Workshop: "How to leverage the potential of the digital transformation for innovation and research?"

20 June 2018

 Paris - OECD Conference Centre



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Much is in flux with the digital transformation and innovation processes are no exception. Changes are driven by the wider availability of data and better ways to process and analyse them (e.g. software tools, AI), changes in the processes for developing innovations (often allowing for “scale without mass”) and the emergence of new ways of bringing products to the market (e.g. through digital platforms). These transformations apply to the research, development and commercialisation stages of innovation. The very innovation process is fundamentally different in the intangible economy compared to manufacturing, as illustrated by the case of software that entails little “production” but very frequent update and innovation cycles. The complexity brought by these fundamental changes leads to tensions within companies and industries that lead to the emergence of new actors and reconfigurations of existing ones to tap the opportunities of digital transformation. These changes to the very nature of innovation affect the opportunities different players, large companies, SMEs, research organisations, and start-ups have when it comes to research and innovation. 

On the one hand, a number of digital tools are accessible to all, and establish a level-playing field between the one-person start-up with a laptop and Internet access and a large company. Indeed, it is no longer only large players that dominate industries: for example new players are involved in the digital transformation of the automotive and pharmaceuticals sectors, for instance, when it comes to commercializing advances in genomics or offering on-demand transportation services, following the model introduced by Uber. On the other hand, fully exploiting the potential of some of the new digital technologies may require large-scale investments only affordable for leading firms and certain research institutions. Processes may be computerised but require large data sources not accessible to all, and platforms may offer opportunities for entry to some but not all, and may disproportionally benefit the owners of those platforms. 

The purpose of the workshop is to bring together experts and policy makers to discuss what we know about the impacts of the digital transformation on opportunities different actors in the innovation system have to engage in innovation. Changes in industry-science relationships will also be explored. This is a key discussion for policy, as opportunities to engage in innovation activities have direct implications on the rate of innovation and its distributional impacts. 

The outcomes of the workshop will directly contribute to the OECD TIP digital and open innovation project, which aims to identify innovation policy priorities in the context of the digital transformation. Understanding the extent to which opportunities for different actors to engage in innovation change is critical to design appropriate innovation policy mixes. 


DRAFT AGENDA (Version: 23 February 2018)


9h30 - 10h00: Welcoming and introduction to the workshop

  • Introduction to the workshop
  • Introductory quiz


10h00-11h30: Session 1 - Opportunities and barriers for research in the context of digital transformation

Digital technologies provide unprecedented opportunities for research. These include the possibility to collect and exploit vast amounts of real-time data, or conduct large-scale computerised experiments, which allow for many more trials than could be realised by human researchers. Investments needed to use digital technologies effectively in research and to create and integrate different competences to fully exploit the digital potential may, however, be too high (both regarding infrastructure and skills) for all firms and research institutions to have access to them. Consequently, the relative cost of engaging in innovative research activities may increase in the context of digital transformation, leading to the exclusion of the firms and researchers that are not able to afford such costs.   



  • To what extent has the digital transformation changed opportunities to engage in research activities related to innovation for different actors and places? 
  • Are changes similar across academic disciplines and industry sectors? What are the expected trends?  To what extent have appropriate multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral teams emerged to exploit the potential of data in research? 
  • Should policy intervene to ensure more widespread opportunities to innovate at the research stage? What are the organisational changes needed to facilitate a re-orientation of research organisations (and firms) in that regard?
  • How does the digital transformation facilitate opportunities for extending research networks and collaborations with others (researchers, research organisations and firms)? 



  • Dr Rob Learney, Lead Technologist – Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology, Digital Catapult, UK


11h30-12h00: Coffee break

12h00-13h00: Session 2 - Keynote : Capitalism without Capital – Prof. Jonathan Haskel

In their new book ‘Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy’ (2017), Jonathan Haskel (Imperial College London) and Stian Westlake (Nesta) bring together a decade of research on how to measure intangible investment and its impact on national accounts, showing the amount different countries invest in intangibles, how this has changed over time, and the latest thinking on how to assess this. They explore the unusual economic characteristics of intangible investment, and discuss how these features make an intangible-rich economy fundamentally different from one based on tangibles. Capitalism without Capital concludes by presenting three possible scenarios for what the future of an intangible world might be like, and by outlining how managers, investors, and policymakers can exploit the characteristics of an intangible age to grow their businesses, portfolios, and economies.


Book reviews have been published in the Economist and The Times. An opinion article related to this book has been published in The Guardian

13h00-14h30: Lunch

14h30-16h00: Session 3 - Opportunities and challenges for developing and commercialising innovation in the digital era

The development and commercialisation stages of innovation have also been affected by the digital transformation. For instance, once developed, new software is fundamentally different from physical products such as cars – the latter requiring production before they are taken to the market, while the former can be quickly disseminated at virtually no cost. This has been referred to as “scale without mass.” As intangible product components are increasingly important, the development process of innovation is gradually shifting towards this new model. Commercialisation is also changing in this context, with new ways of launching products and services, nearly instantaneously and at global scale, and benefitting from networks. This offers more opportunities for small actors to compete with larger ones compared to the past. However, platform dynamics and network effects may disproportionately compensate larger players, with opposite effects on actual opportunities to innovate for others.

This panel will focus on opportunities and challenges across different sectors, with a focus on the agri-food, automotive/transportation and retail sectors – representatives of primary, manufacturing and services sectors, respectively. These sectors (and their own boundaries) are changing with the digital transformation, and constitute excellent examples to illustrate the pervasiveness of digital transformation across the whole spectrum of economic activities, at the same time that allow distinguishing different sectoral dynamics. 



  • To what extent has the digital transformation changed opportunities for different actors to develop and commercialise innovations across different value chains? 
  • Are changes similar across actors and industries and in particular across agro-food, automotive/transportation and retail sectors?  
  • What can policy do to ensure more widespread opportunities? 



  • Steven Drew, Vice President of Business Development in Europe, InnoCentive 

16h00-16h30: Coffee break

16h30-17h30: Session 4 - Innovation policy implications

This session will take stock of the previous discussions and explore how innovation policy should adjust to those new realities in order to ensure different actors leverage the potential of digital innovation. The discussions will involve all workshop participants that will gather in small groups. Each group will develop a policy proposal that addresses one of the core challenges posed by digital innovation. 

17h45-18h00: Conclusions

  • Conclusions
  • Final quiz


Practical information

The OECD website provides practical information about how to get to the OECD Conference Centre where the event will be held.  

Workshop: "How to leverage the potential of the digital transformation for innovation and research?"

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