How well has the Irish Government done for Innovation in the last five years?

The current Irish Government has reached the end of its natural life and an election has been announced for the end of February.   I wrote this piece for January 17th when asked to review the performance of the Government on Innovation..

A general election is imminent. In 2011, Enda Kenny campaigned to make Ireland the best small country in the world to do business. Five years later, how well have he and his colleagues in Government delivered on this assertion ?

Fortunately it is easy to find out. The 2011 Programme for Government committed to making the “the whole of Government…more transparent, accountable and efficient.” And so to report on how well the Government is doing, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform established the IrelandStat website.

This is the scorecard by which the Government wishes itself to be measured. It is a report card across almost all Government activities – the economy, health, education, public safety, infrastructure, environment, social protection and public service. Coming up to the election, you would expect the report to be right up to date. It should be a critical tool to campaigning for re-election. I encourage you to visit the site and take a look.

Within the economic scorecard, there is a section on Innovation. It reports the following metrics. Gross expenditure on R&D has risen 11% from 2011 to 2013 – no figures for 2014 nor 2015. The number of Enterprise Ireland client companies engaged in significant R&D has grown by 7% from 2011 to 2012 – no figures for 2013, 2014 nor 2015. The number of patents filed from commercialisation of publicly funded research has fallen 16% from 2011 to 2013 – again, no figures for 2014 nor 2015. The employment numbers in high tech manufacturing have risen by 7% from 2011 to 2013 – no further data. There is no data at all since 2011 on the high tech manufacturing exports as a percentage of total exports. Finally, Ireland’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index has fallen from one place from 9 to 10, between 2011 and 2013.

Are these the appropriate metrics to measure the Government policy on innovation? Well, they are the ones that the Government itself decided to chose. In writing this article, why did I not go and ferret out up to date metrics? Well, I did think about doing so, but then why should I have to go elsewhere? The IrelendStat website is where the Government wants the electorate to understand and see its actual measurable performance.

My experience in the private sector is that a CEO and executive team agree a set of scorecard metrics with its Board, including both baseline measures and targets. I have found that usually there is some gamesmanship, in which the CEO tries to underset the targets so as to be sure of beating them, whilst the Board tries to dig into the true capabilities and expectations of the organisation. When the scorecard is then subsequently presented to the Board to report on progress, often most of the metrics have been positively exceeded. The CEO and the team are then congratulated for a job well done. No doubt Enda Kenny and his team saw the analogy with metric-driven management in the private sector, but IrelandStat appears to be an immature tool.

IrelandStat, at least in the Innovation section, includes the baseline 2011 numbers but does not establish targets. I also am surprised that the Government has not remained committed to its own scorecard – by keeping it up to date, and driving positive numbers and results. Nevertheless these are the measures and results by which Enda Kenny and his team explicitly want us to evaluate their term in office, for the General Election: so be it.

What then should we look for from the various political parties in the forthcoming campaign, which will guide our voting in the election ?

I would certainly strongly urge that every party should commit to maturing the IrelandStat website as a report card. At the outset of the new Government, there should of course be a reevaluation of what should be the most appropriate metrics and targets, and a process put in place which guarantees that all metrics are timely.

A revised set of IrelandStat metrics of course depends in part on what are the policy objectives and tactics of the new Government. For Innovation, is the focus of publicly funded R&D creating the best impact for the economy and society at large, and how should this be measured? Is the flow of private investment into innovation adequate and how should it be further cultivated? Can public sector spend on procurement be appropriately used so as to further stimulate innovation, and should the percentage of procurement spend directed to innovation increase ? Are there cross-industry initiatives which could be taken in Ireland for the global market, given the profusion of multinational firms operating here across so many market sectors? Are self-employed entrepreneurs to continue to be treated as second class citizens when it comes to taxation, and despite the Constitution’s commitment for equality of all citizens before the law? Are the incentives for entrepreneurs and private investors in start-ups to be brought into line with or even exceed what is available across the border in Northern Ireland and the UK?

It will be an interesting campaign. Ask each candidate about IrelandStat and, were they to be elected to Government, how they would intend to us it to show their own progress.


About chrisjhorn
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