Lessons learned

12 innovation lessons from experience


Innovation is a means to build the better future we want

There is more than one way to understand innovation, just as there are many definitions of the concept itself. To us, innovation is the ability of individuals, companies and countries to continually build the better future they long for. This is how it is defined by John Kao – a definition we find inclusive and aspirational.

We understand innovation as a driving force for social progress and prosperity. A key means to develop the solutions to Euskadi’s social, economic and environmental challenges. The best solutions should effectively combine all the layers of innovation, in terms of both characteristics – technology-based or other types – and origin – public sector, private sector, society, etc. Innovation is everyone’s business.

Only our aligned, joint efforts, actions and results can ensure a sustainable future for us as a country. Innovation has ever-changing means and ends. We need to ‘innovate on innovation’ if we are to respond to changing environments and keep building the future we want.


We have to strike balance between long-term vision and short-term impact

Innobasque integrates immediate-impact actions into a long-term vision to achieve the goals for the future. We produce intangible assets, which are difficult to assess, while being aware of their economic profits and social benefits.

Sometimes, given their characteristics, innovation projects whose results are visible in the long run make it difficult to get actors interested and involved in the short term. Consequently, we should combine long-term projects and goals with immediate success in small-scale endeavours, associated either with processes themselves or with intermediate results.

In line with this, some of the resources should go to projects with quick wins, identifying and implementing those initiatives in which the possibility of progress is strong. This will kindle trust and hope in the teams involved, enhancing the legitimacy of our innovation projects.


To innovate is to take risks

Innovation is a risky business. As such, it requires areas and environments that are open to exploration and learning in an atmosphere of trust and confidence. Conviction, flexibility, enthusiasm, perseverance and courage are fundamental.

Innovation cannot be controlled or predicted. Innovative projects, which usually mean risks in their goals and in the ways to achieve them, are difficult to plan.

Thus, we need to create the right contexts to launch initiatives with low opportunity costs in their early, i.e. most uncertain, stages. We also need to build teams who are ready to take the risks and extract value from both processes and results. Finally, we must have organisations with capacity for self-criticism and error-tolerant environments. Planning adequate risk management and exit strategies is vital for project realignment or even withdrawal whenever necessary.


Cooperation is an inexhaustible source of resources

Effective cooperation is not achieved overnight, but it is rather a process that involves large amounts of effort, trust and generosity. Although the road tends to be long and winding, it takes us further, leading to the achievement of more ambitious goals.

We have seen that cooperation means a more efficient use of resources as a result of synergies and critical mass to attract and access new resources from various types (technology, finance, relational capital, and so on).

This becomes clear in initiatives in which cooperation is apparent on both the demand and offer sides of innovative solutions. In the early stages of collaborative projects, however, uncertainty and anxiety may prevail, as the project’s unpredictability requires stronger efforts than expected. Still, these efforts are worth the while.


The quadruple helix is the driving force in innovation processes

In our opinion, the best way of putting together the various layers of innovation and making the most of cooperation is encouraging collaboration between the components of the quadruple helix model – industry, university, government and society. We believe in this model’s potential as a working method and an approach to the challenges faced by the country, bringing together teams with disparate skills, competencies, profiles and experiences for a common goal.

Innovation is available to us all for the development of new social relations and cooperation models that permeate and transform society at large. Diversity enables the creation of synergies, often unforeseen or even unrelated to the initial goal.

In public-private cooperation, transformation projects find a sound, promising, foundation, which increases the possibility of transferring results to society and the market in sustainable ways. This is the model endorsed by Innobasque. In order to pursue it, we will continue to explore ways of cooperation and forge alliances with the actors in all four helices in Euskadi and beyond.


The Basque Innovation System needs top-level strategic leadership

The governance model of the Basque Science, Technology and Innovation System has evolved in search of top-level strategic leadership.

The Basque science, technology, research and innovation policy is led by the Lehendakari, the president of the Basque Government, who gets advice from the Basque Council for Science, Technology and Innovation. This is a body comprised of the Basque Presidency, the Basque Ministers of Finance, Education, Economic Development and Competition, and Health, the Rectors of the three Basque universities, the Representatives of the three Basque provinces, Tecnalia, IK4 Research Alliance, Idom, CAF, CIE Automotive, Iberdrola, Ikerbasque, Jakiunde and Innobasque.

This composition lends the Council a global vision of the system that goes beyond fragmented or compartmentalised perspectives while encouraging cooperation between science and technology, industry and society to face the challenges of Euskadi. The strategy thus defined is aimed at improving efficiency, excellence and market relevance while promoting cooperation between actors within and without the Basque Country.


Participation plays an important role in the design, implementation and assessment of innovation policies

For the first time in history, Euskadi has a global strategy for smart specialisation, relying on the participation and leadership of public and private organisations in all stages of the process, from design to implementation to assessment.

As a result of this strategy, research agents can make progress in their fields of expertise, looking to improve efficiency in the transfer of results to society and industry, and to strengthen cooperation with other agents.

Moreover, the agents in the Basque Science, Technology and Innovation Network rely on a strategy to watch the changes in local and international environments and adapt themselves to the emerging needs of the social and industrial fabric.

Furthermore, an assessment method is being developed to measure the results and impact of investment in research and innovation, for ‘what is not measured cannot be improved.’ We need to be able to measure intermediate and final results, to evaluate processes and to undertake agile and focused decision-making processes if we are to increase the value added to the Basque Innovation System.


Learning is a key result in innovation processes

In most projects and initiatives, learning from the process is as important as the knowledge gathered from its final results. Learning is, thus, a critical task.

The knowledge produced by innovation processes needs to be published and disseminated in order to be transformed into value and learning, and thus into input for new initiatives. All knowledge and innovation agencies must work in this direction.

The first step to accomplish this is learning to unlearn, that is, being capable of keeping an open mind and taking in new paradigms that bring into question the ways things have always been done – breaking with traditional mindsets to build and internalise new knowledge.


Expanding the culture of innovation is an investment for the future

Innovation is contagious. This is why communicating and sharing results is of utmost importance, and why we must have a sound, consistent narrative of innovation achievements big and small, targeted at different audiences, that paves the way for long-term results that take time to obtain. We need to celebrate small success and big progress, generously sharing them with all the people and organisations involved.

The evolution of Basque innovation is in our hands – in the hands of Basque society. In Euskadi, innovation fuels our growth model. There are numerous actors promoting their innovative activities, and their audiences are large.

The efforts to add prestige to Euskadi as a land of innovation has social and economic benefits, making the shared commitment to an advanced country model visible, acknowledging the achievements of the Basque Innovation System and supporting long-term investment even during economic downturns. Against this background, brands can be an innovation asset and Innobasque is a brand contributing to the positioning of Euskadi as a land of innovation.


Innovation is key to improving governance in the public administration

The new governance models, based on participation and transparency, are crucial to maximising the generation of shared value. It is increasingly necessary for government and civil society to work together in co-responsibility, developing dialogue, negotiation and agreement mechanisms to improve efficiency and enhance legitimacy in public action.

An informed citizenry is an educated citizenry. However, publishing information is not enough. Information must be accessible and reusable, and it must not be reduced to the point where there is no room for multiple interpretations.

Besides, integrating civil society perspectives into public action creates expectations for change that need to be adequately managed so as not to erode the credibility of institutions.


Euskadi relies on Europe and Europe relies on Euskadi

An active presence in Europe is a source of knowledge and finance, as well as a positioning tool for an innovative country.

In a global economy where emerging countries are gaining importance as global demand hubs and production centres of new products and services, Europe is trying to keep its competitive advantage as a global centre for the recruitment of talent and the production of advanced knowledge.

Europe offers a wide range of innovation resources and experiences: good practices, potential partners, public finance programmes, and so on. Euskadi is making valuable contributions to the European pool of innovation resources.

In an effort to join other innovation leaders, Euskadi is working on participation in and leadership of European projects, taking advantage of the opportunities opened up by big strategic initiatives within the framework of Horizon 2020.


Innovation requires high levels of optimism and enthusiasm

In order to make discoveries, innovate and daring to create something new, we need an open mind, confidence in the future and in our environment, and reliance on our skills and the potential of collaborative work.

At Innobasque we believe intelligent optimism is a vital component in innovative ecosystems. The work we do is imbued with this spirit.