Thursday, June 4, 2020

Only One Russian Official in 16 has Proposed Innovations, HSE Sociologists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 1 – Only one Russian employed by the government or in government firms has proposed innovations, with the share lowest among siloviki  – only 0.4 percent of them say they have – even though the pandemic shows that officials must be ready to innovate if the country is to overcome challenges, according to a Higher School of Economics study.

            Sociologists Alena Nefedova and Marina Chernysheva presented their research, based on earlier country-wide surveys, to the April International Scholarly Conference at the HSE. It has now been summarized at Their conclusions underscore why it is so difficult for Russian institutions to change course.

            A key factor for the successful operation of any organization is the offering, consideration and implementation of innovative ideas, the two say. Without such ideas, businesses will lose out to competitors, and government agencies will prove ineffective, especially when under stress from a crisis.

            In many countries, employees are the most important source of innovation because they can suggest how to do things better or even suggest how existing capacity can be turned to produce new things altogether. Some managers and officials, recognizing this, encourage proposals for innovation, but others do not.

            Nefedova and Chernysheva analyzed 4100 responses of Russians aged 18 to 65 working in government bureaucracies or state-owned enterprises concerning their willingness to offer innovations.  “It turned out,” they say, “that only 6.3 percent of employees of Russian companies had ever proposed innovations to their bosses.”

            The share of those who had done so varied. Those working in agriculture and the siloviki were the least likely to have proposed innovations, 1.1. percent and 0.4 percent respectively, while those in science and culture were more likely, about six percent in these two sectors, the sociologists say.

            What is especially worrisome at the present time is that health care workers are among the least likely to propose changes, something that can prevent new ideas from being implemented or ensure that old ideas that do not reflect new realities continue to dominate the situation.

            A classic example of such disasters occurred when siloviki checked by hand the passes of Russians entering the Moscow metro, thus ensuring that the coronavirus would spread from one person to another in the long lines that backed up. There are other and better ways to check passes, but they weren’t proposed or at least not implemented, the two scholars say.

            Unfortunately, Nefedova and Chernysheva report, Russian bureaucracies and state-owned corporations do little to encourage their employees to offer new ideas.  Only one in five firms has an official responsible for innovation, and only one in six rewards those who make proposals financially.

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