In our third and final report from the DEIP Innovation Workshop in Morocco, September 2018, we spoke with Omar Elyoussoufi Attou, Head of Innovation at the Moroccan Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Executive Training.
How can this DEIP workshop help national governments — not only in Morocco but across the African Union?
This workshop was an opportunity for us to have a better understanding of the issue of innovation in our countries, across various regions of Africa. In Morocco we pay particular attention to innovation, with a view to achieving sustainable and inclusive development. The ultimate goal is to integrate Morocco into the knowledge society: in other words, to turn the country into a knowledge-based economy.
Most of the participants here are from universities and administrations, people in charge of research and development, people with an eye on the future. For us, innovation is a tool or a mindset to move forwards and develop our countries in this direction: to be a part of the wider knowledge society.
For the topic discussed at this workshop – innovation strategy – the systemic nature of designing and operationalising programmes requires great efforts in terms of coordinating the actions of various national actors. In this respect, training and knowledge sharing should greatly facilitate all subsequent design work. Why? Because many different actors have to contribute to national systems and strategies, but of course they do not have the same point of view, as they have different backgrounds and different objectives.
For us, the opportunity to share knowledge about national innovation systems, how other countries deal with this issue, is very important. Having this common knowledge and understanding will help us in designing a successful strategy. But it’s not just about learning from each other. Success also depends on good communications.
Communications, which we discussed on the fourth day of the workshop, plays a key role in national innovation systems, particularly in ensuring virtuous and continuous improvements. Here in Morocco we have several strategies that we are trying to develop while integrating feedback. Feedback not only in the basic sense, but also in terms of shifting the mindsets of certain actors – or even entire cultures. Your session covered this in detail, particularly how to change attitudes. This should help us to work together on a more efficient and pertinent strategy, which in turn should help us achieve our objectives.
Can improving communications help change governments — or even entire societies — for the better?
Yes! During this workshop, a lot of participants talked about their various cultures, about different actors who have to interact to overcome misunderstandings and move forwards with their strategies. The first thing to do is to sit around a table and communicate: to have an idea of each other’s motivations, to see what other countries do, but also to have a scientific and evidence-based approach.
Why do I keep mentioning the importance of communication? Because most, if not all, national actors in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, have their own vision of what role they should play. But these visions are not harmonised. In fact, they are often contradictory. And these differences become clear when you start to implement strategies.
So why is it important to improve communications? First, we can help each actor to better explain their particular perspective: i.e. what they do and why they do it. Second, you underlined in your communications session the importance of serving not only policymakers but also the general public. I see this as crucially important for gaining public support for projects that may require a lot of funding or mobilisation. For such projects, it is by no means sure that the general public will either understand or sympathise, so winning public support can be a game changer.
To this end, we not only have to develop our own skills and capacity in communications, but also enable journalists to play their role. This should be a pillar of all national strategies for science, technology and innovation, because we are obliged by law to communicate our work to all stakeholders and all levels of society. But it’s not only about obligations. We also have major science projects that are practical and inspirational in equal measure, projects able to capture people’s imagination – in particular the next generation. They are the future, our future, and better communications and innovation policies will help us all achieve the future we want, the future of which we dream.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations University or the Government of Morocco.
Flickr / A. Cinotti; UNU / Howard Hudson