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VINNOVA Boosts Collaboration between HEIs and the Wider Society

Alexandra Zinovyeva

If your vision is to bring your country to the front row of innovative development, boost its potential in cutting-edge research, and create an attractive ecosystem for long term stakeholder collaboration, then the Swedish approach is a good example to learn from. Launched by the Swedish government, the governmental agency for innovation policy Vinnova aims to fund research and stimulate collaboration between companies, the public sector, universities and research institutes to promote a sustainable economic growth.

Collaborative approach to innovation policy and practice

1997 Swedish Higher Education Law highlighted the interaction with wider society as one of the major tasks of higher education institutions (HEIs). In the following years, the government took a more proactive approach to its vision by establishing a governmental body that would promote the interaction among the societal stakeholders for innovation and research – Vinnova. Thus, Vinnova now operates directly under the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, and its major aim is to promote sustainable growth in Sweden by improving the conditions for innovation as well as funding of research.

Vinnova closely cooperates with the research funding bodies (the Swedish Research Council, Formas, and Forte), HEIs, companies and the public sector to reach its main objective of strengthening the quality and relevance of research and education by developing societal interaction of HEIs. Vinnova addresses the government assignment by supporting the development projects between HEIs and the public/private sector. Vinnova’s activities are primarily funded by the government, yet the organisation complements the funding pool with its own resources as well.

An evaluation model that integrates societal interaction

Open project calls resulted in a model for evaluating HEIs’ interaction with the wider society that Vinnova developed with the input from HEIs. Initially, Vinnova model came to light to reform an existing model for performance-based research funding to Swedish HEIs. The new model includes assessment of the quality and performance of societal interaction – the components that the earlier model overlooked.

The new model was piloted twice among 27 Swedish HEIs participating in the first round, and 26 in the second, where each round tested different aspects of the model. During the first pilot, the two aspects in focus were strategy for collaboration and implementation of the strategy. During the second pilot, the aim was to oversee the collaborative activities and results. Each participating HEI was given a rating based on three grades: for the first pilot, it was emerging, developed or well advanced; and for the second pilot, it was good, very good or excellent. The expert panel consisted of the representatives from HEIS, the public sector, industry and civil society.

Piloting of the model prompted the development of various dialogue activities and workshops for HEIs representatives, as well as closer connection and more joint meetings among research councils to synchronize the efforts in modernizing the research and opening the doors for innovation.

What has Vinnova achieved so far?

Since the governmental assignment was completed towards the end of 2016, the impact of activities has not yet materialized. Nonetheless, apart from developing and piloting a model for evaluating HEIs’ interaction with its society with respect to research and innovation, Vinnova has united the stakeholders, strengthened peer network of Swedish HEIs and highlighted the importance of stakeholder interaction for innovation development with its open project calls and follow-up activities. According to the HEIs, participation in Vinnova’s development and self-evaluation processes gave them impetus to further mobilise and engage their employees in different strategic engagement activities.

To learn more about the Vinnova’s operational mechanisms and its model to promote interaction between HEIs and wider society, read a full case study here.


This blog is based on a case study originally written by Pierre Lindman (Technopolis Group UK).

©all rights on images used in this article belong to VINNOVA.


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