Science, technology and innovation policy

Image: Steve Johnson


The university-company relationship and the “entrepreneurial” orientation

I have said and written that our Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (PCTI) will only change when the actor who hegemonically prepares it (formulates, implements and evaluates) is convinced that this is necessary.

My perception, contrary to what many comrades on the left who are dedicated to the topic think, is that “bottom-up” approaches like those that have long been implemented in central countries with the aim of democratizing politics will have little consequence among us. cognitive (a concept that for various reasons I use to combine Education and STI policies), such as those associated with science literacy, scientific dissemination or, more recently, public participation in science, open science, etc.

This perception is based on the probability that, in our peripheral reality, the meager results that have been achieved there will be even smaller. And that, therefore, the work of these colleagues would be more fruitful if it were oriented towards seducing the actor that hegemonizes cognitive politics – the scientific elite (and “their” technocrats) – so that he can effect changes capable of leveraging the political project that have.

And also, why this direct and resigned action, given that this hegemony will tend to be maintained, seems to me to be the most effective. It is supported by two pillars that become evident when focusing on PCTI. Conditioned by our peripheral condition, which means that, unlike what happens in central countries, where other actors (businessmen, military, green, etc.) participate in the elaboration of this policy defending the satisfaction of their techno-scientific demands, our social web of actors is incomplete and rarefied. Based on what I have called the “trans-ideological myth of the neutrality of capitalist technoscience” (given that it is accepted by both liberals and orthodox Marxists). Which, although it conditions this policy throughout the world, making it appear as a PULL politics, is even more determinant of its orientation on the periphery of capitalism.

The result of the effort to prepare the text “How our Science, Technology and Innovation Policy has been and could be: suggestions for the 5th National Conference”, the first part of which is presented in this article, expresses an expectation that arises from these perceptions.

And also an impression. A significant analytical-conceptual and, consequently, methodological-operational turn (which includes the institutional level) may be underway in the environment in which the “hard” and more qualified discussion about the future of PCTI is taking place.

I hope that, by following the narrative of my recent observation of this environment, whoever reads it will be able to adequately evaluate the arguments that support my expectations. And that, by sharing the awareness that, according to what I am observing, it would be happening in him regarding things that have been repeated for a long time in other areas about our “problematics”, I can positively evaluate the “solutionatic”, anchored in the concept of Technoscience Solidarity and the solidarity reindustrialization proposal, which has been discussed in them.


The focus of this text is what has been called the university-company relationship among us; whose incipience, according to the deep-rooted understanding of the actor that hegemonizes the PCTI, appeared recurrently in numerous preparatory events for the 5th National Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation.

It can be understood as a continuation of others I have written. In particular, from one, published on February 24, which included a clever epigraph from the editor: “I will very briefly explain why almost all of our companies that innovate do so by purchasing machines and equipment”.

In this article, I highlighted why some expectations of participants in these events seemed unrealistic to me. In particular, I showed that there was little probability that “Brazilian” companies, taking into account the proposal of corporate reindustrialization of the New Industry Brazil, would emulate the catch up Asian countries and surf the sixth wave of innovations to take advantage of the techno-scientific potential of our teaching and research institutions. Chronically underutilized by companies, as the broad spectrum of knowledge workers has long known. And, as a much smaller community, that of PCTI left-wing analysts, knows (in the epistemological sense of understanding the reasons that explain a fact), that underutilization is due to corporate behavior solidly anchored in the private economic rationality in force on the periphery of capitalism. .

After these events organized by MCTI, I attended, as a duty of office, others in which the two actors that I commented on in that article – the “scientist” and the “entrepreneurial researcher” – presented their traditional diagnoses and formulated their, also known, recommendations.

At the State Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation, sponsored by Fapesp on March 08, I noticed once again the participants' persistent difficulty in explaining the reality of our research-production environment, which I have long criticized and revisited in my article February, 24.

And, consequently, two recurring themes remained dominant. The first is the local company's limited propensity to innovate and, in particular, to carry out R&D. I will not address it here given that the diagnosis that, briefly, but in some detail, I presented in the aforementioned article, contributes to answering his question about how to increase this propensity.

The second theme, which appeared strongly at the State Conference, is the also scarce university-business (EU) relationship. It also raises the question of how to increase it. The model by which the scientific elite understands the area of ​​Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and uses it to develop its policy leads to the diagnosis that its central problem is what it understands as the scarce university-business relationship.[I]

Interpreted in a way that understands this relationship as involving the company's use of the knowledge produced in the research environment for that of production, it has, more than privileged, normatively absolutized, the flow of knowledge (disembodied) generated in the university to the business world. This has led her to place the induction of this flow (understood as the supply and demand of knowledge) at the center of her concerns, mainly, and initially in historical terms, through its provision by the university. And, increasingly, by inducing demand from the company.

Consequently, tackling what is seen as “the” problem of our STI environment – ​​the low intensity of this cognitive flow – has been one of the foundational elements, as I show below, of the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (PCTI) Latin American hegemonized by the scientific elite. Aiming to finance research activities that generate an offer more suited to what is considered to be the company's interests, PCTI has undergone successive regulatory guidelines. They ranged from the simple expansion of the research function at the public university to the creation of company “incubators” or startups for university professors and students (understood as capable of carrying out the expected techno-scientific demand), including institutional mediation arrangements, the public technological research institutes.

I found at the State Conference that a result of this insufficient understanding regarding our research-production environment is the risk that unrealistic suggestions, harmless to companies and harmful to universities, will be forwarded without question to the 5th Conference. And, as is its declared objective, transformed into public policy measures.

These observations led me to write a text that continued the article published on February 24th, exposing elements derived from a vision, supported by the extensive exploration carried out by several researchers on our PCTI, which leads to a perception that is radically (etymologically speaking) different from the hegemonic one. In this way, I hoped to contribute to giving more realism to this understanding and enabling the Conference to mobilize the actors affected by the PCTI towards the democratic and participatory objective declared by its organizers.

In particular, it should accept the criticism made of the conferences that were no longer held 14 years ago, that, unlike what happened in other areas of public policy, where actors with different values, interests and cognitive demands participated in defining the direction to be followed, they would have limited themselves to expanding the place of speech of those who prepare the PCTI. In other words, so that it could become more than a space for the scientific elite and “their” technocrats to talk about what they do, show their peers that this is relevant, convince public opinion that the State must support them. them, etc.

In particular, that it pay attention to the proposal sent to MCTI to create an institutional space for consultation with knowledge workers who are part of our teaching and research institutions (responsible for operationalizing our techno-scientific potential) with a view to identifying the embedded cognitive demands in unsatisfied collective material needs and their incorporation into the PCTI decision-making process.

At the beginning of the second week of March, when this text, which I present in this article, was ready to be sent for publication, I found out that an event specifically focused on the theme of the University-Business (EU) relationship would take place at Fapesp in the morning March 19th. Prepared by the same authorities who had organized the State Conference eleven days earlier, this Thematic Preparatory Conference for the 5th Conference, entitled University-Business Cooperation, promised news. After all, what had been concluded at the State Conference, corroborating the historically consolidated perception, was that this relationship, understood as the scarce flow (supply and demand) of knowledge, was the central problem of our CTI. I was surprised since focusing on the topic again seemed unnecessary…

Referring to the theme of the EU relationship no longer as a relationship, but as an interaction, and announcing a program that apparently chose not to invite the usual protagonists of meetings of this nature to the event, he seemed to signal something new. So I waited to see what would happen and decided not to publish what I had written.

What I watched confirmed this expectation. The event marked what seems to me to be a “turning point” in the official interpretation (that which appears in events organized by the scientific elite and its technocracy) regarding what until now is considered the central problem of our STI. And, consequently, as some people who participated in it came closer to the critical vision summarized in my article published 24 days earlier, it can be interpreted, as I do, as a watershed in the preparation of the PCTI.

The text that was already ready, added to what resulted from my observation of the event on University-Business Cooperation, fulfilled my objective of, through contrast, explaining the promising “turning point” that I felt was opportune to highlight in order to draw the attention of those responsible for 5th Conference. Despite the fact that these two parts represent a before and after the trajectory of the central current of PCTI analysis, the size of the final text recommended its separate publication.

The first contains what I had written in the events I attended before the one on University-Business Cooperation, on March 19th.

The second part, to be published next, derives from what I learned from this event. The contrast between them makes clear the hopeful “turning point” that I think is appropriate to highlight.

Returning to the explanation of the State Conference question

In the article cited above, published less than a month before the event on University-Business Cooperation (which I address in the article that will be published next), I mention that the question “what is the reason for Brazilian companies' limited propensity to innovate and, in especially, in carrying out research?” is perceived by some participants in these events as something inexplicable. Which is serious, since they are there to discuss the second of the four axes of the National Conference; what “support for innovation in companies” entails.

However, despite what one would expect, given the marathon vast series of preparatory events that have shaken those involved with the PCTI, seeking to show organized civil society the importance of techno-scientific knowledge trampled on by denialism and, implicitly, convincing it of the relevance of the content and the way in which it has been prepared by the scientific elite, none of them proposed to do so.

Some even declared that they had no information to answer it. Which isn't surprising. Neither of the two actors that I characterized in the article – the “entrepreneurial researcher” (who embraces innovationism) and the “scientist” (who adheres to linear-offerism) – seem to have an appropriate analytical-conceptual framework to carry out the second moment of the process that the Policy Analysis tool considers essential for the success of a public policy. This moment, the explanatory one, which follows the descriptive and precedes the normative, focused on identifying the causes of the problem that we want to reverse (the underutilization by companies of our techno-scientific potential) demands knowledge that those actors seem to lack.

For this reason, and trying not to repeat the synthesis I presented there of the results of that research, I will focus on what the hasty transition from the descriptive to the normative moment causes the scientific elite and “their” technocrats to recommend a false solution to the problem. underutilization of our techno-scientific potential. Because they do not understand the structural determinants of business behavior, due to the imitative market engendered by the peripheral condition, and because they naively believe that it can be changed by State action, they continue to demand public resources to promote the university-business relationship.

A little history to explain better

In Brazil, what we today call PCTI was individualized as such within the scope of public policies at the end of the sixties. Alongside other objectives that they delegated to PCTI, it inherited one that became its leitmotiv: to ensure that the research carried out in our university enclaves, which, having emulated the universities that had internalized this function abroad, was used by companies. Which, due to our peripheral condition, was not capable of motorizing, as was the case there, that cognitive flow.

To adequately explain our reality, it is worth pointing out what was happening in central countries. There, the flow of knowledge generated at the university to the business world, given that it occurred naturally, was not considered an object of specific promotion to be provided by the State. The company, by influencing university teaching and research agendas and hiring graduates to carry out the R&D that made its profitability viable, was triggering a cognitive flow typical of a capitalist economy.

At the same time as it allowed the expansion of teaching and university research, it enabled the research function to be increasingly integrated with the production of goods and services demanded by intercapitalist commercial competition and the geostrategic game were becoming increasingly important.

What existed, then, was a science policy or a research policy whose function was to allocate public resources for the training of professionals who, after graduating and hired by the company, enabled the technological result of State action to materialize as a flow of knowledge.

Contrary to this movement that historically presents itself as commonplace, there were mission-oriented programs, normally required by geopolitical and strategic motivations that, exceptionally, required specific support from university teams and the creation of organizations to provide an additional input of techno-scientific knowledge.

The most notable of these exceptions was the Manhattan Project to make the atomic bomb. It was decisive in changing the way the State began to act in the field that we now know as PCTI.

Codified in the Report “Science the endless frontier”, this American experience led the PCTI to adopt what we call the linear-offerist model almost everywhere in the world. He recommended (and even assured) that as the university was able to offer knowledge to society, a linear chain would be triggered that would result in technological, economic development and the well-being of all.

The university-company relationship and the “transfer” orientation

To return to focusing on the Brazilian case, it is worth explaining how the Latin American scientific elite understood the need to increase that cognitive flow; in other words, how the linear-supply model should be operationalized here. Although rarely made explicit, there was an understanding within its scope that the national company and, albeit for different reasons, the foreign company, were not capable of triggering a cognitive flow to that which occurred in central countries.

As is usual, before an interpretation of the differences between our reality in relation to those countries was formalized (in this case, the one that explained our peripheral condition), this actor already understood its impact on his field of activity, technoscientific research. He derived from this a peripheral reading of linear-offerism, what I call a “transferenceist” orientation and consider a movement before la lettre typical (in relation to what happened later in the central countries) of the Latin American intelligentsia. This orientation understands that it is up to the State, to increase that cognitive flow, to stimulate the transfer of disembodied techno-scientific knowledge resulting from research carried out at the university to the company.

It is as if, due to what was seen by some as a temporary weakness of the nascent company of a capitalism still in consolidation, and by others as a structural characteristic of our social formation, it was perceived that it was necessary to create institutional arrangements linked to the university, but external to it, such as the research institutes that existed in practically all Latin American countries and in almost all Brazilian states.

This perception was so widespread and the State's action so vigorous that that cognitive flow, which in central countries occurred according to that process that I caricatured above as natural and inherently capitalist, was understood here, paradoxically but understandably, as limited to a transfer. Given the limited propensity of local companies to demand knowledge, it was up to the State to provide the intermediation environment that would lead to the use of the supply capacity that the university had. The “transferenciat” orientation that gave meaning to the interest of the scientific elite and organized what came to be known as the EU relationship, was until the beginning of the nineties, the dominant element of our PCTI.

Latin American thought in science, technology and society

However, in Argentina, which at the end of the sixties already had considerable techno-scientific potential and where the linear-supply model and those arrangements were in full operation, the company's limited propensity for innovation and, even more so, for R&D persisted. This led scientists dedicated to hard sciences to be concerned, as occurred soon after in practically all of Latin America, to investigate the cause of this behavior.

The result of his foundational work and the investigation that it originated can be summarized as follows. Our peripheral condition conditioned, on the one hand, a cultural dependence that engendered an imitative consumption pattern that demanded goods and services already engineered in central countries. And, on the other hand, it established a situation in which, as a result of natural competitive advantages and the characteristics of the process of conquest and occupation of the territory, there was a relatively low cost of production factors (raw materials, workforce). These two factors enabled the property class and its companies to obtain high profits without the need to extract relative surplus value. The economically rational option for extracting absolute surplus value conditioned a little propensity for innovation and, even less, for business research.

Thus described and explained by the critical current of the implemented PCT, what became known as Latin American Thought in Science, Technology and Society[ii], it was as if the problem could be addressed at the normative moment, when considerations of an ideological nature appear with full force, in two very different ways.

The first, politically in line with that interpretation, was the reorientation of teaching and research agendas to meet the cognitive demands of a “national project” of interest to the majority of the population. Although without questioning the importance of the company, it demanded a considerable change in the linear-offerist regulations.

The second, did not propose a reorientation in the development model and accepted this regulation. It satisfied the right because its conservative conception of (capitalist) development required empowering the company. But it also satisfied the left. This is because, on the one hand, and coherently with the myth of the neutrality of (capitalist) technoscience that orthodox Marxism defends, what we had to do was emulate the leading countries in research. And, on the other hand, why national-developmentalism, which on an ideological level was opposed to imperialism, implied that companies with effectively national capital should be cognitively reinforced through frontier science and, therefore, the university-company relationship. Also on an ideological level was the idea that the transition to socialism had as a precondition the strengthening of state-owned companies that were emerging as important actors in the STI.

Supported by the idea that “to talk about science and technology it is necessary to know how to do it”, even the members of the scientific elite who came to know this interpretation of our research-production reality (perhaps because they come from the territory of hard sciences) , they were not able to appropriate it.

The university-company relationship and the “entrepreneurial” orientation

The implementation of the neoliberal project, at the end of the 1980s, with the abandonment of industrialization via import substitution that led to the extinction of almost all research institutes, occurred, not by chance, simultaneously with the privatization of state-owned companies that had internalized the function of R&D.

As a result, the “transferenceist” orientation, which understands that it is up to the State to increase the cognitive flow between the university and the company through those institutional intermediation arrangements to, thus, enable the transfer of disembodied technoscientific knowledge resulting from university research, was losing strength.

The perception was growing that the “transferenceist” orientation, being practically unfeasible by the new scenario, demanded another one more adapted to the new neoliberal times: the “entrepreneurial” orientation.

Its inspiration seems to have been the experience led here by the “technological guerrillas” of information technology policy, who themselves moved from the university to the business world, inaugurating the figure of the researcher-entrepreneur. They were able to replace businessmen or technocrats in the arrangements in which, based on their great political or economic power and possessing a political project that demanded new or inaccessible knowledge, they explain the successful research-production coupling experiences among us. . By managing to replicate them, even if only for a short time, they appeared to be the protagonists of what was being disclosed about the world. Silicon Valley as a standard of success.

The advance of neoliberalism, which insists that the solution to capitalism's problems is less of the State (which must be streamlined) and more of the company (which must be increasingly subsidized), and its cognitive rebuttal, innovationism based on the neo-Shumpeterian vision of the Innovation Economy each increasingly accepted in academic and governmental circles, made the “entrepreneurial” orientation gain strength.

The perception that in the field of knowledge what we call a peripheral condition prevented supply from creating its own demand, which had led to the review of linear-supplyism that led to the “transferenciat” orientation, provoked yet another movement in the PCTI. This new orientation, the “entrepreneurial” one, which, as occurs in the interface politics-policy When actors with new values ​​and interests enter the decision-making process, they begin to coexist with the “transferencia” approach, still in operation today. And also with typically linear-offer policy measures.

The “entrepreneurial” orientation proposes that it is the function of the public university to provide its researcher-entrepreneurs, and those it germinates among its students, through its entrepreneurial agenda of teaching, research and extension, the opportunity to become entrepreneurs. The unfathomable and growing expenditure of material and human resources that the State allocates to incubators, parks, accelerators, patent offices, NITs, innovation agencies, etc., and that its teachers, who are doubly interested in them, manage is an indicator of the strength of the guidance “entrepreneur”.

The self-legitimizing discourse of professor-entrepreneurs is increasingly accepted that if businesspeople, because they do not understand the importance of innovation, disregard the results of university research and are not even willing to take advantage of government stimulus to carry out R&D, then we will do it; we know how to explore high-technology niches and how important they are for the country's development.

This coexistence of orientations – linear-offerist, “transferenceist” and “entrepreneurial” – for the viability of the EU relationship, which involves, respectively, the maintenance of teaching, research and extension agendas that aim to meet what the scientific elite believes it should be the cognitive demand of the local company, the financing of joint activities involving the university and the company, and the funding of technology-based companies and startups of teachers and students with an entrepreneurial spirit, which will be spent the public resources allocated to PCTI .


As I advanced in the initial sections, this article should be understood as the first part of a larger totality; as a kind of introduction to what will be published under the title “What our Science, Technology and Innovation Policy has been and could be like: tips for the 5th National Conference (part 2). It is in this second part that I intend to show you that you have come this far, that we may be in the presence of a watershed in terms of the way you analyze and operate PCTI.

In it, commenting on what happened at the Conference on University-Business Cooperation, which, in contrast to what I wrote here, configures this promising “turning point” that I think is opportune to highlight.

To those who, eager for the “solutionatic”, would like me to promise that I would present it in part 2, I am sorry to disappoint. If what I am going to discuss there, the awareness of what that small community of PCTI left-wing analysts has been producing, is in fact beginning, it will be their responsibility to conceive it.

* Renato Dagnino He is a professor at the Department of Scientific and Technological Policy at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Solidarity Technoscience, a strategic manual (anti-capital fights).


[I] I have exposed in detail and exhaustively criticized the model through which the scientific elite develops our cognitive policy. Although it is the CTI component that is focused on in this text, much of what I cover here can be extended to cognitive policy in its entirety.

[ii] I make an exception here in relation to the procedure I have used of not indicating references from academic articles to cite one – DAGNINO, R.; THOMAS, H.; DAVYT, A. Thinking about science, technology and society in Latin America: a political interpretation of its trajectory. Redes, Buenos Aires, v. 3, no. 7, p. 13-51, 1996 – which, in addition to presenting this thought, explains the origin of many of the statements made in this text.

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