New report says New Zealand punching below (yes, below) its weight in contribution to global innovation

“Punching Above Our Weight” is one of the core beliefs (/banalities) of our fair nation. When not punching above said weight, we comfort ourselves with the infamous, “On a per capita basis”. But a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) throws a little cold water on New Zealand’s punch when it comes to contributing to global innovation. And yes, even on a per-capita basis.

A mere 72 hours ago, we were warming our cockles in the glow of a growing number of global rankings. Public institutions? 4th! Soundness of banks? 4th again! Adventure? 5th! Open for business? 6th! But what about innovation? We here at Idealog LOVE innovation, but apparently the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) just doesn’t think New Zealand is that innovative, ranking us 28th in net impact on global innovation per capita in a new report assessing what it considers the most innovative countries.

“Robust innovation is essential for economic growth and progress,” says co-author Stephen Ezell, ITIF’s vice president for global innovation. “As countries increasingly vie for leadership in the innovation economy, they can implement policies that try to benefit only themselves but harm the production of innovation in the rest of the world. Or they can implement ‘win-win’ policies that bolster their own innovation capacity while also generating positive spillovers for the entire global economy. For innovation to flourish around the world, we need a system that is doing much more of the latter.”

Earlier studies have ranked country’s innovativeness based on capabilities or outcomes, but the ITIF’s report is the first to rank the impact of countries’ policies on the global innovation system, examining 14 factors that not only support domestic innovation domestically but have positive spillover effects globally, including supportive tax systems and investment in R&D and human capital, and 13 factors that have negative spillover effects, including forced localization and weak intellectual property protection.

New Zealand’s 28th-place overall ranking reflected a combination of policies that the report found to be 30th best in their positive contribution to the global innovation ecosystem and also the 13th least damaging.

So we’re not particularly good for global innovation, but we're also not that bad for global innovation either.

But does it matter how much New Zealand contributes to global innovation? Shouldn’t we sort out our own backyards first? Well, unsurprisingly, the report found a strong correlation between countries’ contribution to global innovation and their levels of domestic innovation.

“While policymakers are primarily focused on the interests of their own citizens, they usually overlook the fact that adopting policies that also happen to be good for the global innovation ecosystem will compound the benefits for their citizens,” said Robert D. Atkinson, ITIF’s president and a co-author of the report. “’Innovation altruism’ really does pay.”

The report recommends that nations should undertake a series of policies to improve their impacts on worldwide innovation:

  1. Treat innovation as important as trade for optimizing global growth.

  2. Establish a framework that better distinguishes between policies that are beneficial for the world’s innovation ecosystem and those that are detrimental, pushing back against “the misguided, but popular, perspective that developed nation innovation comes at the expense of developing nation economies”

  3. Establish a Global Science and Innovation Foundation to fund scientific and engineering research on key global challenges, particularly through collaborative international research.

    “The world is significantly under-producing innovation that is needed to tackle global challenges, including boosting productivity, improving health, and protecting the environment,” Atkinson says. “Policymakers need to better understand and more aggressively push back when countries try to advance their own interests at the expense of global innovation. The world’s leaders need to articulate a more robust vision of commonly shared prosperity based on substantial increases in worldwide productivity and more innovative products and services.”

Sounds good to us!

Full rankings:

Image: Rupal Hira