Brazil: From S&T to innovation policy? The evolution and the challenges facing Brazilian policies for science, technology and innovation

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Viotti, Eduardo B.
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High and rising levels of labor productivity are at the core of a nation’s development. The growth of the labor productivity of any people is a function of its ability to absorb, improve and create technologies. Although the importance of technological development has been recognized by the majority of policymakers and policy analysts, it has generally been thought of as a byproduct of economic development rather than as a requirement for it. For decades, Brazilians appear to have believed that technological development –a phenomenon linked to the emergence and multiplication of technologically dynamic enterprises – would arise as a natural consequence, initially of the industrialization process, and, more recently, of the liberalization of the economy. The science and technology (S&T) policies set in place were in principle expected to lead to the formation of human resources and the production of new scientific and technological knowledge. These policies were almost exclusively dedicated to supporting institutes of research and higher education. Enterprises were rarely the direct target of S&T policies and programs. The role reserved for the productive sector was essentially that of absorbing the knowledge and human resources supplied by the institutes for research and higher education. Since the end of the 1990s, however, Brazilians have become gradually aware of the need for an S&T policy directly tied to the development process of the country. The promotion of technological innovation has therefore become an explicit and major objective of Brazilian S&T policy. Nonetheless, enterprises – the key agents of the innovation process – are yet to be effectively integrated into the science, technology and innovation (ST&I) policies, most likely due to their traditionally being considered agents external to the S&T system. This paper has three main objectives. The first is to delineate the evolution of Brazilian ST&I policy and identify its relation to the development policies and the overall development process of the country. The second is to search for evidence confirming the existence of the proclaimed shift from the traditional S&T policy towards one focused on innovation. Lastly, the paper outlines and analyses the main challenges that currently face ST&I policy in Brazil. Following this introduction, the paper is divided into two sections, with section 2 focusing on the evolution of Brazilian ST&I policy and section 3 on the challenges with which it must contend. The next section provides a panoramic analysis of the evolution not only of the explicit ST&I policy of the country, but also of the implicit policy present in the model of development followed during each of the principal historical phases of Brazilian development. In the analysis, special attention is given to the contribution of enterprises to the process of technical change and innovation. The post-World-War II period is divided into three phases. The first, extending from approximately 1950 to 1980, is dealt with in section 2.1, called “In search of development through growth.” The second, corresponding to the last two decades of the 20th century, is handled in section 2.2 under the title “In search of development through efficiency.” The last phase, which initiated around the turn of the century and is still under way, is tackled in section 2.3 in the form of a question: “In search of development through innovation?” Supported by the preceding effort to systematize and analyze the evolution of post-war ST&I policy in Brazil, section 3 surveys the main challenges faced by such policy in the current phase of development. It also points to the fact that the recently observed shift towards innovation still has a long way to go to constitute a true innovation policy. Hence, the most important challenge facing current ST&I policy is strengthen the transition to a true innovation policy, and, in turn, to transform it into an effective development policy. Although generating development based on technological advantage is a huge task, the current macroeconomic conditions of the Brazilian economy are creating a historic window of opportunity for this challenge to be successfully met.
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