Effective innovation policies require an active program of evaluation and learning. But this is not always the case. “You’d be surprised at how often people move uncomfortably in their seats when you ask them, ‘How do you know if you’ve succeeded?’” he said. “‘And how could you measure that, or replicate it?’ Too often we hear, ‘Don’t ask if it works or not—it’s for a good cause.’ We think that’s the wrong approach.”


He called research parks an increasingly important element in a robust innovation ecosystem, but just one element. Another is the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which STEP had also examined in depth. “Frankly,” he said, “we were surprised at how effective that program is. A distinguished committee found it to be ‘sound in concept and effective in practice,’ and that has encouraged its renewal by Congress.”3


Dr. Wessner noted that as policymakers around the world recognize the importance of innovation for economic growth and national competitiveness, they are increasingly adapting public-private partnerships like SBIR and S&T Parks to their own national circumstances. Then, summarizing what he called the “innovation imperative, he drew out the following three points:

  • Innovation is the key to maintaining a country’s competitive position in the global economy.

  • The importance of small businesses and universities in the innovation process is seldom recognized.

  • Science and technology research parks have quickly become one of the most important catalysts of innovation.

Among the key issues to be addressed in the symposium, he said, is the evaluation of research parks and their role in commercializing government-funded research. Underscoring the fact that research parks are diverse, and all have different histories, goals, and structures, he cited, what he called, the “Link dictum,” of Professor Albert Link of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro: “If you’ve seen one park, you’ve seen one park.” At the same time,


See National Research Council, An Assessment of the Small Business Innovation Program, Charles W. Wessner, ed., Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2008.

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