Management and governance of the utilization of research data in health sector business

The policy strategies for research, development and innovation (RDI) should clearly define the objectives as well as the responsibilities and tools for cross-sectoral steering. Public funding should be systematic and long-term and cover the entire chain of from data production to its commercialization.

The National Audit Office of Finland (NAOF) assessed how effectively the utilization of research data in business has been promoted by means of political and strategic steering and public funding instruments.

The audit was targeted particularly at the Growth Strategy for Research and Innovation in the Health Sector, published in 2014, and its Roadmap 2016–2018. In addition, the NAOF assessed the management of the financial instruments of Business Finland and the Academy of Finland, which distribute public research and development (R&D) funding.

The aim of the growth strategy for the health sector is to make Finland an internationally renowned forerunner in health sector R&D and business. To increase the efficiency of the implementation of the growth strategy, a roadmap was drawn up for 2016–2018. At present, the implementation is steered by Roadmap 2020–2023.

In the state budget for 2022, EUR 2.49 billion is earmarked for R&D funding. In 2009–2019, Finland’s R&D expenditure fell to 2.8% in relation to GDP. Sanna Marin’s Government aims to increase it to 4% of GDP by 2030. During the 2010s, the health sector has developed very favourably as an RDI sector.

The efficient implementation of the strategy and roadmap and the assessment of the effectiveness of the strategy have been hampered by the general nature of the objectives, the poor coordination between the steering instruments, the short-term nature of the funding, and the unclarity of the responsibilities and duties of different actors.

The overall management was complicated by the decentralization of the implementation to three ministries and two funding organizations: the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Business Finland, and the Academy of Finland.

In the implementation, rather than reassessing their operating practices based on the strategy, the ministries adapted the growth strategy to their own starting points and operating models. The funding organizations also focused primarily on clarifying the objectives and strategies according their basic tasks in relation to the strategy.

The NAOF therefore recommends that the ministries should better reconcile cross-sectoral strategies, such as the growth strategy for the health sector, with their other strategic and financial steering and with the statutory tasks of the funding organizations. The steering should also be consolidated and clarified.

The growth strategy for the health sector is a new kind of cross-sectoral tool for political and strategic steering in RDI. In order for it to be able, in practice, to steer public administration efficiently towards new ways of operating, advanced monitoring and data management are needed to support the implementation. Based on the audit, these were largely missing.

The short-term financial steering of the funding organizations has made it difficult to support the commercialization of research data. Public funding for the utilization of research data should be systematic and long-term in nature and cover the entire value chain from data production to its commercialization. The funding organizations should be able to plan their funding overall in the long term.