Chapter 5. Policies for better ecosystems of innovation

This chapter considers the role of local, regional and central government policies in creating the conditions for schools to engage in innovation ecosystems. It examines the role of schools as partners in regional and local renewal, by delivering the skills on which local economies depend, acting as key nodes in the social fabric of their communities, and raising aspirations among local people to sustain change and innovation. It lays out a practical strategy schools can use to open up to businesses and the wider community and goes on to look at how businesses, not-for-profit organisations and other associations can benefit from developing partnerships with schools in their area. Finally it lays out the role of the regions in supporting innovation, and the policy principles behind creating learning cities and regions.



The previous chapters have already discussed the important role of policies in hindering or enabling the engagement of schools in innovation ecosystems. Local, regional and central governments play a very powerful role in creating the conditions for schools to engage in innovation ecosystems. Innovating schools and engaging with the local economy requires navigating regulatory frameworks, accountability systems and policy conditions. Public policy can also create opportunities for developing local and regional ecosystems of innovation.

Policies intervene in many of the components, dimensions and steps involved in the process of innovation. They can hinder or facilitate the openness of schools to their local environments, the opportunities school leaders have to engage in partnerships and networking, the decision-making and governance arrangements for schools, etc. They also determine various dimensions of the education system that create the conditions for openness, such as the competences required from teachers, the autonomy of schools, the regulation of the time and space for learning, the objectives set for learning, the curriculum, and the teaching methods and pedagogies for learning.

Policies for better innovation ecosystems will also require horizontal collaboration between education ministries and other parts of central and local government, such as those responsible for research and development (R&D), general economic and social policy, and trade unions and collective bargaining. Taking a broad perspective on networking and innovation ecosystems also means that cultural policy and policies affecting social services and local community organisations at large enter the picture. A whole-of-government approach will be needed to create coherent and consistent framework conditions for innovation.

In France, for instance, within the National Education Ministry, two main institutional stakeholders contribute to developing innovation and experimentation: a network of 30 local authority advisors on innovation and the Department for Innovation and Experimentation Research and Development of the Directorate-general for Schools. Their role is to stimulate the initiatives of teaching staff, to pool and build on knowledge as well as to promote links with research.

But the word “policies” should not suggest that only governments and public authorities have a role to play. Developing innovation ecosystems is a task and a responsibility for all actors and agents of change in the community. Schools, enterprises and community organisations all have role to play by becoming the focal points of the collective energy of change in the learning and innovation ecosystem at large.

The European Commission’s Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture is about to publish a study on ‘Tools and policy pointers for mainstreaming innovative pedagogies and school organisation practices’. The aim of this study is to better understand how policy-makers can support all levels of the education system in mainstreaming innovative school organisational practices and pedagogies. The study also seeks to analyse what systemic elements act as catalysts and inhibitors to schools being ‘innovative’. Ultimately, the study will deliver tools for policy-makers to promote new models for positive change at all levels of the school education system, including policy pointers and practical methods to support transformation within schools.

What schools can do

Regional growth and city development have become important policy objectives for central, regional and local government in many countries, especially for depressed regions. Supra-national bodies, such as the European Union, are also very interested in regional development, in order to mitigate economic and social inequalities and to boost overall innovation. However, although the traditional policy instruments chosen, such as investments in infrastructure, network connectivity or transport, make sense in many places, they are often not well suited to the specific challenges and opportunities of a knowledge-based economy.

Too often, education, schools, skills and human capital in general are overlooked in regional and local development and innovation policies. Even when education and skills are part of the policy mix, consideration is often confined to universities, which are expected to play a regional innovation role through their research and development functions in technology. However, schools in general, including primary and secondary schools, vocational training institutes, and organisations for non-formal education, can be very important and effective partners in regional and local renewal.

First, they make up the educational infrastructure that takes care of learning, educational qualifications, workforce training, skills development and broader cultural learning. The educational infrastructure of a region produces the knowledge and skills on which the regional economy depends. They deliver the qualified workforce for regional industry and business. The quality of education provided filters down through the workplace via their graduates, but also through apprenticeships and fieldwork placements, or through various kinds of practical assignments in project-based learning.

Second, and equally important, schools and other educational institutions constitute critically important nodes in the social fabric of regional societies and local communities. They are places where families meet and network, where social capital and trust are generated and social cohesion is constructed. The quality of life in local communities depends on the strength and impact of educational institutions. Schools contribute to the development of regional and local identities, while at the same time also transmitting modern attitudes and values, including global awareness.

Third, and related to the previous two points, schools’ educational function and impact on the community can help to raise the level of aspiration among people, necessary for a sustainable process of change and innovation. An important dimension of change is that people believe that they can cope with it and can steer it if they have the right kind of cognitive and emotional tools. A well-educated population is critically important not only for knowledge-based change and innovation in the economy, but also for accepting and absorbing innovation into regional society and the many changes in the population’s lifeworld that come with innovation.

By opening up to local enterprises and communities, schools can reinforce their role in building strong and inclusive local societies and innovative economies. They can do this by providing free use of school infrastructure and facilities to local enterprises and community organisations, but also – and more interestingly – by actively involving the learning resources available in the local economic and social context in the learning process. The mutual benefit can be enormous, both to the learners who benefit from real-world challenges and learning opportunities and from the chance to serve the community, and to the enterprises and the community at large who profit from learners’ contributions.

Strengthening the role of schools in regional and local development requires schools themselves to become more innovative and dynamic, more specifically by innovating their pedagogical core and by turning into networking organisations in which connectivity to the surrounding environment becomes part of the educational mission. Networking and developing partnerships across the economy and community are an indispensable aspect of sustainable innovation in schools. Innovating schools, innovation in the regional economy and social innovation in the local community are not different from one another, but just different dimensions of the same process of transformation.

A strategy for schools to open up to businesses and the wider community is laid out in more practical terms in Box 5.1.

Box 5.1. A four-step process to develop school-business relationships

Many schools already have effective procedures and extensive experience in developing relationships with businesses. These emphasise leadership and sound organisation by the school and provide guidance for businesses who have not established school-business relationships before.

The four-step process recommended below can be used by schools as they review existing relationships and seek to develop new ones. This process takes account of many issues that can arise when school-business relationships are developed and implemented.

1. Conduct an audit of school needs

A representative group that may include teachers, students, parents, business people and other community members could meet to discuss the potential for developing school–business relationships. For example, the group could complete a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, considering factors such as:

Your school’s strengths

  • Does your school have a strong mission statement and a clear agenda for the future that provides a focus for closer relationships with business?

  • Are there distinctive characteristics of your school and/or your teachers and students that may align with local businesses in terms of values, image and resources?

  • Is there a core of staff, parents and/or other community members who are committed to providing increased choice and diversity in your school’s educational programmes through school-business relationships?

  • Are staff open to training and development opportunities, in curriculum and management areas, that could emerge from school-business relationships?

  • Does your school have management and administration structures that can support school-business relationships?

  • What strategies or programmes are already in place in your school to enhance work-related learning and to encourage positive attitudes to lifelong learning?

  • Does your school develop exit plans for students with special needs?

  • What school-business relationships already exist? For example, these may relate to excursions, work experience and work placements, school fundraising or more formal partnerships, sponsorships or other relationships.

Potential weaknesses

  • How well does your school understand its local business community and its local operating environment?

  • Does your school have sufficient local business and community recognition to attract supporters?

  • Does your school have effective communication mechanisms, such as a prospectus, newsletter and webpage, which could be used to attract and distribute information about relationships with business?


  • Do individual students have needs, aspirations and aptitudes that could be met through school-based interactions with business?

  • What types of business involvement could make your school more innovative and help to raise standards in teaching and learning?

  • Is funding available for the implementation of school-business activities?

  • Have local businesses or progress associations expressed interest in supporting public education? Increasingly, the business sector is seeking links that help to develop an educated, skilled and motivated workforce and contribute to development of young people as active members of society.

  • Will local commerce and progress associations disseminate information about your school’s intention to develop school-business relationships and provide opportunities for networking between your school and businesses?

  • Do networking and communication channels with local businesses already exist? Do any teachers or parents participate in local business or progress associations?

Potential threats

  • What resources, in-time and equipment, will be required to develop and maintain effective school-business relationships? What existing programmes could be curtailed as a result?

  • Is there an attitude of responsiveness, client service and openness to change within your school?

  • Are potentially supportive local businesses already aligned with other schools or non-school organisations, making new school-business relationships unlikely or limited?

Once the needs of your school have been clearly identified, you are ready to look for businesses that will be able to provide support, encouragement and resources.

2. Collect and evaluate information about local businesses and establish contact

Suitable businesses have a public image, products and services consistent with the values, goals and specific policies of public education. To identify and make contact with suitable businesses, consider:

  • Which local businesses are suitable? List as many as you can. Some sources of business names include: school committees and parent groups, industry associations and local business organisations such as chambers of commerce, regional government bodies and local government, and community groups.

  • What are the capabilities of these suitable businesses? Find out about their skills and systems, industry knowledge, and available equipment or resources. Investigate their ability to meet the needs of your students, such as physical access for students with disabilities.

  • What is the relationship between your audit of school needs and the attributes of suitable businesses? Identify businesses that may significantly contribute to teaching and learning. The school can make initial contact with these businesses, to ascertain their interest in a school-business relationship and to explore possible interactions. Businesses may be willing to host a brief meeting to discuss possibilities.

  • How will your school develop relationships with suitable businesses? Follow-up after initial contact is very important. For example, the business may offer a facility tour for school staff to learn more about the business and to meet some employees. Your school could offer to show business representatives the facilities at your school and introduce participating staff.

Once suitable and supportive businesses are identified, you are ready to develop clear guidelines for each relationship that will underpin successful programs and activities.

3. Develop clear guidelines for collaboration with specific businesses

Guidelines for each school-business relationship are valuable as they clarify expectations and commitments. They should be jointly developed by school and business representatives (ideally, along with student, parent and community representatives) to promote commitment to the relationship and its goals. While guidelines can remain oral, written agreements are often clearer and engage more commitment; they can also be useful as evidence when new school-business relationships are being negotiated.

When developing guidelines, questions to consider could include:

Public education requirements

  • How will the relationship enhance teaching and learning in public education and, specifically, in your school?

  • What are the requirements of national and regional policies and guidelines, child protection, privacy and all other relevant legislation for the relationship?

Vision and scope

  • What are the common goals and shared aspirations for the relationship? A longer-term vision, say three to five years, is desirable.

  • Is the school principal committed to the relationship and vision? Is the business CEO? Is there a core of other school and business staff who will undertake to pursue the shared vision?

  • Can the vision be expressed in specific, measurable outcomes? Do most relate to realistic and achievable student performance outcomes? Is the bigger sense of the vision still evident through these outcomes?

  • What roles will be required to achieve the outcomes and to support the relationship?

  • Are any budgeting and/or resourcing commitments agreed as part of the relationship?

  • How will achievement of outcomes be evaluated? What data will be measured or collected? How and to whom will results be reported?


  • Who will be responsible for the roles defined for the relationship? Can individuals be designated to particular roles?

  • How can leadership and responsibilities be shared, to help distribute the workload and to ensure that the relationship continues effectively when individuals move on?

  • How regularly should the organising group of school, business, student, parent and community representatives meet to evaluate progress towards outcomes and to review the school-business relationship?

  • What records of meetings will be kept? Who will receive copies?

  • How will your school and the business communicate with each other? Will frequent face-to-face meetings or teleconferences be timetabled? Will emails be exchanged to a schedule or as need arises?

  • Are special strategies needed to develop a common vocabulary and open communication between your school and the business?

  • How will conflict and/or misunderstandings be discussed and resolved?

  • Would it be advantageous to formalise the relationship in a document? For example, this could be a joint declaration, contract or memorandum of understanding.

Once there is agreement about how the school-business relationship will operate, programmes and activities can be planned.

4. Develop a plan for implementing and evaluating school–business relationships

Plans should be clear and relate to short-term and long-term goals. Concurrent one, two and five year plans provide sufficient detail to encourage action while supporting continual growth in school–business relationships. Questions to consider during planning could include:

  • What programmes and activities will enhance teaching and learning and the achievement of outcomes?

  • What is the priority order for proposed programmes and activities?

  • What is a realistic timeline for undertaking programmes and activities?

  • Where will programmes and activities be held? For example, they could occur at school, in a workplace, in another training location or across all these places.

  • When will events or reporting about programmes and activities occur? For example, can dates be set for the release of newsletters and media reports or for school assemblies and public displays?

  • When and how will programmes and activities be evaluated?

  • What events are needed to build a sense of team for school, business, student, parent and community participants?

  • What skill sets and capabilities are needed by various participants in the school-business relationship for it to succeed?

  • What training and development, for the school and/or business, will be needed to support the implementation of programmes and activities? How can this training be provided?

  • How will people be incorporated into the school-business relationship to keep it fresh and active? How will vacancies be filled when key people leave?

  • When and how will the overall school-business relationship be evaluated? Factors to consider could include the teaching and learning benefits for the school, time and cost efficiencies, and potential improvements to this and other school-business relationships.

Each school can adapt this recommended four-step process to better fit its circumstances. There are also other procedures that have been established and endorsed by educational and training organisations. In addition, educational and training organisations have proposed a range of strategies that have been successful in supporting school-business relationships.

Source: adapted from NSW Department of Education and Training (2004), Schools and Businesses Working Together,, accessed 2 August 2017.

What businesses and communities can do

Local and regional learning and innovation ecosystems very much revolve around enterprises, businesses and not-for-profit organisations in the community. However, with a more holistic approach to innovation their success depends on their ability to create partnerships and networks with other agents of change. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy innovation will depend on the capacity of innovators to connect to and engage those institutions in the economy that produce, develop and disseminate knowledge and skills. Schools thus become the obvious partners.

For example, Google deploys the apps for students and teachers in the Peruvian Innova Schools, a private educational system that offers quality education at a reasonable cost with initiatives and interventions that have innovation at the core. Another strategic partner for Innova is IDEO, which is an international consultant firm with whom the schools have developed some of the innovative strategies in terms of use of space, pedagogy, construction model, use of technology etc.

As discussed in previous chapters, employers have a clear interest in working closely with schools and they are increasingly doing so. This is most obvious in the area of vocational education and training, where industry has a direct role – and interest – in establishing well-functioning partnerships with schools and training institutes. The provision of apprenticeships and workplace training is probably the single most important form of engagement for businesses. Industry will also play a natural role in defining skill needs and providing feedback on vocational education and training programmes, curricula and learning outcomes.

Enterprises and organisations also need education and training institutions to meet their own training and human resource development needs, often complementary to their own internal training and learning investments. Businesses are increasingly outsourcing training to specialised providers and schools are starting to develop their capacity to engage in the education and training market. When firms develop into real learning organisations, their human resource development needs will move beyond specific specialised knowledge and skills into broader skills-development demands, where schools can play a more important role. And, as shown in Box 4.3 in the previous chapter, businesses can gain many other, wide-ranging benefits from developing partnerships and networking with schools in their environment.

It is critically important that enterprises, with the support of intermediary bodies such as chambers of commerce or sector organisations, move beyond a purely utilitarian and instrumentalist approach and develop a strategic vision for networking with schools in a wider learning ecosystem development perspective. A learning and innovation ecosystem perspective might take more time to develop and to yield positive outcomes, but will ultimately lead to an environment that will be beneficial to business as well.

Not-for-profit organisations and associations in the local and regional community can also enhance and improve their networking and partnerships with schools, for example by intensifying their demand and opportunities for service-learning, fieldwork and applied research assignments. They can benefit from using school infrastructure more intensively after lessons finish or get involved in extracurricular activities.

For these organisations too, the immediate benefits are clear, but the longer-term systemic benefits might even be more relevant. The quality of life in the community depends on building relationships of social cohesion, trust and social capital and the associated cognitive, social and emotional skills that young people learn in actively performing these activities. Volunteering and community engagement is something that is learned, not given by nature.

Making regions agents of change

Regions support innovation to boost growth and improve quality of life. Innovation support is relevant for all regions, but an appropriate policy mix must be formulated. The questions are how to set priorities among possible avenues of innovation promotion, and how to design policies and implement an appropriate mix of instruments corresponding to defined priorities.

What can regions do? Regions are, or can be, agents of change. Regional governments play a key role in recognising opportunities for change, mobilising resources towards diversification and identifying new frontiers. However, this search for new regional advantages will require input and collaboration from the community at large. Regions can transform themselves by what some have termed “constructing their regional advantages”, based on a clear appraisal of their existing asset base and attraction of new talent and businesses. The focus of regional innovation policies should hence be on encouraging openness to change by agents in the system. Business support instruments should prioritise the development of human capital and learning processes, including cultivating behavioural change in people and firms.

The policy implications for learning cities and regions are summarised in Box 5.2.

Box 5.2. Ten policy principles for creating learning cities and regions

Cities and regions seeking to improve their economic performance within a knowledge-based economy through the development of innovation-intensive activities are advised to:

Inputs to the learning process

  • Ensure that high-quality and well-resourced educational provision is in place, on which effective individual learning throughout people’s lives can be developed.

  • Carefully co-ordinate the supply of skilled and knowledgeable individuals through education and training, and the demand for them in the regional economy, so that the full benefits of individual learning may be reaped through its effects on organisational learning.

  • Establish appropriate framework conditions for the improvement of organisational learning, both within firms and between firms and other organisations in networks of interaction, and demonstrate to firms the benefits of these forms of learning.

  • Facilitate effective organisational learning not simply for a pre-selected set of conventionally defined “high-tech” sectors, but across all those industries and services within the regional economy that have the potential to develop high levels of innovative capacity.

  • Identify very carefully the extent to which the resources currently available to the region (such as existing industries, educational provision, research facilities and positive social capital) constitute an impediment to economic development (“lock-in”) or may usefully contribute in developing innovative strategies for the future.

  • Respond positively to emergent economic and social conditions, especially where this involves the “unlearning” of inappropriate practices and bodies of knowledge (including policy makers’ own) left over from the regional institutions of previous eras.

Mechanisms of the learning process

  • Pay close attention to mechanisms for co-ordinating policies across what have generally been separate departmental responsibilities (for industrial development, R&D, science and technology, education and training and so on) and between different levels of governance (regional, national and supra-national).

  • Develop strategies to foster appropriate forms of social capital as a key mechanism in promoting more effective organisational learning and innovation.

  • Continuously evaluate the relationships between participation in individual learning, innovation and wider labour-market changes, especially with respect to the social exclusion of groups within the regional population.

  • Ensure that the regional strategy for learning and innovation is accorded legitimacy by the population of the region to be transformed.

Source: OECD (2001), Cities and Regions in the New Learning Economy,


NSW Department of Education and Training (2004), Schools and Businesses Working Together: A Support Document to Assist Principals and Teachers to Develop School–Business Relationships, New South Wales Department of Education and Training,, accessed 2 August 2017.

OECD (2001), Cities and Regions in the New Learning Economy, OECD Publishing, Paris,