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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Barriers to the establishment of new key technologies

Thematic area: Technology, society, innovation
Analytical approach: Innovation report
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: completed
Duration: 2007 till 2009

Background and central aspects of the topic

Despite the current problems, Germany's enterprises are still enjoying great international successes with their innovative products in their traditionally strong markets, such as mechanical engineering, vehicle construction and electrical engineering. In future-oriented key technologies, for instance, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology or computer and media technology, they are less successful. In further future key technologies like nanotechnology and hydrogen technology there is a real threat that the excellent starting position in research will not be translated into corresponding market introduction of innovative products and therefore will also not lead to export successes.

The following are some of the reasons given for this situation: apart from the problems in the education system and the foreseeable decline in the availability of highly skilled workers, a great reluctance among private investors to provide venture capital for investments in future key technologies can be observed. Also, the framework conditions which regulate not only firm start-ups but also the approval processes of innovative products are not geared towards a rapid transformation of research results into marketable products, as in other high-tech countries in the area of key technologies. Admittedly, the German population – contrary to dearly held prejudices – is not in the least hostile to technology, but does display a certain healthy scepticism towards it.

If Germany wants to stake an early claim in new key technologies which will partly replace existing markets and thus export chances, the state will be required to contribute more than funding for substantial R&D programmes. Conditions fostering the initial transformation of these key technologies into products and services must be created, by providing corresponding capital for company start-ups, by ensuring that adequately trained skilled workers are available in sufficient numbers and by creating a regulative framework accepted by all actors in the innovation system. Only then are the basic pre-requisites given for Germany to possibly become a lead market in these areas, a pre-condition for future export success in key technologies.

Objectives and approach

The politically and scientifically highly relevant, but also very demanding thematic complex has already been handled, with reference to single components in individual key technologies, and further in the context of innovation studies, for instance, in the reports on Germany's technological performance and also studies of technology acceptance. A comprehensive consideration of all supply and demand, respectively acceptance aspects is however still outstanding.

In a first investigative step, the factors hampering innovation already discussed in the existing literature will be identified, presented and evaluated. At the same time as the hampering factors, the fostering aspects will also be considered, which are also highly relevant for policy initiatives. Factors impeding or supporting new innovative technologies and products can be basically classified according to the three dimensions supply side, demand side and framework conditions.

The result of the literature analysis consists in identifying a number of factors which are decisive for the development of new technologies or markets for the three mentioned dimensions supply, demand and market. These factors will be assessed using a criteria catalogue. These include also their flexibility of the actors responsible and the applicability of innovation and economic policy instruments.

Based on this preparatory work, existing data to develop the identified indicators will be collected and assessed. They include data on the diffusion of selected new technologies or on the development of new markets. The objective is to identify up to three specific technologies or markets in which Germany has not fully exploited its diffusion and market potentials. A success story can also be chosen, which can provide a model for other new technologies. The choice of up to three specific technologies or markets is an important milestone in the project and will be discussed with the Committee of the parliament.

In a second step, interviews will be conducted with chosen spokespeople from interest groups and experts from the three selected theme fields. The goal is to critically examine the findings from the literature regarding the role of various impeding factors, and also promoting factors, but also to identify further, as yet unidentified aspects. The result of this working step is portrayed in technology- or market-specific case studies which summarise the collected information and assessments gained from the spokespeople and experts.

In a third step, a workshop focusing on each of the three themes will be held in Berlin and the results will be analysed. The findings from the first two working steps will be presented at the workshops, but also first starting points will be presented for future activities, not only on the part of policymakers, but also of industry or even consumers and users.

Based on these three steps, first of all a comparative analysis of the three technology fields will be conducted, which range from the hampering factors up to the already developed plans for action. This comparative investigative approach should serve to derive generalisations on the connection between impeding factors regarding the diffusion of new technologies or the development of new markets, but also to provide a more general picture of the interconnections between hampering factors, appropriate measures and the actors to be involved.

The results of all stages will be summarised in a final report.