How Do "Knowledge Societies" Measure Up?

Article excerpt

Anation that fails to support technological innovation may fall behind in the global economy, denying citizens a prosperous, just, clean, and sustainable world to live in. So a team of Finnish researchers has developed a method for measuring the state of a country's technological capabilities and innovation.

The "technology barometer," developed by the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) for the Finnish Association of Graduate Engineers TEK, comprises 12 indicators to measure how committed a society is to developing its human resources, investing in its enterprises, and nurturing advancement in technological innovation--and balancing these goals with those aimed at social justice and sustainable development.

The goal is to give decision makers a snapshot of how much emphasis different countries are placing on such issues as basic education, investment in research and development, and entrepreneurship, enabling them to improve their competitive capabilities.

An early test of the technology barometer in 2003 compared the performances of eight countries--Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States--on each of the 12 measures. Among the researchers' findings were that Sweden and the United States were clear leaders on the application of information and communication technologies while Germany lagged behind. However, the United States faltered on the environmental responsibility components of the sustainable-development measures.

Overall, Sweden was the leading knowledge-value society among those studied, with Finland taking second place. The researchers are using public polling to help refine the barometer and in the process are discovering some significant policy issues.

"Politicians view Finland's technoeconomic status [more positively than] members of the Engineering Association or the chief technology officers of major Finnish corporations," reports VTT senior researcher Mika Naumanen. …