The case of innovation and the forest sector in Europe – Policy integration and coordination


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As part of the COST 51 action, the EU has published a new ebook titled “Policy integration and coordination – The case of innovation and the forest sector in Europe,” which focuses on sustainable development of forest resources across seven policy fields in the European Union. The executive summary reads:

The book “Policy Integration and Coordination: the Case of Innovation and the Forest Sector in Europe” deals with the questions of how the concept of innovation is integrated into policies that are relevant for forestry and forest-based industries, and how these policies are coordinated. These questions are also at the core of the COST Action E51 on “Integrating Innovation and Development Policies for the Forest Sector”, which was carried out from 2006 to 2010 with the participation of approximately 40 research institutions from 20 countries. This COST Action studies innovation policies and processes in the forest sector at two levels: the policy level; and the level of innovation processes on the ground. This book presents the main outcomes from the policy level by analysing the seven policy fields that have the strongest influence on the innovation activities in the sector: forestry policy, forest-based industries policy, innovation policy, rural development policy, regional development policy, sustainable development policy, and renewable energy policy. This broad selection of policy fields was made in order to cover all the principal innovation fields in forestry and forest-based industries. The COST Action E51 examined two broad fields of innovation: (a) territorial goods and services associated with forests, and (b) wood value chains.

The main focus of this book is a comparative analysis of the central policy documents from the seven above-mentioned fields in 19 countries. The data were collected through a common questionnaire completed by expert teams from those countries that participated in the Action, namely, Austria, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Croatia, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, and Scotland (as a part of the UK). These standardised assessments of national policy documents are complemented by a more detailed analysis of selected policy areas: the EU Rural Development Programme as well as the Strategic Research Agenda and National Research Agendas of the European Forest-based Sector Technology Platform (FTP).

The results show that innovation has become an issue in, and is recognised by, most policy fields that are relevant for forestry and forest-based industries. The concept of innovation, however, is often used rather symbolically, without appropriate or substantive measures. There is a trend in most policy documents to describe the issue of innovation support from a systemic view; however, the measures often come from the traditional innovation support toolbox. While the traditional science and technology approach follows an understanding of innovation as a linear process from R&D to the market, a systemic innovation policy approach sees innovation as a complex process in an environment of multiple actors and institutions. Traditional innovation support focuses on public and private R&D, but systemic measures also address knowledge transfer, interface management or learning processes. In the forest sector, innovation policies mainly support diffusion of new technologies in timber production and processing. The support of radical innovations, learning or goods and services other than wood, is rare. Although innovation has been recognised as a policy goal, the forest sector has thus remained largely traditional. A similar gap between formal goals and informal practice is found in the coordination of actors. All of the studied policy documents claim to be well coordinated with other sectors; the detailed analysis, however, reveals that effective coordination of the relevant policies is often lacking. Innovations in the forest sector do, all in all, address current societal challenges, e.g. in the fields of bio-energy and recreation. At the same time, it seems that a number of blind spots exist: environmental services such as biodiversity conservation, drinking water production, protection against natural hazards and health-related or spiritual services are only recognized to a minor extent. Possible future markets such as sustainable construction (with wood), or bio-based  products (food or chemicals) could be pursued much more strongly in the sector. As a general picture, it seems that radical innovations are developed more outside the traditionally defined forest sector than within it. The forest sector seems more active in diffusion than in supporting the development of novelties in the first place.

The delivery of support systems for innovation in the sector is not easy: territorial goods and services need specific policies because of their cross-sectoral and public good characteristics. Policies need to enable the development of local networks and partnerships that develop innovation. In addition, wood value chains need specific policy measures because of the prevailing micro-, small-, and medium-sized, as well as, family-run enterprises that are located in rural areas. For their support, specific policy means and innovation infrastructures are needed on the local-regional level, oriented towards traditional sector SMEs. Rural development policy (RDP) is strongly targeted at the agricultural sector and not at the rural economy as a whole. The EU RDP measures that relate to forestry largely lack innovative approaches. The LEADER instrument is one policy approach that is promising in terms of systematically and systemically supporting innovation processes in rural areas and in bridging territorial and sectoral goals and approaches.

The FTP had a significant impact in promoting the topic of forest sector innovation. The establishment of the FTP Vision 2030 and the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) initiated policy reforms on national level. While the SRA, however, aimed at broad innovation support and broad involvement of stakeholders, the development processes of the FTP National Research Agendas (NRAs) mostly included only those stakeholders that were closely linked to forest-based industries. We conclude that policies are increasingly using systemic innovation support and coordination rhetoric, but substantive measures are often lacking. The change in language may, however, be the first step in a policy change towards an integrated and sustainable development of the sector. The following policy measures would be needed as further steps to strengthen sustainable innovation processes in forestry and forest-based industries:

–          To raise awareness for the importance of integrated innovation for a sustainable development of the forestry and forest-based industry sectors, and for a stronger contribution of the sector to the sustainable development of society;

–          To further develop and strengthen systemic strategies and measures to support innovation in forestry and forest-based industries;

–          To foster transnational learning through cross-border interlinkages in the policy, administration and business spheres;

–          To support cross-sectoral interaction on all administrative and practice levels: European, national and local, and in both innovation fields: (a) territorial goods and services, and (b) wood value chains;

–          In order to support innovation in territorial goods and services, specific policies are needed that support diversification, local networks, new ideas, cross-sectoral interaction and bottom-up initiatives;

–          In order to support innovation in wood value chains, specific policy means and infrastructures are needed on the local-regional level to support micro or small-sized, and family-run rural businesses.

Read the full publication in PDF format by clicking here.

Citation:  Policy integration and coordination – The case of innovation and the forest sector in Europe, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2010, ISBN 978-92-898-0049-5, doi:10.2831/10578


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