3. Science, Technology and Innovation Governance

In any country, the political system, the structure of government and the way governance is exercised affect how science, technology and innovation (STI) policy is made, implemented and, as a result, its performance.

Governance is key to the way all organisations work, whether they be ministries, schools, companies or universities. Governance refers to the set of largely publicly defined institutional arrangements, incentive structures, rules, etc., that determine how the various public and private actors engaged in socio-economic development interact in allocating and managing resources devoted to different policy fields. Governance therefore focuses on the interactions between the various actors that together determine priorities, strategies, activities and outcomes. Governance is as much on the processes of strategy and policy formulation and implementation, as on the content. Although there is no one best way to govern STI and good practices stemming from OECD countries cannot all be directly adapted to Gulf countries, some general principles can be used as a reference framework.1

Strategic orientation: Originating from the highest level of the governance structure, most OECD countries (33 of 35 OECD countries recently surveyed) have clear mid- to long-term STI strategies (Borowiecki and Paunov, 2018). These strategic frameworks are essential to provide consistency and directionality in a national system of innovation. Two key parameters of these national STI strategies are their scope and objectives:

  • Scope: These national, overarching, strategic frameworks should not be fragmented or focused on a single component of the system; for example, only considering research without taking into account the demand-side and framework conditions for innovation. Such linear approaches have revealed an inability to cope with current complex and rapidly evolving STI issues.

  • Directions: These strategies should provide clear objectives and ensure a wide consensus around them. These orientations guide higher education, research and/or innovation activities so that they contribute effectively to the type of economic and social development the country seeks. The broad directions set in these strategies are often supported by quantified targets, such as the overall level of R&D spending, business expenditure on R&D, the number of PhD graduates, the number of highly cited research publications, patents, researchers and others. National STI strategies also often include thematic priorities such as sector, technological areas or, increasingly, major societal challenges like ageing, health, environment, and smart transport and cities (in 30 out of 33 cases in the above-mentioned survey).

However, governance is not a simple matter of top-down “steering”, in which an all-knowing principal sets agents to work to achieve centrally generated goals. Governance involves competition, consensus-building, networking and negotiating decisions in arenas in which multiple actors are involved. It therefore entails finding a balance between having too much stakeholder consultation that can drive decision making to a halt and having too little consultation that would likely lead crucial stakeholders to resist.

In turn, these strategic orientations should be embodied in action plans with an account of the measures and financial resources that will be mobilised to reach the strategic objectives in a defined time frame and with ambitious, yet realistic, objectives, whose attainment can be described or measured in advance, so that it is clear “what success looks like”.

Strategic policy intelligence: Strategic policy intelligence is the capacity to produce and analyse the information government needs to take “good” policy decisions. It comprises statistical data, studies, and the results of policy monitoring and evaluation. Strategies and priority-setting initiatives, as well as policy formulation and implementation, need to build on evidence originating from the results of past and ongoing activities (via monitoring, evaluation, foresight and technology assessment, etc.), trustworthy external or internal policy research, and on consultations with experts and multiple stakeholders (from implementers to various groups within civil society at large) to guarantee their buy-in. This requires sufficient resources both in terms of competences (increasingly those related to the intensive use of digital technologies and data) and funds.

Horizontal and vertical co-ordination: Since STI activities cut across many sectors and policy areas, the strategic framework should cover the policy objectives and interventions of various ministries and agencies in order to ensure their overall consistency towards common broad objectives. Specific institutions, such as high-level research and innovation councils, committees, interdepartmental platforms, and other formal or informal means of decision making and dialogue are frequently used to allow co-ordination within and across disciplinary, sectoral and policy silos, as well as across levels of government (national, regional and local).

Funding: Sufficient and predictable financial resources and appropriate incentives for good performance and accountability are necessary to support the achievement of overall goals and priorities. Mid-term predictability of resource levels is a key precondition for those planning research and innovation activities. This is especially true for research activities where long time horizons and the accumulation of knowledge often make sustained investment important to achieve real progress. International experience shows that strategies without resources commensurate with their ambitions have only limited influence.

Kuwait’s political system is an unusual mixture of absolute monarchy and democracy. Even before Kuwait City was built in the early 18th century, Kuwait was a fishing and trading nation. The Al Sabah family was the most powerful among the early settlers, and the Sheiks – i.e. the chiefs or leaders – of the family were eventually elected by the other leading families and the merchants to rule and organise the defence of the city. In 1756, Sheik Sabah Bin Jaber, who formed the Sabah dynasty, became the first Sheik to be formally established and charged with diplomacy on behalf of Kuwait (Casey, 2007). The Al Sabah family has been the royal family ever since with, especially in the early times, strong power exerted by the merchant families who generated the country’s income. The exploitation of oil in the 1950s strengthened the role of the royal family, while the other early settlers and merchant families have continued to have considerable informal influence (Casey, 2007).

Following Kuwait’s independence in 1961, the elite gathered in a constitutional assembly and Kuwait’s Constitution was written into law by the Amir Sheikh Abdullah III Al-Salim Al-Sabah in 1962. It established the Amir as the absolute monarch who appoints the government, which has to contain at least one elected member of parliament but otherwise mainly comprises members of various branches of the Al-Sabah family and the other influential families.

The current cabinet comprises ministers with different levels of government experience. The prime minister and his four deputies (responsible respectively for defence, foreign affairs, interior and cabinet affairs) have been in government for periods of up to seven years. The other eight ministers were appointed in 2017 and the remaining minister in 2016. Since December 2017, the son of the Amir is deputy prime minister and Minister for Defence. Five members of the government are members of the royal family. In general, a position in a minister’s cabinet is seen as a political reward, allowing the royal family to weigh among the leading families, the city-dwellers, Bedouin and Shias and various political affiliations.

Both Kuwaiti men and (since 2005) women aged 21 or over can vote in parliamentary elections. Parliament comprises up to 50 parliamentarians – 10 from each of the 5 districts – elected to serve 4-year terms. Government ministers also sit as ex officio members of parliament. Kuwaiti law does not recognise political parties and parliamentarians stand as independents. In practice, however, there are five political blocs,2 i.e. ad hoc voting alliances formed once parliamentarians are elected, which de facto function as informal political parties. Because of these five blocs and a majority of independent parliamentarians, it is hard to achieve a decisive majority in parliament, giving a potential advantage to one of the blocs formed by up to 16 members of the government (hence about one-third of members of parliament) that sit ex officio as parliamentarians and are naturally aligned with government policy (Bertelsmann Foundation, 2018).

Nonetheless, the parliament does have some distinct power. First of all, the Constitution guarantees the right for the parliament to approve or disapprove the appointment of an Amir. Also, ministers have to present annually their programmes – as well as the individual laws needed to enact them – to parliament, which can question what the government proposes. It has the right to question any minister (including the prime minister) on matters of policy. It can also dismiss a minister, based on a majority vote among the elected members of parliament.3 Parliamentary votes of no-confidence can and have led to impeachments, resignations and even the dissolution of the cabinet.4

Since its reinstatement after the Iraqi invasion, parliament has become increasingly important, exercising more and more often its chief power, i.e. its power to block government proposals. In 1992, the first election after the Iraq War was won by opposition groups, which together won 31 seats with an 85% turnout. More generally speaking, the 1990s were characterised by growing parliamentary pressure for reform and greater devolution of power from the Amir to the parliament. Later, in 2011, a corruption scandal led to the resignation of the Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah and the 2012 election produced a landslide victory for mainly tribal and Islamist factions. However, the Supreme Court overturned the election result and reinstated the 2009 pro-government parliament. The ruling family changed the electoral rules in October 2012, two months ahead of the new elections. This triggered political debates and significant protests, as it was interpreted by some as a strategy to weaken the opposition (Freedom House, 2019). As a result, many opposition groups boycotted the 2012 election, leading to a low turnout, but members friendly to the government achieved a majority (Directorate-General for External Policies, 2013). Since then, while the government bloc has just retained control, the parliament as a whole has become even more unstable and fragmented. The parliament was repeatedly dissolved in the period 2012-13, both by the Amir and the Constitutional Court. In the 2016 election, in which opposition members of parliament (in particular the Salafist bloc and the Muslim Brotherhood) took 24 of the 50 seats, smaller tribes took a greater proportion of the tribal vote so that tribal representation became fragmented.

While none of the international political system ranking or rating methods are without flaws, they all converge to describe a Kuwaiti governance system that is sometimes lagging behind that of its regional neighbours. Not only are Kuwait’s indicators of governance well below the levels reached by OECD and, sometimes, Middle East and North African or other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, but the situation seems to have stagnated or even deteriorated significantly in the past ten years. This holds true for the World Bank Governance Indicators,5 the “Freedom in the World” aggregate score,6 as well as the Bertelsmann Foundation Governance Index and political Transformation Index.7 Table 3.1 and Table 3.2 provide Kuwait’s scores and ranking of the Bertelsmann Foundation and Freedom in the World indices.

Figure 3.1 shows the broader set of structures through which the research and innovation system is governed in Kuwait.8 Different categories of actors intervene at different levels and serve different primary functions, from the provision of strategic orientations at the top level (Level 1) to the implementation of higher education, research and innovation activities by public and private performers at the bottom of the system (Level 4). The influence of the top level on actual activities depends not only on the quality and relevance of the strategic process (strategic intelligence, stakeholder consultations, etc.), but also on the effectiveness of the intermediate levels that transform overarching priorities into policy (Level 2) and implement policies (Level 3).

This organisational chart reveals some distinct characteristics of the governance of the Kuwaiti research and innovation system. Starting from the top, there is no high-level strategic or advisory council in charge of the orientation and holistic co-ordination of the STI area and there is no dedicated ministry of research or ministry of innovation.

In 2019, the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) commissioned a consortium of consulting companies to perform a 12-month study into the “redesigning and restructuring of the government of Kuwait”. The role of the government in Kuwait is described as mainly a set of loosely connected bodies providing operational services rather than an entity setting priorities, developing regulations and undertaking the monitoring of the impact of these activities (KFAS, 2019a).

The provision of strategic orientation to guide research and innovation activities involves both top-down and bottom-up dynamics. Although the results of the deliberation on and selection of the priorities are formalised and conveyed by the highest level of policy making, it is a diffuse process that embeds the knowledge and preferences of multiple actors, from politicians and policy makers to experts and citizens.

His Highness the Amir, the centre-of-government institutions, i.e. the prime minister and the cabinet, and the Supreme Council for Planning and Development (SCPD) are the main actors that set high-level priorities and objectives for the whole economy.

In Kuwait, the highest and most “permanent” authority, in the research and innovation policy field as in all others, is His Highness the Amir. The Amir provides the vision that underpins Kuwait’s long-term development. Although the Amir can be independent of the government he appoints, in particular by issuing decrees or establishing organisations (such as KFAS), most policy initiatives are taken by the cabinet, which meets in plenum for half a day per month and is chaired by the prime minister. However, the prime minister remains “first among equals” in the government – co-ordinating and leading rather than exercising a more presidential role as seen, for example, in Finland and the United Kingdom. He fulfils his constitutional mandate of policy co-ordination across the government mainly through weekly cabinet meetings.

In most OECD countries (Box 3.1), overarching STI priorities are set by high-level research and innovation councils or committees.9 Although they differ in their mandate, scope, enforcement power and composition, these permanent bodies outside of ministries and agencies all have explicit mandates to engage in one or several of the following activities: provide policy advice or oversee policy evaluation; co-ordinate policy areas relative to public research; set policy priorities; and/or engage in joint policy planning regarding higher education institutions’ (HEI) and public research institutes’ (PRI) policies. In order to avoid conflicts of interest, funding is generally not part of the mandate of such bodies.

Debates around the creation of a high-level council or committee specifically in charge of the strategic orientation and overall co-ordination of research and innovation have been going on for more than a decade in Kuwait, to no avail. The 2006 report by the Kuwait Research Review Panel (KRRP, also known as the “Blue Ribbon” panel) recommended the creation of a well-endowed and capable Kuwait Science, Technology and Innovation Council (KSTIC) (KRRP, 2007). Although it was subsequently included in the Mid-Range Development Plan 2010-2015, this recommendation was not implemented. The debate on the creation of a high-level STI Council was revived in 2016 when it was presented to the Human and Community Development Committee of the Council of Ministers. This last attempt was again unsuccessful, as the creation of a council was deemed too costly by the Ministry of Finance. The proposed council was therefore downgraded to the status of committee, a less costly (with no permanent staff), but also less powerful, policy body type in Kuwait. The Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) delivered a new proposal for the establishment of a National Committee for Science, Technology and Innovation in 2017. Following negotiations involving several policy actors, the Ministry of Finance opposed the creation of the committee, invoking again budgetary constraints. In 2019, KFAS made a proposal to create a National Research Committee. To date, neither a council nor a committee has been appointed.

The history of the attempts to create a high-level STI body in Kuwait is presented in Box 3.2.

There are several examples of development trajectory deemed successful where a powerful government body has played an important role in providing strategic orientation and co-ordinating the various actors of their respective eco-system. This government body can be a ministry – such as the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry in Japan (Johnson, 1982) – or an advisory council, as in Malaysia, Singapore or Chinese Taipei (Box 3.3).

The Planning Council was the first authority created in 1962 as an independent development and planning body and mandated with developing social and economic policies and overseeing their implementation. It was replaced by the Ministry of Planning in 1976 and the Supreme Council for Planning and Development (SCPD) in 2004. The SCPD is the high-level planning authority in charge of providing overall strategic orientation and co-ordination to achieve the Amir’s vision. Apart from the cabinet, it is the only instance in the governance of Kuwait that is positioned to co-ordinate strategy and policy across the Kuwaiti society.

Its mandate covers a wide range of functions, from the development and monitoring of overarching national development plans to the definition of implementation policies and the holistic promotion of the knowledge economy:10

  • tracking the execution and implementation of the Quality Management System (QMS)’s requirements by setting up a special committee;

  • considering matters of local culture and norms when conducting its own business, locally, regionally and internally; monitoring and reviewing information periodically and taking appropriate decisions;

  • defining the long-, medium- and short-term strategic development directions in line with the related insights of the state;

  • conducting forecasting of Kuwait’s ranking on global competitiveness indicators;

  • developing and monitoring the implementation of related public policies;

  • promoting a knowledge economy across public institutions and providing advisory support to national development planning processes.

The SCPD has a high formal status: it is chaired by the prime minister or his delegate (currently the first deputy prime minister and Minister of Defence) and has a wide-ranging composition, with ministers coming from all policy fields related to economic development in a broad sense.11 A number of qualified members with expertise, including representatives of the private sector and civil society organisations, also have a seat on the SCPD. A decree for their appointment is issued for a four-year term, with the possibility for renewal.

The council is also, according to available information, supported by a specific monitoring and performance evaluation committee that evaluates implementation and advises on any changes needed to the ongoing Mid-Range Development Plan (MRDP).

It has a dedicated secretariat (the General Secretariat of the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, GSSCPD) staffed with civil service members that prepare the business of the council and monitor its implementation. The GSSCPD has lacked the capacity to support the council in all its missions, which involves not only its upstream role of developing the plans and co-ordinating their execution but also, once the plan is ongoing, the monitoring of thousands of projects covering all policy fields. The GSSCPD was assessed in 2011 as “largely understaffed, ill-equipped, undertrained and overworked” by the Korea Development Institute (KDI, 2011). This issue was addressed in co-operation in the context of a three-year project with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which has led to the strengthening of the secretariat staff and an improvement of its tools and processes (UNDP, 2011). Following this project, an institutional and capacity assessment of the GSSCPD was performed in 2015. Several issues were identified related to capacity gaps on human resource data management and workforce planning, as well as other needs on staff skills/qualifications audit, management training and staff well-being. Against this backdrop, a new project was launched in order to develop the capacities of the GSSCPD and key government agencies (including notably the Central Statistical Bureau) in the development and planning, co-ordination and monitoring of the MRDP 2015-20 (UNDP, 2015). Another UNDP project saw to the establishment of a new centre under the GSSCPD to strengthen its analytical capacity (the Kuwait Public Policy Centre [KPPC], see Section 2.3.3). The internal team at the KPPC is composed of 5 employees, strengthened by 15 international consultants through the partnership with the UNDP, mainly to develop the next MRDP which will come into force in 2020.

There is no national STI strategy in Kuwait. STI priorities are included in overarching national developments, primarily in the five-year MRDPs.

In 2007, the Amir launched a long-term vision for Kuwait called “Kuwait Vision 2035”, covering the period 2010-35 (GSSCPD, 2007) It sets the objective of a future Kuwait diversifying away from oil by becoming a regional financial centre and a regional trading and logistics hub and providing access to the north end of the Gulf. This vision has underpinned the overarching and mid-term strategies developed since then.

Main statement of the Amir’s Vision 2035:

[To] transform Kuwait into a financial and trade centre, attractive to investors, where the private sector leads the economy, creating competition and promoting production efficiency, under the umbrella of enabling government institutions, which accentuates values, safeguards social identify, and achieves human resource development as well as balanced development, providing adequate infrastructure, advanced legislation and an inspiring business environment.

While this is not uncommon in the region, Kuwait was among the first Gulf countries to set such a longer term and overarching vision to serve as the foundation of national strategies and plans: the United Arab Emirates launched its vision in 2010 (UAE Vision 2021), Qatar in 2008 (National Vision 2030) and Saudi Arabia in 2016 (Saudi Vision 2030).12

A series of external studies before and after the launch of the Amir’s vision largely built on the main strategic thrust of the “Kuwait Vision 2035”.

McKinsey’s report Kuwait 2020 (McKinsey & Company, 2007) revolved around two overall goals:

  1. 1. Kuwait will become a niche regional financial centre focused on wealth management and capital markets. This will be supported by a strong world-class domestic financial sector that serves the financial needs of its population and attracts leading regional and international players.

  2. 2. Kuwait will also become the leading regional hub for northbound trade flows while at the same time ensuring the trade needs of Kuwait itself. Kuwait will excel in providing a large and growing number of national and international logistics companies with top-notch infrastructure, a supportive regulatory environment and a qualified workforce.

To achieve these objectives, the report proposed several initiatives to improve framework conditions for the overall economy (e.g. reduce red tape, make land available and upgrade the education system) and to strengthen the two newly prioritised sectors: financial and trade and logistics.

The report Vision Kuwait 2035 commissioned by Tony Blair’s newly established consultancy mirrored McKinsey’s approach in recommending the same two “pillars” of finance and trade.13

These reports appear to have influenced the first post-2000 MRDP which covered 2010/11-2014/15 (SCPD, 2009). It included initiatives to strengthen financial services and logistics, alongside other parts of the non-oil economy.

The SCPD also carried out a study to derive strategic objectives from the Amir’s vision “to serve as a platform for future development plans” (SCPD, 2010). This study was based on interviews with high-level Kuwaiti decision makers (ministers, deputy ministers, members of parliament, representatives of non-governmental organisations, etc.). It revealed strong endorsement of the overall goal to transform Kuwait into a financial and commercial hub, with some variations on the scope of the “hub” (e.g. whether it should also include services). Six main strategic goals to realise the vision were identified:

  1. 1. high growth and diversified gross domestic product (GDP)

  2. 2. a strong private sector leading the economy

  3. 3. supportive government for the private sector

  4. 4. increased job and human development opportunities for Kuwaitis

  5. 5. strong governments

  6. 6. humane society and good governance.

Under these goals, 49 strategic objectives were identified. Although some are indirectly related to research and innovation (such as “Improve the competitiveness of the private sector”), none of them explicitly relate to or mention these policy areas.

Since 2010, the New Kuwait Plan serves as a long-term plan to guide strategies and policies towards the achievement of the Amir’s vision. It is implemented through the MRDPs, which are designed as the five year strategic frameworks to achieve the New Kuwait Plan’s objectives for 2035 and follow a gradualist approach: the 2015-20 plan is dedicated to the development of infrastructure and building, followed by five-year plans focused on private sector engagement and initiatives (2020-25) and, finally, on the support to the development of a knowledge economy (2025-30) (Figure 3.2).

The New Kuwait Plan is organised around five strategic directions and seven strategic pillars (areas of focus for investment and improvement). Each pillar has a number of strategic programmes and projects (see Table 3.3). Most research and innovation-related projects are included in Pillar 2 “Sustainable Diversified Economy”.

The objectives of the New Kuwait Development Plan are provided in Table 3.3. Those objectives also relate to the KDIPA mandate, in particular as pertaining to foreign direct investment.

The New Kuwait Plan also includes a common monitoring framework to assess the progress towards the achievement of the objectives.

While the SCPD’s predecessors had led national strategic planning since the late 1960s,14 the Iraqi invasion put a halt to development planning after the third plan, which covered the period 1985/86-1989/90. Following a two-year transitional plan (1992/93-1994/95), the cycle of five-year development plans was reactivated starting from the 1995/96-1999/2000 plan. The Mid-Range Development Plan covering 2010/11-2014/15 was the first plan embedded in the New Kuwait 2035 Vision.

The current MRDP covers the period 2015/16-2019/20. Like the previous one, it starts from the Vision 2035’s overall objective and translates into five themes and seven “pillars” (Figure 3.3). The five themes are meant to be used as “guiding ambitions for all development plans at an entity level and the seven pillars (…) as means to arrive at the mid-term and long-term targets” (SCPD, 2015).

The new MRDP 2020-25 revolves around 8 objectives: closely aligned with the New Kuwait Plan pillars:15

  1. 1. Unlock the Northern hub potential

  2. 2. Foster a dynamic private sector

  3. 3. Equip the people with the skills and incentives for future growth

  4. 4. Develop a transparent and synergistic government

  5. 5. Build a connected and integrated infrastructure

  6. 6. Build a liveable and harmonious environment

  7. 7. Improve our health and well-being

  8. 8. Contribute to the global community

The design of the MRDPs mixes a bottom-up and top-down policy approach. The strategic orientation, co-ordination and monitoring framework is provided by a central, high level entity, while the concrete projects to implement these orientations are proposed by the entities (such as ministries) in charge of the different policy fields.

Progress is monitored via 20 specially constructed indices, each using as sub-indicators Kuwait’s performance in a number of published rankings and indices. Responsibility for each project is allocated to a specific organisation and legislative changes needed to implement the plan are identified.

In practice, the MRDP serves as a strategic framework, embedding relevant projects implemented by different ministerial entities. These entities are invited each year to submit projects to the SCPD, which co-ordinates a multi-stage selection process lasting about seven months and involving various committees (notably the SCPD Evaluation Committee, the Supreme Council Committee and the Council of Ministers), the Ministry of Finance as well as the parliament, which approves the budget. Once selected, the projects are officially part of the MRDP and, as such, are monitored continuously by the GSSCPD, using key performance indicators. The results of this monitoring are made available on the New Kuwait dedicated electronic platform.16

Some of them, considered as being of higher importance to the realisation of the overall mission, are followed by a Vision Realisation Committee, which is tasked proactively to support projects on the basis of needs.

The national development projects under the MRDPs are funded and implemented by the respective responsible ministries. There is no central SCPD budget that directly funds initiatives, nor any dedicated multi-year MRDP budget. The main incentive for ministries to go through this process is therefore to have their projects acknowledged as priorities, easing negotiation with the Ministry of Finance, which allocates funding to individual ministries. In parallel, ministries also launch other projects which are deemed less relevant to the current strategic plan.

None of the MRDP includes research and/or innovation as one of the pillars or main objectives. The latest MRDP 2020-2025 gathers most of the relevant objective under the theme 2 ‘Foster a dynamic private sector’, which encompasses the objectives ‘Create an integrated ecosystem for technology, innovation, and knowledge’, ‘Expand the private sector’s role in SME incubation, funding and upscaling’ and Develop new priority sectors for the economy. It is too early to analyse the projects that will be initiated under these objectives. Such analysis can only be performed on the basis of the two last plans, covering the periods 2010/11-2014/15 and 2015/16-2019/20.

The 2010/11-2014/15 MRDP (SCPD, 2009) included some projects directly relevant to research and innovation activities (Box 3.4), including an increase of R&D expenditures (up to 1% of GDP, starting from an estimated baseline of 0.2% in 2007-08), the creation of excellence centres and support to the development of KFAS and KISR. The legislative requirements of the plan also included an ordinance for establishing a high-level STI body, the Supreme Council for Science, Technology and Innovation. As can be seen from the categorisation of these initiatives, none of them relates directly to supporting innovation activities, such as measures to support the upgrade of innovation capabilities in business companies.

A first pool of 124 projects17 under the current MRDP were presented in the SCPD document (SCPD, 2015). While most of these projects relate to the development of all types of infrastructure (e.g. extension of the Kuwait airport, navigation channel in ports, electricity and water production, housing land, hospitals, etc.), some projects are also directly relevant to STI (Table 3.4).

The set of projects presented in the initial document were ongoing or soon to be launched at the time of the drafting the MRDP. The list of projects evolves each year following the completion of former projects and the addition of those selected as part of the annual process managed by the GSSCPD (see supra). For instance, 164 projects were featured in the annual plan for 2017/18.

The New Kuwait website provides a platform to monitor the pool of projects currently being implemented as part of the ongoing MRDP. Based on these data, the OECD was able to estimate the effort put into STI initiatives in 2019: 11% of the KWD 27 billion (EUR 79 billion) budgeted for projects currently implemented under the seven pillars relate to projects supporting STI activities in a broad sense (accounting for about EUR 9 billion).18 While the pillar aiming to establish a sustainable diversified economy currently accounts for over 44% of the total budget (Table 3.5), the formal “knowledge economy” programme (a sub-set of projects) represents only 0.2% of the total budget and 0.5% of this pillar.

The six projects under the “knowledge economy” programme are presented in Table 3.5. Most of these multi-year projects relate to the construction of new applied research centres in key areas (agriculture, marine, urban development) within KISR.

Of particular interest is the project to construct nine specialised research units in order to strengthen research and innovation capabilities in business companies. This project will end in 2021 and has a budget of KWD 48.5 million (about USD 160 million). This is almost unprecedented in Kuwait as there is little public-private collaborative R&D despite KISR’s efforts to engage with the private sector, due to the self-reinforcing factors of a modest private sector and a lack of interest from the public administration and research community to engage with businesses. The development of an endogenous industrial innovation capacity component seems more prominent in Saudi Arabia’s five-year national science, technology and innovation plans (Box 3.5).

Kuwait has no research and/or innovation strategy, nor any dedicated document that would provide some direction and guidance to the STI community in Kuwait.

Given the absence of other major research performers until about 2000, KISR’s strategy has become the de facto research strategy for Kuwait during this period. While its early focus was on (upstream) oil due to its initial funding by the Japan Oil Company, its strategy has evolved over time to match obvious national needs – oil, energy (especially electricity), water and food production via agriculture and fisheries. Environment and economic analysis were added later on.

Kuwait has no strongly established practice of strategic policy intelligence and lacks the knowledge infrastructure and political culture to support the policy development process. The grounding of policy decisions in evidence has therefore varied widely across ministries and over time.

However, in a non-systematic way and sometimes on their own initiative due to little buy-in from government officials, some institutions do provide strategic policy intelligence:

  • Four research centres provide strategic intelligence to the SCPD: the KPPC, the National Centre for Development Research, the National Knowledge Economy Centre, and the National Observatory of Sustainable Development and Future Studies. The KPPC is expected to become the platform for the planning, monitoring and evaluation of evidence-based public policies implemented in relation to the Vision 2035. It has already provided significant inputs into the MRDP 2020-2025 (Box 3.6).

  • Drawing on its continuous interactions with public and private research and innovation actors, KFAS provides inputs into the government’s policy-making. It participates formally or informally in policy debates, produces concept notes and commissions studies in key macroeconomic or sectoral issues usually labelled as “special projects”. This was the case, for instance, in 2017 when KFAS and the KPPC jointly commissioned a study to the London School of Economics that aimed to support reforms in health policy (LSE, 2017). This OECD Review of Innovation Policy itself, financed by KFAS, also belongs to this type of initiative. KFAS’ Innovation and Enterprise Directorate also finances studies to help understand the opportunities and challenges in specific sectors, such as Fintech.

  • KDIPA commissions studies and surveys that contribute to a better understanding of knowledge-based development. It for instance contracted to KISR the “Project Study on Improving Kuwait Global Competitiveness: Engine of transformation to Knowledge and Innovation-based Economy” to be completed in 2020. It included the development of a portal for analysis of Kuwait position in 10 key international indices and cross border direct flows, two innovation surveys conducted in 2016 and 2019 (supply and demand sides), Kuwait investment relations map, and a dashboard for follow up and monitoring of progress of implementation of the detailed prioritised innovation roadmap. The results of the project will be transferred to the GSSCPD to strengthen the MRDP development process.

  • KISR Techno-Economics Division conducts economic studies that feed into the institute’s strategy and activities, but also in policy making as part of its role in advising the government on STI matters.

  • The National Advisory Services Company advises the government on technical aspects, for instance prior to making a significant or strategic procurement of a new technology (e.g. new lightning system or camera system).

The lack of structuring of the strategic intelligence infrastructure and its loose linkages to the government means that there is generally little available information on the respective activities of these few active actors, which translates into various overlaps and inefficiencies.

The statistical basis for STI policy making is very poor. Due to the absence of any R&D or innovation survey until 2019, key indicators such as business expenditure for R&D, government expenditure on R&D (GERD) or higher education expenditure on R&D (and hence the GERD and the many indicators based on it, such as the R&D intensity) are simply missing or incomplete (and thus misleading). As previously mentioned, a first combined national R&D and Innovation Survey was undertaken in the framework of this OECD review, under the umbrella of KFAS and the KCSB. No data on government STI-related budgets are available either.

This paucity of data on both the source and execution of financial resources in the STI area makes it difficult to monitor the efforts of the different actors over time, relate them with observed results and compare Kuwait with its peers. As shown in many developing countries – and on fewer occasions in advanced countries – the lack of an infrastructure to properly measure STI is a major obstacle to crafting effective strategies and policies. In the past, KFAS has made the case for improving the STI statistical system, but with little success so far.

The administrative databases are also very rudimentary. Partly due to the absence of a corporate tax, there is, for instance, no complete and regularly updated business company register. A reliable business register is the backbone of a comprehensive, high-quality database, which in turn is fundamental for sound evidence-based policy advice (OECD, 2010). Similarly, the fact that there is little public support to private companies results in the absence of a database of scheme beneficiaries. This is a major hurdle when it comes to conducting surveys, and prevents Kuwait from benefiting from any big data opportunities to shed light on the functioning of the national STI system and the effectiveness of policies and reforms (OECD, 2018).

Evaluation is also essential to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of policies to foster innovation, promote growth and deliver social welfare. The evaluation culture in Kuwait is underdeveloped and only a few evaluations have been conducted in the STI area, most often commissioned by the evaluated institutions themselves, for their own purposes and agenda. Against this backdrop, KISR was evaluated in 1999, and KFAS initiated several evaluations of all or part of its programmes and affiliated institutions.

Based on the strategic framework provided at the top level of the system, the ministries devise the appropriate means of intervention and level of funding needed to fulfil the overall objectives in their respective policy remit. Since research and innovation are cross-cutting policy issues, this policy formulation process requires a fair amount of horizontal co-ordination among different “sectoral” ministries. In many countries, some authorities directly in charge of research and/or innovation policy issues (depending on their scope and the division of labour between them) have not only direct responsibility to deal with research and/or innovation intermediaries and implementers (universities, research and innovation centres/labs, agencies, etc.), but also act as a “catalyst” and “pilot” across policy silos. They are also advocates for research and innovation within the government.

One specific key feature of the Kuwaiti system is that there is no dedicated ministry of research and/or innovation (neither is there a state secretary/deputy minister in charge of these policy areas within another ministry).

Kuwait has never had a clear STI policy, but given the small size of the STI system and the absence of dedicated STI policy actors, the plans and actions of a few prominent implementing institutions in different areas – Kuwait University (KU) for basic research and in particular KISR for applied research and development – have de facto served as policy makers in these areas. However, this situation has severe limitations.

Given that KU’s strategy is mainly generated from the bottom up, its strategic framework hardly provides the backbone of a research policy. Due to the strength of department heads vis-à-vis the strategic management of the university and the lack of strategic management capabilities in general, this is not uncommon in other universities around the world. However, a growing number of them have in recent years increased their efforts to prioritise their activities and improve the profiling of their activities.

As KISR is the main research performer in Kuwait, it has not only a significant direct influence on the overall pattern of government-funded research, but also a strong social network. Almost anyone working elsewhere in the government sector in a job related to science and technology is likely to be a former KISR employee. This is neither surprising nor unusual – alumni of SINTEF (KISR’s equivalent in Norway) have enjoyed a similar position in the past, though the growth of the rest of the research sector (and especially of university research) has reduced the policy influence of its network over time. Such a strong social network is useful because it provides cohesiveness, but it can also be problematic as the “mental model” of the institute risks dominating policy and producing lock-in to existing priorities. It can also lead to allocating resources to the established organisation, even when there is a need for development and capacity-building elsewhere in the research and innovation system.

In the past, KISR was formally given the task of advising government on STI policy, but this advice seems to have addressed little beyond its own internal activities. KISR has repeatedly attempted to exercise leadership in STI policy formulation. In 2007, it launched a preliminary STI policy document, anticipating that it formally would be given responsibility for STI policy (Al-Awadhi and Al-Sultan, 2007). These repeated efforts had only mixed results, not least because of the conflicts of interest of such a dual role of policy prescriber and beneficiary.

Around the same time, in 2006, His Highness the Amir tasked a high-level panel – the KRRP – with an inquiry into how the national research and innovation system should be run. The members of the panel were leading members of Kuwait’s scientific class and a number of eminent foreigners. Jorma Routti, who had been head of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and earlier head of SITRA (the Finnish Innovation Fund) and a member of Finland’s Science and Technology Policy Council (these days called the Research and Innovation Council)19 appears to have been of particular influence.

The KRRP produced a report the following year which gave a detailed and highly critical account of the performance of Kuwait’s research system (KRRP, 2007). It said Kuwait’s research system lacked scientific culture, had too few resources and weak institutions, was poorly managed, and lacked sufficient international links or links with the industry. In summary, the recommendations of the KRRP were to:

  • Increase public spending in R&D to 2% of GDP;

  • Establish and fund a national policy and high-level governing body – the Kuwait Science, Technology, and Innovation Council (KSTIC) – to provide the leadership and co-ordination for the development and implementation of a national research agenda;

  • Reform and restructure KISR to include a more focused vision and qualified and experienced leadership;

  • Build Kuwait centres of excellence in technologies? which are deemed critical to Kuwait’s future and include petroleum and petrochemicals, water and renewable energy focused on solar power. These centres must be strongly linked to international centres of excellence through alliances and partnerships;

  • Strengthen the STI system and culture throughout Kuwait.

The panel also recommended that the KSTIC establish and implement an integrated and national STI policy, called the Kuwait Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. This policy should have included the following elements:

  • significantly enhanced funding of R&D and other STI activities and the targeting of that funding to areas of greatest strategic significance to the country;

  • identification and implementation of methods and strategies for increasing industry participation in STI activities and the benefits of STI investments;

  • identification and implementation of methods and strategies for enhancing co-ordination of STI activities at both the national and international levels.

Neither the KSTIC nor the Kuwait Science, Technology and Innovation Policy were established, despite repeated calls (Box 3.7).

The main channels for allocating funds to STI activities are:

  • Institutional funding provided to universities and research institutes for doing research, KISR and KU accounting for the bulk of these funds.

  • KFAS supports higher education, research and innovation projects via different funding instruments and affiliated research and knowledge-transfer institutions. The bulk of this funding is allocated to KISR. Only a negligible portion of private R&D expenditures are supported by the state. To give an indication, the budget of the three programmes of KFAS’ Innovation and Enterprise Directorate was KWD 2.9 million in 2017.

  • Specific line ministries’ projects which in their respective fields support the development and demonstration of innovative technologies and services, for instance in the area of water desalination and renewable technologies. As mentioned above, the bulk of this research is executed by KISR (and therefore accounted for in KISR’s budget).

However, despite the small size of the system and the number of funding streams, properly assessing the amounts of government funding is challenging. There is no centralised or aggregated budget dedicated to STI, nor an STI budget in the different line ministries either. Neither are there robust ex post consolidated expenditure statistics in line with international norms.

As discussed in Chapter 2, the bottom-up recollection of the relevant expenditure of main R&D performing sectors points to an R&D intensity of 0.33-0.37%20 of GDP with the following allocation by sector of performance: 0.19% by government, below 0.1% for the private sector and below 0.01% by other sectors. The main channels of government funding of this amount of expenditure are as follows

  • Institutional funding provided to universities and research institutes for doing research, KISR, KU, PAEET and Dasman Diabetes Institute accounting for the bulk of these funds.

  • KFAS’ support for higher education, research and innovation projects in public and, to a lower extent, private institutions.

  • Specific line ministries’ projects within and outside the MRDP. These are very limited and for the most part are allocated to KISR.

Using the same sources of data mobilised in Chapter 2 to estimate the amount of R&D expenditures, but this time only considering the portion funded by government sources, one can estimate the amounts represented by the main channels of government funding at about KWD 96.5 million in 2017, hence accounting for about 0.27% of GDP.21

The implementation of the MRDPs has encountered significant challenges, at least in recent years. Most of the initiatives planned under the 2010/11-2014/15 MRDP were not implemented or only partially implemented. As previously mentioned, the intended creation of the national STI council and the increase in the government’s financial support to STI activities did not materialise. The consultants hired to monitor the implementation of the plan concluded that this was poorly implemented, not least because the required resources were often not made available (EXCPR, n.d.). The SCDP also concluded in the following MRDP (SCPD, 2015) that the implementation of the 2010/11-2014/15 MRDP had been below expectations and pointed to several difficulties:

  • the link between Vision objectives and policies was not clearly defined;

  • policies used were often vague or presented multiple ideas;

  • key performance indicators did not exhaustively measure the plan’s objectives;

  • projects that were operational or not directly related to the vision were included in the plan;

  • the “strategic projects” section was not based on clearly defined criteria;

  • legislative requirements did not link to specific projects or goals.

The National Assembly’s Financial and Economic Affairs Committee, which also reviewed in 2014 the obstacles faced in implementing the MRDP, pointed to the poor implementation of projects, partly due to policy paralysis and operational sluggishness (Asheim, 2015).

However, Bertelsmann’s transparency report for Kuwait in 2014 attributed the poor performance of the MRDP to the political turmoil of the period, during which it became hard for the royal family to push its proposals through parliament. According to the report, the government became increasingly compelled to consider the interests of various groups, which hindered its ability to perform long-term prioritisation (Bertelsmann Foundation, 2015).

Beside the MRDP projects themselves, there are few projects focusing mechanisms in the system to align activities to the national development plans beyond a few channels for the implementation of national priorities in higher education and research organisations’ work plans:

  • KU develops and regularly updates national priorities to guide its activities, for instance, for the allocation of internal funding to research activities. These national priorities are developed by the institution itself, somewhat in a bottom-up way by the solicitation of the different parts of the university, but allegedly taking into account the overarching national priorities enshrined in the ongoing MRDP.

  • KISR’s five-year plans are developed on the basis of the MRDPs.

  • KFAS also announces the national priorities in its call for proposal and uses them to assess the relevance of projects. It generally strives to align its activities with the broad national priorities.

The lack of interministerial co-ordination previously highlighted is also a factor hindering the implementation of the MRDPs, as it results in overlap, duplication and repetition of tasks. Several key infrastructure projects under the current MRDP have been delayed or postponed (KFAS, 2019b). The recent resignation of the government was in part related to delays in a major infrastructure project planned under the MRDP (Al Shurafa and Al Sherbini, 2019).

More generally, the implementation of STI policy is significantly hindered by the lack of government awareness, interest and capabilities relevant to STI activities. Many examples of projects delayed, misunderstood or simply rejected by government bodies were collected during interviews. The high level of bureaucracy and the lack of operational autonomy of STI actors is also a major impediment that gets in the way of policy implementation. Although it is difficult to provide hard evidence, managers of research institutions and researchers themselves were unanimous in claiming that the budgeting and auditing rules they have to comply with do not allow them to perform their activities adequately.

No agency is tasked with the implementation of research and/or innovation activities in Kuwait. Some functions of both are partly addressed by different institutions, notably KFAS, but these do not cover the whole range of responsibilities usually covered.

Although their scope and status vary among countries, the term “agencies” generally refer to semi-autonomous organisations that programme, select and fund research and/or innovation activities. Many OECD and non-OECD countries have put in place such agencies and these organisations are now well-established pillars in these countries’ national systems of innovation, as is the case, for instance, in Norway or the United Kingdom (Box 3.8). Extensive literature has documented this process of “agencification”, i.e. the delegation of policy implementation authority to specific government bodies in an increasing number of countries, across different policy fields. The main rationale for establishing these intermediate organisations lies in the separation of policy orientation, which remains in the hand of committees, central government and line ministries (the “principals”) and the implementation of policies by agencies that maintain strong and proximity-based relationships with the universities, research institutes and private firms. The “governed autonomy” of agencies vis-à-vis their principals and their “embeddedness” in the network of actors that implement higher education, research and innovation activities are what distinguish agencies from other state actors:

The managerial and operational autonomy of agencies is intended to generate significant efficiency gains and avoid conflicts of interest. However, although agencies operate at arm’s length from their political principals, they receive most of their budgets from one or several ministries in the relevant policy fields and are accountable to them with regards to the achievement of the objectives they have set. Countries have designed different ways to mix and balance structural separation and strategic linkages between the principal(s) and the agency, depending on the context.

Past OECD Innovation Policy Reviews have shown that agencies’ embeddedness in the research and innovation communities has enabled these communities to play an increasing role in policy implementation and in policy formulation and as critical “advisors” for strategic orientation. Agencies are therefore a key component of national systems’ “distributed strategic intelligence”, by exploiting the fact that organisations that work closely with beneficiaries have better insight into research and innovation processes than central bureaucracies. The agencies provide monitoring and evaluation information, but often also propose new programmes and instruments, based on their closer proximity to users and problems and developments in science and technology.

Beside the limited direct interventions from ministries, the main organisation performing STI policy implementation is KFAS. It was established by Amiri decree in 1976, at the request of leading Kuwaiti business figures who offered to pay 5% of their annual profits to establish a foundation for the advancement of science. This percentage fell over time to the current level of 1% of the profits of Kuwaiti share-holding companies. Foreign-owned companies are not obliged to pay. The decree calling for donations to KFAS has never been ratified by parliament, so it has the slightly uncertain status of a request from the Amir rather than being a legal requirement. Over time, companies have started to regard the 1% levy as a tax rather than a donation. As a result, resentment has grown among the companies, but appears to have lessened since 2008, when KFAS changed its leadership and began to more deliberately design a strategy that included specific efforts to support innovation in business in addition to its broader science-related tasks.

KFAS launched its first strategy in 2012, covering the period 2012-16. The key strategic thrusts (STs) were:

  • contribute to the development of a strong advocacy for science, including science education, support the gifted and talented, and help advance scientific culture and the enabling environment in Kuwait (ST1);

  • enhance and integrate R&D capacity in and among Kuwaiti scientific institutions to address national priorities (ST2);

  • support innovation and assist in developing the required links to commercialisation within a framework for an integrated STI system (ST3);

  • catalyse the strengthening of technological and innovative capacity in the private sector (ST4).

The current strategy (2017-21) merged ST3 and ST4 into a single directorate, marking a clearer separation between what KFAS does internally and what it does through its external centres and reflecting the shift of some KFAS research commercialisation activities to SAC (Box 3.9). An important role of KFAS to support research and innovation activities relates to the funding and management of four external centres: the Dasman Diabetes Institute (DDI), the Jaber Al Ahmed Centre for Molecular Imaging and Nuclear Medicine (JAC), the Scientific Centre of Kuwait (TSCK), the Sabah Al Ahmad Centre for Giftedness and Creativity (SAC). In addition, KFAS has launched in 2016 KFAS Academy, in association with KU. Originally known as the Kuwait Virtual University, it is currently in a start-up phase and has so far provided selected university-level courses – especially foundation courses – and professional development. The intention is to become an online university to provide low-cost degree teaching across the Arab-speaking world. Initial course development projects have been placed with universities abroad.22

Figure 3.4 shows recent programmatic expenditures by KFAS. It shows that the funds dedicated to support research decreased significantly between 2015 and 2016 while the two other programmes (supporting respectively scientific culture and business innovation) expanded. The Special Projects and Initiatives (SPI) account for a major part of KFAS’ budget and account for the bulk of its budget increase. These initiatives target Kuwait’s national priorities. These projects are within KFAS’ mandate, but are not a part of the scope of the existing core programmes. The list of SPI initiatives for 2015-17 reveals a very diverse set of activities, ranging from strategic studies (e.g. a study of the reform of Kuwait’s administration “compatible with the Vision of the State of Kuwait 2035” to several small actions to fund the international mobility of students and researchers, as well as several workshops and events) (KFAS, 2018).

KFAS’ activities to support research activities (ST2) and business innovation (ST3) are analysed respectively in Chapters 3 and 4.


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← 1. These principles (in this chapter and subsequent chapter) are mainly based on the OECD STI knowledge base, as synthesised in the OECD Innovation Strategy (OECD, 2010) and The Innovation Imperative (OECD, 2015) and on the results of more than 30 OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy (https://www.oecd.org/sti/inno/oecd-reviews-of-innovation-policy.htm).

← 2. Namely, the National Democratic Alliance, the Popular Action Bloc, the Hadas (Muslim Brotherhood), the National Islamic Alliance, and the Justice and Peace Alliance.

← 3. In this case, the ex officio members do not have a vote.

← 4. This has happened, for instance, in November 2019 when Kuwait Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak had to submit the resignation of his government to the Amir in order to avoid a possible vote of no-confidence by the parliament (Gulf News, 2019).

← 5. The World Bank Governance Indicators provide aggregate and individual indicators for 215 countries and territories over the period 1996-2014, for 6 dimensions of governance (World Bank, 2019).

← 6. Freedom in the World is an annual comparative assessment of political rights and civil liberties that covers 195 countries and 15 related and disputed territories. See: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-aggregate-and-subcategory-scores.

← 7. The Bertelsmann Governance Index and political Transformation Index cover respectively four and five dimensions, each of them constructed of several indicators (Bertelsmann Foundation, 2018).

← 8. This section only provides a rapid overview of the different levels of the system. Strategic orientation, policy formulation and implementation are discussed in more depth in the subsequent sections.

← 9. Confusion arises at times regarding the denomination “research and innovation councils”. These co-ordination and advisory bodies are not to be mistaken with research agencies or national science foundations, which have a mandate for funding, according to policy guidelines provided by national strategies or policies. Such agencies are sometimes called research councils (for example, this was the case in the United Kingdom between 2002 and 2018). In this review, the term “research agency” is used for such funding bodies.

← 10. http://scpd.gov.kw/Default.aspx.

← 11. The deputy prime minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the deputy prime minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs, the Minister of State for Housing Affairs and Minister of State for Development Affairs, the Minister of Oil and Minister of Electricity and Water, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Works and Minister of State for Municipal Affairs, the Minister of Education and Higher Education, the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, the Minister of Information, the Governor of the Central Bank.

← 12. See the respective websites: UAE Vision 2021: https://www.vision2021.ae/en; Saudi Vision 2030: https://vision2030.gov.sa/en; Qatar National Vision 2030: https://www.gco.gov.qa/en/about-qatar/national-vision2030.

← 13. This report is not publicly available. The OECD review team was not able to consult this report.

← 14. The first five-year development plan covered the period 1967/68-1971/72.

← 15. Information provided by SCPD.

← 16. See: www.newkuwait.gov.kw.

← 17. Seventeen vision-related tactical projects, 19 enablers and 88 vision-related operational projects.

← 18. This estimate was done based on ongoing projects in February 2019, as available on the New Kuwait platform: www.newkuwait.gov.kw.

← 19. See: https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/research-and-innovation-council.

← 20. Official statistics for R&D expenditure do not exist. Preliminary figure obtained by consolidation of data from Kuwaiti sources. Includes a very preliminary figure from KNPC, which is awaiting confirmation/revision

← 21. This amount of government funding built upon the data presented in the Chapter 2, excluding non-governmental external funding (hence excluding, for instance, funding from foreign sources and domestic companies such as the Kuwait Oil Company) and business expenditures not financed by government (hence keeping the amounts of the grants provided by KFAS to companies).

← 22. https://www.kfasacademy.com/.

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