Where are the people in innovation monitoring?

Paula Otero-Hermida

Reflections about frames, contextualisation, and
indicator co-creation from a gender and innovation
monitoring initiative in Spain


The framing of a subject creates the subject itself and guides the work within it. Understanding what RRI is or may be, depending on who it is for, is necessary for monitoring: raising the questions of monitoring what, and for what purpose? In the SUPER MoRRI project, we have reflected on this (see posts). In the same way, we must think about what science is, or what innovation is, which sometimes seems to be synonymous with technology. It is a topic that is undoubtedly broad, complex, full of nuances, about which there is much written. However, in this post I approach from the factual to the theoretical: what do the current monitoring systems of innovation tell us about the visions behind them?  We will start from the factor of gender in innovation for this exploration. Specifically, we are reflecting upon an initiative in this area developed in Spain in which I have participated. In the field of science, we have a wide proposal of indicators and periodic monitoring efforts on gender aspects. As the main reference, we have the She Figures reports (European Commission) as well as indicators in the main RRI monitoring initiatives at the European level.

But what about gender monitoring of innovation? This is the question asked by the Spanish Women and Science Observatory, in the report Mujeres e Innovación 2020 (available in Spanish only). Results are striking for different reasons.

Monitoring gender and innovation: conclusions from the first report in Spain

The first reason this report is of our interest is because of the notable gender biases observed, which are much wider than those observed in Science. In enterprises publicly funded for innovation promotion, the percentage of female employees is between 18% and 23% in the period 2014-2018. Only 14% of the top managers in innovative business associations receiving public support are women. In universities, women are more involved in informal and less in formal exchange and transfer activities, while more than 70% of technical transfer support staff are women. These are some examples of data collected in Spain from research studies, labour force surveys, as well as most data collected for the report from public programmes related to innovation.

What is perhaps most striking, however, are the absences –  the data that were not available: there are no data on the human factor in the innovation surveys. That means we can find data regarding innovation investment and firms, but there is no data available of the sociodemographic traits, labour conditions or other factors regarding the persons that are innovating themselves. Therefore, there are no data on gender in the case of the OECD, EUROSTAT nor in the innovation survey carried out by the Spanish National Institute of Statistics. Similarly, in the aforementioned Spanish case, there are no data available – not in statistics, programs or public bodies – on non-technological approaches, such as social innovation or public innovation, related to sectors where the proportion of women is higher than in the business sphere.

Both the data and the absences motivate reflections of interest for those of us who work in the framework of monitoring innovation and science policies.

Reflections on monitoring creation and relying on visions and frames

It is likely that we must pay more attention to what theoretical frameworks underlie the construction of indicators. In innovation surveys, information on the human factor is not available, and can thus be understood as irrelevant.  What are the purposes of innovation monitoring? It seems that the current paradigm ignores who and in which conditions innovation occurs, but rather focuses on the firm’s environment and systemic variables. The figure of the “Schumpeterian” innovator seems to prevail, who innovates in an innate way, and therefore his personal and social traits are not significant. Schumpeter is a common reference in innovation studies, while could be less common to find references from other economic visions that had paid more attention to the surrounding conditions of the people that are participating in innovation and entrepreneurship activities[1]. However, the example of the Spanish report and other in-depth research projects show that something happens regarding people and innovation activity, at least with regards to gender-related issues.

Also, the results show the necessity of contextualising the indicators and their data, requiring us to relate them to the meanings of what are we monitoring; these are the recommendations of Ismael Rafols and other responsible metrics experts. Considering the most frequent data on gender and innovation, which refer to patents, the main conclusion could be that women do not innovate, since women’s ratios are low. Conclusions are different if we take into account data not available in the monitoring panels. We understand from the work carried out in Spain that women’s participation in formal technological innovation is low; however, we do not know where or how they may be innovating. This raises another question, opening up debates rather than closing them. But that occurs if innovation is not merely understood as technology. Innovation is gendered, much like the social system, but the innovation indicators, appearing to be neutral, hide a different and unequal reality. Other issues related to human diversity that are possible sources of innovation are likely similarly made invisible through the ways in which surveys are being constructed.

Finally, among other possible reflections, this initiative leads us to consider how the indicators are developed. Who participates? How are priorities and purposes defined? What is the process of developing the indicators? Where are the windows for change in the monitoring systems?  In the case of Spain, the aforementioned Women and Science Observatory convenes different professional women’s and equality associations, as well as the main science and innovation management bodies, other observatories, and the National Statistics Institute, among other public bodies. It is, therefore, a place, even if its working groups could be ephemeral, where new indicators and possible new questions can be debated and created to incorporate them into the innovation surveys, in this case, related to gender.

Public engagement and the word co-creation are key in the New Horizon programme period in the EU, which aims to go beyond the triad of administration, companies, and universities, working to include other social actors in science and innovation policies. However, Europe and its open method of coordination imply a commitment to forms of soft governance among which monitoring plays a major role, as a traceable and transparent way of justifying policies, among other purposes. For this reason, it seems difficult to speak of participatory or responsible governance of science and innovation without considering the participation of social actors in the development of indicators that measure its evolution. The challenge is not only to make them participate but to incorporate their visions, that could change also the views that we have of the subject itself.

Do you know, reader, in which spaces is that happening or could happen? Please let us know by sending an email to contact@super-morri.eu.

[1] Such as Veblen´s institutionalist economy and more recent approaches such as entrepreneurial ecosystems where social aspects can emerge more easily. In the case of gender, see (Brush et al, 2019). The aforementioned report Mujeres e Innovación 2020 includes a reflection regarding innovation theoretical frameworks. We can also consider disciplinary points of view such as Alsos et al, (2013) who suggest: gender approaches are more frequent in entrepreneurship than in innovation journals. We can find a diverse focus on persons and systems, respectively. We can ask ourselves as well if the questions underlying monitoring frames are changing with new generations, or now that investment need in innovation is no longer a matter of doubt in the European Union.

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