A2K4D’s Webinar Series: Visualizing Innovation: Tracing Data Blind Spots in Egypt




Access to Knowledge


2021-05-06 19:28:20 382 0

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) leads the research on innovation metrics within the Open African Innovation Research (Open AIR) network. Within this research, the Center aims to devise alternative metrics for measuring knowledge and innovation that provide a more accurate reflection of Africa’s innovation realities. As such, A2K4D held the second session of its Tenth Annual Workshop on the 20th of November, 2020 titled “Visualizing Innovation: Tracing Data Blind Spots in Egypt” to showcase the latest innovation metrics research findings and insights from Egypt. The session covered the scope of A2K4D’s metrics research which brings together Open AIR, the Alternative Innovation Measurement Lab (AIM Lab), SETS North Africa, and the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology in Egypt. The innovation metrics research track at A2K4D dives further into capturing blind spots in Egypt’s Global Innovation Index (GII) data and designing new metrics for capturing a more accurate state of innovation in Egypt’s local context. Specifically, the Center’s research is guided by the urgency of understanding how the indicators that make up the index are defined, where their data comes from, and how each indicator directly affects the index. This research is especially pertinent given the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of data to the provision of healthcare, education, and other essential services. In this blog post, we reflect on the main outputs of the webinar, showcasing A2K4D and partners’ collaborative research efforts on alternative innovation metrics and context-driven understanding of innovation data for the purposes of sustainable development and agile policy making. Islam Hassouna, A2K4D consultant in the development of the Innovation Activity Index and the Innovation Activity Survey, explained that global indices like the GII quantify complex ideas into countable components by breaking down frameworks such as competitiveness or innovation into specific components that can inform policy makers on how to improve the state of innovation in MENA. According to panelist Dr. Tyseer Aboulnasr of the University of British Columbia, “innovation indices will never be perfect, each one addresses a certain aspect and the more indices you have the clearer the picture will be.” Dr. Aboulnasr further explained that “no one size fits all”, and that global indices always have blind spots that prevent them from measuring certain informal innovations all over the world. In light of this, A2K4D’s metrics research team is trying to better understand the GII, particularly analyzing the results and their trends over time in order to adjust research paths accordingly and create a better path for innovation. Dr. Hossam Abdelgawad, Director of Urban Transport Technologies at SETS and an Associate Professor of Engineering at Cairo University, explained that the primary research objective is to confirm the accuracy, timeliness, and completeness of the data by identifying each and every government official in charge of entering these datasets that feed the index and reviewing the validity of their data collection methodology. Accordingly, data is then analyzed and recommendations proposed for improving performance in key areas, as well as shifting indicators to accurately reflect the local reality of innovation. Led by A2K4D Director Dr. Nagla Rizk, the Center’s metrics research team is working with partners at SETS North Africa and the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology in Egypt to create a less complex tool to be used by regional policy makers to compute these indicators to be able to easily and efficiently formulate opinions, conclusions, and suggestions for future improvements. The main difference between A2K4D’s innovation index and that used by the GII is that the former acknowledges and aims to quantify unrecorded or informal innovation, or innovation that is not published or patented. This is particularly important for economies with weak intellectual property regimes, or poor scientific research activity. Following on systems theory, which posits that all components that drive a system are just as important in driving innovation as the final product, this research has the capacity to broaden our understanding of the very nature of innovation. Unlike the GII which measures a much broader range of innovation environment pillars, A2K4D’s index has a narrower focus on 3 particular pillars: collaboration, human capital, and knowledge governance. In order to quantify unpublished or informal innovation activity in Egypt, A2K4D created and disseminated the Innovation Activity Survey, which asked market leaders directly about their innovation activity in order to highlight blind spots in innovation research. During the session, Hassouna showcased the less complex tool developed by the data science team at SETs to aid policy makers in computing and evaluating innovation indicators. This new index compares the relative weight of variables and indicators to the three main pillars, enabling a hassle-free determination of the weights for each component, as well as the sources for each. Another aspect of A2K4D’s innovation visualization tool identified by Hassouna is its ability to answer “what if?” questions. This means that the index allows the user to edit projected scores in order to give accurate predictions for the effects of changing current variables on the future state of innovation. Additionally, it visually represents the relationship between each of the 105 components of the GII, visualizing each variable with its corresponding indicator while also visualizing trends in overall scores over the years for ease of comparability. As such, this research has immense potential and value for policy makers to improve the innovation environment in MENA. The process of creating an index essentially means that there will be a loss of detail as scores are aggregated into fewer and fewer numbers. Nevertheless, Hassouna emphasized that the potential analytic value to be gained from the metrics produced by this tool outweighs the importance of the data lost in the process of quantification and aggregation. Overall, the four panelists agreed that the main issues in need of improvements and policy solutions are the regulatory environment or ease of doing business, access to electricity and information and communications technology infrastructure. Dr. Nagla Rizk concluded the session by maintaining that while this remains an academic exercise that complements scholarship, “the heart of what we do is policy-driven research… These two objectives are not mutually exclusive and can be complementary to each other through creations like our innovation visualization tool.”