper that brings together the results of a broad-based stakeholder dialogue with experts from acatech’s network and other organisations. The Innovation Dialogue is organised by the acatech Office under the guidance of acatech President Henning Kagermann.

Knowledge transfer: The changing face of a cross-cutting innovation policy challenge

The theme of the Innovation Dialogue held at the Federal Chancellery in May 2016 was modern forms of knowledge, technology and information transfer. Transferring knowledge and technology is a challenge that must be addressed collectively by science, industry and government. Traditionally, it has been understood to involve translating new ideas and developments from science and research into marketable products, for example through patents, collaborative research and spin-offs.

Today, however, the transfer process also operates recursively – different actors from the fields of basic and applied research as well as industry and civil society all influence each other reciprocally. This can potentially result in disruptive changes. For instance, the blurring of the boundaries between traditional industries and the IT sector is leading to new partnerships and forms of cooperation between science and industry. The public increasingly sees itself as an active participant in scientific developments rather than a passive recipient of them. This is changing the nature of science communication and resulting in the emergence of concepts such as citizen science. The transfer relationships must therefore be adapted to reflect this changing reality.

Biotechnology: One of the key technologies of the 21st century

Our ability to control biological processes is growing at a spectacular rate. Biotechnology is a key technology that, over the next few years, has the potential to transform many industries and areas of our lives in a manner akin to digitalisation. This was one of the main findings of the Innovation Dialogue with the Federal Government in November 2016. New genome analysis and modification techniques (especially genome editing) will help us find replacements for fossil fuels and develop new medicines e.g. for treating cancer.

Although Germany is very strong in the field of biotechnology research, it needs to get better at translating this strength into commercial and medical applications. Moreover, a number of policy, regulatory and ethical questions still need to be resolved. In order to take full advantage of biotechnology’s huge innovative potential for Germany, it will be necessary to engage in a comprehensive debate and address the regulatory, ethical and social implications of different applications.

Human-machine interaction: In the public spotlight

Through the Innovation Dialogue, acatech provides the Federal Government with timely expertise and recommendations on issues that are likely to come onto the policy agenda in the near future. One such theme concerns the technological and social aspects of human-machine interaction. This topic was addressed by the Innovation Dialogue in November 2015 and was the subject of widespread public debate during 2016. The ARD network looked at the issues from various different angles in a special week of programmes on the “Future of Work”. The relationship between humans and robots also attracted a lot of attention from the other major media and was the topic of a podium discussion at the acatech Annual Meeting in October 2016. 

In his official address, Federal President Joachim Gauck called for us to have the courage to innovate and to be less afraid of the risks. He argued that autonomous systems can provide people with valuable assistance in all kinds of different areas. However, he also warned that people should always “be the masters of technology, not its slaves”.