Meld. St. 30 (2019–2020)

An innovative public sector — Culture, leadership and competence

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12 Collaboration with research environments

Figure 12.1 

Figure 12.1

Research can contribute both directly and indirectly to innovation. Research can generate new knowledge about needs, expectations, trends, changes in framework conditions and how these changes take place. It can be a driving force for innovation by developing new, smart solutions, and can provide insight into new and existing solutions, development processes and how innovations can be used on a larger scale.

12.1 The current situation

Public sector innovation has received increasing attention in the research sector. The Government has highlighted public sector innovation in both the long-term plans for research and higher education, and the Research Council of Norway developed a strategy for public sector innovation in 2017.1 Research projects are funded by the Research Council and the Regional Research Funds, universities and university colleges and hospitals on the basis of the public sector’s needs.

The research sector comprises universities and university colleges and the institute sector. Research institutes work closely with public agencies through assignments and thereby learn about the public sector’s needs and challenges. Through cooperation with the business sector, they also become aware of new innovative solutions. The Government’s strategy for a cohesive institute policy (2020) describes ambitions for the institute sector’s contribution to a sustainable transition.

The Innovation Barometer surveys show that around 13 per cent of local government agencies and 11 per cent of central government agencies state that they collaborated with research and development (R&D) environments when carrying out or developing their latest innovation. To the question who or what led to the initiation of the latest innovation, 7 per cent of local government agencies (2020) and 3 per cent of central government agencies (2018) responded that it was an education or research institution.2

A number of agencies participate in international projects and cooperate with other countries to resolve problems they would otherwise have had to address alone. The EU funds a large portfolio of innovative projects in which the public sector collaborates with research groups and in some cases the business sector and other partners.

Both local and central government agencies experience pressure on both time and resources. There is rarely time to identify and read relevant research as part of their day-to-day work.3 At the same time, many feel that the research environments and public sector know too little about each other and that better mutual knowledge would provide mutual benefits.4 Employees in the public sector are knowledgeable about their own areas and have insight into processes that researchers have less knowledge of, while researchers can be learning partners and help to identify and deal with challenges and possibilities in new ways.5

12.1.1 Research collaboration programs

There are regional, national and international research programs under which the public sector can participate in and lead projects. Previously, the public sector has largely been the subject of research, while public agencies are now involved in or initiate all phases of innovation and research processes. There is power in having a say in decisions on which challenges will be the subject of innovation, or about what topics research will be conducted on.

Research programs in Norway

Research and Innovation in the Municipal Sector (FORKOMMUNE) is the Research Council’s program for this area. The program has supported innovation and knowledge-building projects since 2018 to generate innovation in different parts of the local government sector. Through collaboration with research environments, the sector will gain access to national and international knowledge about needs and expectations, development trends, changes in framework conditions and how these changes take place. The research environments also provide access to systematic methods for mapping and compilation, and conducting trials and testing.

Since 2019, the Research Council has announced funding in portfolios rather than programs. This enables broad calls for proposals for public agencies that wish to collaborate with research environments in areas such as health and welfare services, transport, urban planning, digitalisation, education and bioeconomy. In March 2020, the Research Council awarded NOK 210 million to 33 projects led by the public sector, including for sustainable mobility, and simulation and artificial intelligence in emergency medicine. They received 110 applications in response to the call.6 In May 2020, the Research Council announced a further NOK 200 million for projects that involve the public sector identifying its challenges and developing solutions in collaboration with researchers.

Other Research Council programs also provide funding for innovation and knowledge-building projects for the public sector. They include research and innovation programs for the education sector (FINNUT), health, care and welfare services (HELSEVEL), the transport sector (Transport 2025) and ICT and digital innovation (IKTPLUSS). Major reforms, such as the NAV Reform and the Coordination Reform, have been the subject of dedicated evaluations in the form of research programs. The Research Council has developed a map showing how municipalities and county authorities collaborate with researchers through the Research Council and the EU’s activities.7

The Public Sector PhD scheme was established in 2014 and has so far granted funding to 166 projects. The scheme’s overall objectives are to increase long-term, relevant knowledge-building and research efforts in the public sector, increase researcher recruitment in the public sector and increase cooperation between academia and the public sector. NAV is one of the agencies that have used this scheme and, at the end of 2019, it had nine employees taking a PhD.

Through the Regional Research Funds, the county authorities fund research and innovation projects using funding from the Ministry of Education and Research. Several of the funds were quick to offer research funding and pre-project funding for public sector innovation. A larger proportion of both small and large municipalities have participated in Regional Research Fund projects than in FORKOMMUNE projects.

International research collaboration

Increased internationalisation is one of four overarching aims of Norway’s research policy, and Norway has participated in the EU framework programs for research for some time. The focus of the research and innovation program Horizon 2020 (2014–2020) is on addressing societal challenges in collaboration with, among others, public agencies.

Participation in a Horizon 2020 project gives public agencies financial support to boost their innovation efforts. They also build international networks and expertise that provide benefits over and above the areas the projects concern. Box 12.1 shows an example of a Horizon 2020 project that the public sector is participating in.

Textbox 12.1 The public sector in Horizon 2020

In the project CityLoops, Bodø municipality is cooperating with Nordlandsforskning AS and Iris Produksjon AS, with partners from six European countries. The airport in Bodø is to be moved, thereby making space available to build a brand new urban district. The project aims to find solutions to reusing polluted soil from the airport area and contribute to creating a market for the reuse of building materials and soil. It will utilise brand new simulation tools and involve citizens in the planning process. The project has been granted funding under Horizon 2020’s Innovation Project scheme.

Source Research Council of Norway

The framework program Horizon Europe2021–2027 will start up in 2021. The proposed goals for Horizon Europe are to support innovative solutions in the business sector and society at large to address global challenges, promote all forms of innovation and help to bring innovative solutions to the market. Horizon Europe is a continuation of Horizon 2020. One important change is the introduction of missions8 (section 12.3.5) for research and innovation.9

12.1.2 Research mobilisation

There are many reasons why the number of public agencies collaborating with research environments is not higher. Lack of experience of research collaborations and developing applications for such collaborations is one of them. The Research Council offers training to businesses and public agencies that wish to learn more about structuring research and innovation projects, through the project workshops it organises across the country.

The county authorities mobilise and qualify small and medium-sized enterprises for research-based innovation through policy instruments such as competence brokering and pre-projects.10 Several county authorities, including Trøndelag, Nordland and Møre og Romsdal, have used these instruments in their work to increase collaboration between municipalities and research environments.

Norway also carries out extensive mobilisation work for Horizon 2020. The Research Council plays a leading role in this context. They have national contact points for all the thematic areas and offer courses, assistance in writing applications, financial support to applicants and regional thematic networks. Innovation Norway, the ministries, county authorities, clusters and networks also mobilise and assist in this work.

FINN-EU is a network between KS, the Association of Norwegian Research Institutes (FFA) and the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions (UHR) that endeavours to highlight opportunities for the local government sector in Horizon 2020. The network organises activities and arenas. In 2019, the Research Council and the FINN-EU network announced that tailored guidance was available through eight workshops. They are offered to municipalities and county authorities that are particularly motivated to apply for funding from Horizon 2020 or Horizon Europe (2021–2027).

12.1.3 New forms of collaboration

Universities, university colleges and institutes collaborate with the public sector in many ways. New forms of collaboration have been developed and tested in recent years, such as centres, cluster collaborations and various forms of agreements on long-term cooperation, including collaborations on education.

The formation of centres, such as the Centres for Research-driven Innovation, can involve public agencies. The Centre for Connected Care is an example of this in the healthcare sector. An increasing number of industry clusters also include both research groups and public agencies. Examples of such agreements are University City TRD3.0, in which Trondheim municipality and NTNU are testing new types of collaborative constellations between a university and a municipality, and NAV’s collaboration agreements with four universities and university colleges (Box 12.2). NTNU has also cooperated with the Norwegian Public Roads Administration on research and education for some time. A similar collaboration is Kunnskapskommunen Helse Omsorg Vest, a knowledge collaboration between the City of Bergen, the University of Bergen, the Western University of Applied Sciences, the research institute NORCE, Helse Bergen health trust, Haraldsplass Deaconess Hospital and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.11

Textbox 12.2 Collaboration with universities and university colleges

Collaboration with NAV (the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration)

In 2019, NAV entered into strategic cooperation agreements with OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, the University of Tromsø and NTNU. The purpose is to strengthen existing knowledge environments that wish to collaborate with NAV and to ensure a well-founded, coordinated collaboration centred around research.

A shared ambition to raise the quality and relevance of research in areas related to NAV is an important basis for the agreements. The higher education institution must engage more expert environments in the collaboration than those that have traditionally conducted research on NAV and the labour and welfare field. It is also an objective that the institution develops projects of sufficiently high quality to receive funding from the Research Council or EU programs. The cooperation agreements have support from the top level of their respective organisations. Innovation is a topic in several of these collaborations.


Trondheim university city – a partnership between the municipality and research environments

In 2018, NTNU and Trondheim municipality entered into a four-year pilot collaboration under the name University City TRD3.0. The goal is to give Trondheim and the country as a whole long-term access to knowledge, expertise and technology of strategic importance to the development of good, sustainable communities. Modelled on the use of the term ‘university hospital’, it is a common goal to promote research, education and innovation that address complex societal challenges, with high requirements as regards quality and efficiency. The work is organised around five thematic areas: health and welfare, youth and education, urban development, smart city, and innovation. University City TRD3.0 came about in response to raised expectations that the importance and relevance of research to public sector innovation should be highlighted. The collaboration between NTNU and Trondheim municipality is about the local authorities taking a clearer role as agenda setter when formulating problems, and about collaboration across disciplines and services, innovative use of technology and developing the city as an attractive and efficient living lab. Lessons learned from this work also contribute to the development of new models for more integrated collaboration between cities and universities. Knowledge about what this work method entails will be developed, demonstrated, evaluated and openly shared. This will be of major importance to sustainable restructuring and value creation as we enter the last decade of the UN 2030 Agenda.


12.2 Assessment of the situation

The Innovation Barometer surveys show that collaboration with research environments is relatively limited. More and better research is needed within several public sector areas on the effects and content of both the services themselves and the structures in which they are integrated. The same applies to state and municipal services and how they interrelate.12

The Government considers it important that the public sector steps up cooperation with research environments on public sector innovation. It is also important to further investigate how research environments can be more closely linked to the public sector so that innovation needs and topics for research can be identified and followed up. Research should also be involved in innovation work, including on trials, digitalisation, benefits realisation and diffusion, competence raising, innovative public procurements and collaboration with business and industry, the voluntary sector and the population at large. Research results in large amounts of knowledge that it is not always easy for others to access or make use of. Collaboration with research environments, ideally over time, gives public agencies easier access to a broad national and international knowledge base.

At the same time, not all innovation work in the public sector needs to involve research collaboration. Much innovation is not research-driven and, even when innovation is based on research, it may concern new ways of applying existing knowledge. When initiating innovation projects, it can therefore be useful to consider the benefits of involving research groups in relation to, for example, resource use and the need for swift progress and implementation.

12.3 The way forward

In October 2018, the Government launched the updated Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028.13 The long-term plan aims to help realise the Government’s prioritised projects and provide predictability for research and education environments. The overarching goals of the long-term plan are to

  • enhance competitiveness and innovation capacity

  • address major societal challenges

  • develop academic and research communities of outstanding quality

High-quality research and education are key factors in achieving modernisation, rationalisation and innovation in the public sector. In the long-term plan, the Government emphasises that the public sector must carry out continuous development and innovation work and utilise new, research-based knowledge and new work methods and forms of organisation.

Trials are an area where research collaborations can be of great importance. A research partnership can ensure that trials are based on research and generate learning and a basis for assessing how well the trials actually worked. The development of new products, solutions and services may require research, which is why researchers are involved in pre-commercial procurements and other innovative procurement processes.

12.3.1 Data for research and open access to research

Public agencies generate large amounts of data, and Norway has good-quality register data on many areas of society. Access to such public data for researchers, and public and private sector actors who wish to reuse the data, can be both complicated and demanding in terms of resources. The Government aims to make it easier to gain access to these data and make it possible to link them across disciplines and levels, provided that personal data protection and information security are safeguarded.14 One solution under development is the Health Analysis Platform. The Government will develop a white paper on data-driven economy and innovation (Chapter 6).

Open access to scientific publications will promote research and society’s use of research results. Open access will grant researchers, the business community and the population at large access to the most up-to-date knowledge, which they can quickly employ.

The Research Council has joined the international coalition, cOAlition S, which is behind Plan S. The objective of Plan S is that all research funded by the participating organisations must be made immediately available through open access. Research articles are to be made available via open journals, publication platforms or open archives. The use of public data and access to research publications must take place within the bounds of copyright rules and relevant rules for database protection.

12.3.2 Research projects, long-term collaboration and partnerships

Public sector employees need knowledge and skills that promote new ways of working and cooperating. The Government will therefore help to raise the quality and relevance of research and education in general, and, in particular, to boost research in areas of strategic importance to the public sector.15 Among other things, the Government will present a white paper on job relevance (Chapter 8).

There must be more collaboration between research institutions and public agencies. This requires more types of both short and long-term collaborative constellations. It will be particularly interesting to follow and learn from the experience gained from these collaborations with national and international research projects and long-term collaboration agreements. Collaborations of this kind can also help to increase cross-sectoral research and innovation. Universities, university colleges and the institute sector will have different points of departure for participating in the various types of collaboration. This must also be taken into account when evaluating them.

12.3.3 Knowledge summaries as a tool for innovation

National and international research must be made more readily available to the public administration, the business sector and the general public. Compiling research results and developing knowledge summaries constitute an important part of this effort. Knowledge centres in different areas have been established to fulfil this role, including in the healthcare and education sectors. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health, for example, produces knowledge summaries relating to the healthcare and welfare sectors. It may also be expedient to establish similar functions in other areas. Both public agencies as contractors and research environments as suppliers need more expertise in knowledge syntheses. There are many complex cross-sectoral challenges, for instance between health and the environment.

The impact of measures must also be documented. Follow-up research can keep track of measures to ensure that they provide the right help to individuals while also being sustainable for society.

Newly qualified graduates, knowledge summaries and more use of research results, for example through developing thematic guidelines, are important channels for quickly integrating knowledge into services.16

12.3.4 Intersectoral research and innovation

Norway’s sector principle for research means that each ministry is responsible for research within its area of responsibility. This means that all the ministries contribute to the implementation of a common research policy. The investment in Norwegian state-funded research comprises the sum of the ministries’ contributions. In addition to industry-funded research, this should reflect society’s research and knowledge needs.17

Society’s research needs increasingly cut across traditional dividing lines between sectors. The ministries that have a coordinating role across areas have a particular responsibility for maintaining an overview of society’s knowledge needs within their respective areas. The Ministry of Climate and Environment, for example, has special responsibility for research on climate and the environment, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries for research by business and industry, and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy for energy research. The Ministry of Education and Research has overarching responsibility for the Norwegian research system, including basis funding of the higher education sector. It also has sector responsibility for research that falls under its areas.

What are known as ‘21-processes’ under the Digital 21 project are a policy instrument used to stimulate research and innovation collaborations between sectors and organisations in areas including health, HelseOmsorg21, and children and adolescents, BarnUnge21. These are processes driven by the parties involved, in which participants from research institutions, the public administration, business and industry and special interest organisations work together to develop research and development strategies.

It can be challenging to realise solutions to cross-sector challenges, not least when it is unclear who has or should be the principal owner. In can be difficult in practice to get others to prioritise resources for use in areas they do not consider to be at the core of their sector.18 The Research Council plays a key role in developing calls for proposals across ministries and conducting portfolio management across sectors.

Water and wastewater is an example of an area with little research funding, but where the public sector has significant needs going forward. The City of Bergen is participating in a large research project about surface water with funding from Horizon 2020. When allocating funds for public sector innovation in summer 2019, four projects received funding from the Research Council for projects on a safer and more effective water supply.19 The Government also wants to establish a program for technology development in the water industry (Box 12.3).

Textbox 12.3 Research on water and wastewater

The water and wastewater industry, in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), has established a national centre for water infrastructure. The centre is a collaboration between NMBU, Norwegian Water, a number of large municipalities, and industry organisations and suppliers in the water and wastewater field. NOK 20 million was allocated in start-up funding over the Ministry of Education and Research’s budget. The centre will contribute to enhanced quality and efficiency in all parts of the water and wastewater industry through education, experience sharing, research and technology development.

NOK 5 million has been earmarked in the national budget for a program for technology development in the water industry for up to five years, provided that the municipalities and supplier industry contribute at least an equivalent amount. The objective of a technology development program in the water industry is to achieve a safer water supply in terms of health, and a more secure supply of drinking water in a cost-effective, sustainable way.

The municipalities are responsible for providing their inhabitants with satisfactory water and wastewater services. By providing funding over a five-year period, the central government will contribute to developing sustainable technological solutions with a view to a faster and more cost-effective renovation of outdated water mains. The program is under development in dialogue with KS, Norwegian Water, the supplier industry and the National Association of House Owners in Norway.

Source Proposition No 1 to the Storting (2019–2020) from the Ministry of Health and Care Services

12.3.5 The missions approach

Missions are a cross-sectoral approach to challenges that the EU is introducing in the upcoming Horizon Europe framework program. The core of the missions approach is to select a societal challenge that many sectors will need to cooperate on to resolve. Based on a description of a problem or challenge, the desired tangible improvements and solutions are defined within a specified time horizon. The participants then define expedient policy instruments to achieve the given objectives.

The idea is that joining forces to achieve ambitious, overarching goals provides momentum and a dynamism that can pave the way for large-scale innovations. Missions seek to combine such ambitious goals (top-down) with broad engagement and efforts (bottom-up). They can therefore facilitate more radical innovations in collaborations between the public, private and voluntary sectors. The EU is preparing the research and innovation program Horizon Europe (2021–2027). In the program, missions are used as an approach to the major societal challenges: cancer, climate change, oceans, cities, and soil health and food.

Norway is achieving impressive results as a participant in the EU Framework Program for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, and is also considering participation in Horizon Europe.

12.4 The Government’s aims

Research and collaborations with research environments can contribute to more knowledge-based management and policy development, more radical innovation projects and the diffusion of successful innovations.

The Government will:

  • encourage greater collaboration between the public sector and research environments

  • step up grants for research and higher education that modernise, improve and streemlines the public sector, and that can contribute to better and more efficient services and measures for the population

  • increase the availability of research by stimulating open research dissemination, more open data and more knowledge summaries.



Report No 7 to the Storting (2014–2015) Long-term plan for research and higher education 2015–2024, Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019) Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028, the Research Council of Norway (2018) Strategy for innovation in the public sector 2018–2023


Difi (2018) Innovation barometer for the public sector 2018. Report, KS (2020) Innovation Barometer 2020


Telemarksforsking (2020) Små distriktskommuners deltakelse i innovasjonsvirkemidler (‘Small rural municipalities’ participation in innovation policy instruments’ – in Norwegian only). Report 540, Thune (2019) Forskning og forvaltning. En pilotundersøkelse om bruk av forskningsbasert kunnskap i offentlige organisasjoner (‘Research and administration. A pilot survey of research-based knowledge in public organisations’ – in Norwegian only). Report, University of Oslo


The insight phase of work on the white paper


NTNU (2019) How Universities Contribute to Innovation: A Literature Review-based Analysis. Report

6., published 18 March 2020




***(fotnote overflødig på engelsk)


The Research Council of Norway (2019) Indikatorrapporten om det norske forsknings- og innovasjonssystemet 2019 (‘Indicator report on the Norwegian research and innovation system 2019’ – in Norwegian only)


The policy instruments are part of the Research Council of Norway’s Program on Research-based Regional Innovation (FORREGION)


The Research Council of Norway (2019) Indikatorrapporten om det norske forsknings- og innovasjonssystemet 2019 (‘Indicator report on the Norwegian research and innovation system 2019’ – in Norwegian only)


Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019) Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028, the Research Council of Norway (2018) Strategy for innovation in the public sector 2018–2023


Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019) Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028






Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019) Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028


The Ministry of Education and Research (2017) Veileder for sektoransvaret for forskning (‘Guidelines to sector responsibility for research’ – in Norwegian only)




100 millioner til innovasjon i det offentlige (‘NOK 100 million for public sector innovation’ – in Norwegian only). Press release from the Research Council of Norway published 14 June 2019

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