Article / Policy Innovation
Published: 16.12.2021

Dr. Pun-Arj Chairatana, the Executive Director of the National Innovation Agency of Thailand (NIA) also contributed to the Policy Innovation Exchange, with an insightful discussion of “New Science, Technology, and Innovation Policies and Practices”. As no discussion of innovation in Thailand would be complete without the think tank behind most of Thailand’s policies to support innovation, Dr. Pun-Arj provided a deep dive into some recent promising developments in innovation and policymaking. 

The Role of the NIA 

The NIA is a public organisation under the direction of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science, and Technology of Thailand. It was established to research, develop, and drive policy and act as a catalyst to achieve a thriving innovation ecosystem in Thailand. Their mission includes (1) to strengthen Thailand’s national innovation system, (2) to create opportunities and increase access to innovation infrastructures, and (3) to upgrade skills and innovation capabilities. To accomplish these goals, Dr. Pun-Arj informed the audience the NIA is currently undertaking large-scale transformations, which are supported by a portfolio that targets innovation infrastructure, innovation-based enterprises (IBEs), innovation for society and environment-at-large, and world-class innovation.  

Motivating Change in Science, Technology, & Innovation Policies  

Accoridng to Dr. Pun-Arj, a paradigm shift is required with regards to how the world, and specifically Thailand considers innovation, science, and technology. These changes, which concern changes in competitiveness, inequality, and at the heart of the impetus to change, climate change. Each of these play an important role in redefining how societies are engaged by innovation, where examples could include climate-change related natural disasters that require innovative approaches to alleviate the non-linear problems. Despite such occurrences having become a ‘new normal’, the traditionally narrow focus afforded to science, technology, and innovation has been slow to adapt. What’s more, these narrow scopes no longer meet the need of current situations and outcomes, where single-point solutions create partial solutions and further problems. 

Challenges & Opportunities to Science, Technology, & Innovation Policies 

In addition to the above-mentioned 3 mega trends, there are existing challenges to science and research systems, which when ignored could lead to undesirable consequences. 

  • Firm Capability 

According to Dr. Pun-Arj, first among the priorities of challenges to be addressed is the capabilities of firms, businesses, and enterprises to adapt in the face of disruption and change. “With so many newcomers, the so-called startups and social enterprises, they adopt very different modes and mindset to science, technology, and innovation, but they are important as they are the innovators.”  The question becomes how best to support these innovative firms while also not excluding the players in more traditional sectors. 

  • Human Capability 

Today, there is very little attention paid to innovator cultivation and development with most of the attention afforded to innovative processes and larger innovation systems. For Dr. Pun-Arj, this is an oversight in policymaking, and one which should be addressed as a means to support the researchers, younger generation who would like to be entrepreneurs, investors, and financiers. A lack of knowledge and capability in this field could lead to stagnation and would limit Thailand’s ability to engage in venture capital markets, which are a rapidly growing segment across the world.  

  • Innovation Infrastructure Utilisation  

The NIA dedicates a large portion of its budget to facilitating the creation of large-scale mega projects to support innovation infrastructure with physical tools and spaces, such as science parks, national laboratories, and other such facilities. Dr. Pun-Arj also pointed out a caveat for such projects as while such facilities are necessary to support the growth of the innovation ecosystem, without people to use them, or a steady flow of innovation from firms and people, they are destined to fail. Policy, again, should focus on assuaging such concerns by enabling and educating innovators.  

  • Innovation Opportunity & Regionalisation  

Many countries have been seen to centralise innovation centres and systems in big cities across the world, yet with pressures to regionalise, and with rapid urbanisation taking place, the decision to move such innovation systems to dedicated spaces outside the city is becoming more and more popular. Such centres, cities, and collaborative areas should be treated as hubs or “innovation cities” according to Dr. Pun-Arj.  

  • Regulatory Hacks & Innovation-Friendly Systems  

There is a growing concerted push to support science, technology, and innovation, where each nation has been attempting to experiment with policies that target and support innovative ideas. Despite this push, often times bureaucratic red tape, and non-innovative mindsets pushback and limit the potential impact of these policies. To address this, policies and policy-related processes should become innovative themselves, as a change in mindset is often necessary to support innovation.  

  •  Internationalisation of Innovation from Thailand  

There is a growing trend and tendency among all nations of the world to position themselves as innovative nations both domestically and at an international level. For Dr. Pun-Arj, this is crucial to develop science, technology, and innovation practices in Thailand as well as for innovation diplomacies. This allows for cross-border collaborations in innovation and helps each nation to better co-exist.  

  • Immunity to Global Challenge 

As the world is faced with the previously mentioned three challenges, such challenges affect us all in all areas of life, and innovation systems are no exception to this. To assuage these issues, innovation systems must be supported to support changes in practices.    

While many organisations and institutions are faced with the above development hurdles, “no small amount of research by the NIA and other organisations has found that redefining and redesigning how policy engages science, technology, and innovation is necessary. This is done to facilitate more sustainable growth” and encourage a spirit of innovation in future generations. 

The Time to Redefine Science, Technology, and Innovation Policies 

With the advent of startups and organisations which disrupt more traditional business models, a number of issues became apparent in the infrastructure of policies that formerly supported sectorial and economic growth. Salient among these is the tendency to favour manufacturing-oriented and research-oriented sectors as well as high-tech exports. At that time, these were large segments of the economy and supporting them led to economic growth, a decision reduced to a function of supply and demand. Today, however, and for quite some time science, technology and innovation sectors have been moving away from manufacturing-oriented sectors and moving towards business and entrepreneurial development. According to Dr. Pun-Arj, this has resulted in the gradual change in policies directions seen around the world which increasingly favour entrepreneurial schemes and development projects that target new segments.  

Dr. Pun-Arj notes that in the near future the world will see continued focus on these segments and expansions in data and AI-driven sectors, as a part of the post-manufacturing or trade-oriented era. This departure from trade-oriented policies ought to be accompanied with further development and research of tools involving big data, artificial intelligence, and even the metaverse. As the latest buzzword, “the metaverse will change the way we perceive science, technology, and innovation policy in the near future.”  

Science, Technology, and Innovation Policies in Transition  

 As an agency deeply embedded in the innovation and policymaking worlds of Thailand, the NIA notes 5 key changes to policies that are currently, or soon will undergo transitions and updates.  

  • System Evolution 

Even today, the system is evolving. Take, for example current energy policies, which were traditionally rooted in the logic of manufacturing and industrialisation processes and needs. Today, emerging policies tend to favour processes of urbanisation, as many in industrial estates, and science parks are finding homes in cities, and post-industrialisation of market segments.  

  • Innovation Models  

Former models of innovation processes adopted linear approaches to map out the path from science to technology to innovation or from research to technology to innovation, but these models do not work with current situations and those of the foreseeable future. Accordingly, many thinkers and academics have proposed new methods to understand how one perceives this system. Today, many favour a democratised form of innovation, where the boundaries between firm-based and government-based innovations are blurred as non-firm innovative activities and civil society become more and more relevant to topics such as intellectual property, regime change, and more generally how people utilise knowledge.  

  • Key Players  

As with current models, Dr. Pun-Arj anticipates that firms, startups, SMEs, and enterprises, will continue to play an important role in innovation ecosystems, yet in light of (2) above, as non-firm-based innovation becomes more and more prevalent through democratised innovation processes, it is logical to assume that people and non-firm-based innovation will begin to play a larger role. This will mark the end of the triple-helix model, and entry into the post-triple-helix era, where people, organisations, and the environment become integrated into the system.  

  • Driving Forces 

From the past until now, the central driving forces for science, technology and innovation-targeted policies was supply and demand as indicators of growth and the economy. In light of the aforementioned transitions and impetus to change, a rise of public service innovation has raised issues concerning community and citizen involvement and the effects this ought to have on policy and the direction of the industry. As customers and players, it is assumed that their expectations of commitments from the government will shape the forms of policies which target science, technology, and innovation, according to Dr. Pun-Arj.  

  • Mindset Shifts 

Today, many countries and sectors have been pursuing policies geared toward science, technology, and innovation from the perspective or mindset of ‘catching up’ and they attempt to overtake international competition and rise as a leader in innovation. While several countries have successfully done so, it stands to reason that with so many countries attempting to do so, disruptive mindsets will be key to achieving new successes. Dr. Pun-Arj concludes that because of the power to be found in disruption, changes in mindset should be the first priority of any and all who engage in policy.  

Realising Positive Impact for the Present and Future World  

Be it the 7-10 challenges faced by innovation sectors in Thailand or across the world, or the 5 shifts noted in emerging policies, science, technology, and innovation are poised to provide positive impacts in several key areas including business model innovations, area-based innovatios, social innovations, public-sector innovations, data-driven innovations, paradigm innovations, and aesthetic innovations. Each of these opportunities, whether tangible and intangible, presents various sectors with the chance to redefine themselves—achieve something new, something different—that better reflects the needs of the people, and continues to result in disruptively necessary change.  


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