Regional, rural and urban development

Barriers to Innovation Diffusion in OECD regions: A Self-assessment Toolkit


The OECD has developed a self-assessment toolkit for regions that allows regional or national policy makers to implement up-to-date assessments of bottlenecks for innovation diffusion in different regions. The toolkit provides a regional innovation profile (relative to other OECD and EU-27 regions), quantifies the strength of different innovation diffusion channels in the region and allows policy makers to engage local stakeholders to gather their views on actions for improvement.


What is innovation diffusion? 

Innovation diffusion is the process through which different organisations gather ideas from outside and use them to introduce an innovation (e.g. a new process of production, a new product itself or a new way of providing a service). Innovation diffusion can also be the adoption of existing technologies (e.g. purchasing machinery developed elsewhere or signing a license agreement for an existing patent). While innovation diffusion is not a strictly regional phenomenon, it is intrinsically linked to the networks and interactions that people and businesses have, many of which occur within their local area and within the “regional innovation system”.

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This European Commission-funded project aims to provide all OECD regions with an online toolkit that allows them to:

  • Easily review how well their region supports the key channels through which new ideas arrive and diffuse;

  • Engage with local stakeholders to map out their regional innovation system and its strengths and weaknesses.

The quantification of innovation diffusion channels includes traditional measures (e.g. co-patenting), as well as channels relevant for a broader notion of innovation (e.g. learning through supply chains or foreign direct investment). Where available, the toolkit includes concrete numbers on the performance of different innovation diffusion channels and guidance on how to obtain numbers where they are not readily available.

The qualitative mapping of the regional innovation system identifies who are the relevant actors, how are they linked and what policies support them. The project provides an online questionnaire, which can be circulated to stakeholders by regional actors and collects and summarises the responses to ensure the confidentiality of individual responses. 






The toolkit can be used by policy makers in any interested country or region for a self-assessment of their regional innovation diffusion challenges. The OECD can further provide a proposal for tailored support to countries or regions in implementing the results of the assessments, such as dedicated workshops or peer-review activities.

Examples from the trial phase of the toolkit:

Czech Republic


Bulgaria, North Central Region


Blekinge, Sweden




Northern and Western Region of Ireland

   computer innovation diffusion


The self-assessment toolkit consists of two components. The first is a dashboard of innovation diffusion indicators that allows to assemble a regional innovation profile to help quantify the strengths and weaknesses of regions along different framework conditions and innovation diffusion channels  (relative to other OECD regions and other EU-27 regions for EU countries). The second component is a questionnaire that allows policy makers to survey local stakeholders to gather their views on the regional innovation system. The questionnaire complements the quantitative indicators and allowing to deepen the understanding of different challenges, in particular those that relate to barriers within the regional innovation (diffusion) system. Such barriers can, e.g. be a misalignment in the incentives for different institutions that support innovation diffusion or a lack of engagement and co-ordination among different actors that can lead e.g. to duplication of efforts, inefficient procedures or increased information cost for firms. The OECD's approach and a recommendation for those interested in implementing a self-assessment is to combine the two components of the self-assessment toolkit with workshops that engage stakeholders in the regional innovation (diffusion) system to further deepen the discussion. These workshop can be animated by the information and data gathered using the toolkit and the discussion can help in providing context, as well as in developing concrete responses to address the barriers to innovation diffusion within the region. 


The dashboard collates nearly 140 indicators to capture regional framework conditions, innovation diffusion channels and innovation diffusion outcomes for OECD large (TL2) regions. The accompanying report provides a detailed overview and rationale for the selected indicators. The database provides information for the most recent year with available data (as of December 2022) and allows to build a regional innovation profile and compare it with other regions within the same country or regions in other OECD countries.

The indicators are presented in relation to other OECD regions with available data to allow direct comparison how well a region is performing along different innovation diffusion indicators with other regions in the OECD or the EU. For the chosen indicator the position along the bar indicates the share of regions that performs better or worse. A region in the Top 10% for, e.g., the share of its population with access to broadband internet has a higher share than (at least) 90% of other OECD regions, conversely a region in the Bottom 10% is among those with the lowest share of residents with access to high-speed internet with (more than) 90% of OECD regions providing access to a higher share of their residents. Hovering over the chosen indicator shows the value for the chosen indicator for the region.
A downloadable version of the data is available in .csv format here.


Complementing the regional innovation diffusion profiles is a qualitative assessment of the intermediaries active in a region and the links between them. The OECD designed a survey that can be used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the regional innovation diffusion system by collecting the views of local stakeholders. The survey includes questions on the state of innovation diffusion in the region and on the functioning of channels, intermediaries, and policies in support of innovation diffusion.

A template for the survey is available as an .lss file here , which is ready to be “Imported” into LimeSurvey, a free open source tool ( The survey template can be edited and distributed by anyone who wishes to assess the perceptions of their region’s stakeholders about innovation diffusion. A PDF version of the questions are available here.

The survey consists of an initial set of questions that ask respondents (stakeholders) to give their subjective views on innovation diffusion in the region. The subsequent sets of questions asks them to rate the importance of different innovation diffusion channels and framework conditions (e.g. mobility of workers, financing) and identify specific bottlenecks. Next, the intermediaries identified by regional coordinators and by stakeholders are assessed according to their relevance for innovation diffusion; links between intermediaries are elicited. Finally, stakeholders are asked to identify policies related to the main innovation diffusion channels (e.g. building links between companies and academics, promoting open-source information for autonomous learning, etc.). The survey responses allow mapping the barriers in innovation diffusion channels according to stakeholders’ subjective opinions. Importantly, responses to different parts of the survey can provide a clear picture of the challenges in a region, especially when combined with the quantitative part of the toolkit. In addition to the specific challenges to innovation diffusion, the survey allows to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the links between intermediaries in a region. The above implementations in countries and regions, as well as the accompanying report provide examples how this information can be used in practice to draw concrete conclusions on bottlenecks to innovation diffusion in regions.



What is needed to initiate a survey?

The survey is tailored to elicit responses about the intermediaries that are active in a particular regions. It therefore requires a list of the main intermediary organisations. These should include universities or other higher education institutions (HEIs), regional development agencies, or other public agencies focused on innovation or business support in the region. Large companies or other public institutions can also be included if relevant to innovation diffusion. Ideally, the list would have a minimum of four and a maximum of ten specific intermediaries or types (e.g. “research foundations”, see the accompanying report for further examples).

The survey needs to be send to relevant stakeholders and therefore requires identifying names and email addresses of all stakeholders that should receive the questionnaire. It should include a balanced number of stakeholders representing different aspects of the innovation system. The list should include 15 or more stakeholders to achieve at least 10 responses (there is no upper limit on the number of survey participants).

Who should receive the questionnaire?

Regional coordinators should identify a variety of different stakeholders from all parts of the “quadruple helix”: the private sector (e.g. entrepreneurs, innovative anchor companies, and financiers), public sector (e.g. innovation and local development agencies), academia (universities and research institutes) and civil society (e.g. foundations and non-profits). Since innovation diffusion in SMEs is of particular interest, participation by entrepreneurs (or employees of SME-focused intermediaries) is particularly encouraged. In practice, stakeholders from the public and academic sector may have broader views and experiences with the functioning of intermediaries and policies than those in the private sector.

Practical considerations

The questionnaire is in English and includes a mix of open response and multiple-choice questions regarding innovation diffusion. The term innovation diffusion is not clear for all stakeholders, especially in non-English speaking regions. Further explaining this in the tool, or using alternative terms (such as tech transfer, though incomplete) may help elicit useful responses.

Survey participants should be given several weeks to respond to the questionnaire.

Privacy safeguards

Participation in the surveys should allow stakeholders to express their views without revealing their identity. To this end, regional coordinators will not know whether an individual stakeholder responded to the survey or not; they will only see an aggregate response rate across individuals.

Answers to multiple-choice questions will be tabulated to preserve confidentiality of respondents. However, different considerations apply to open-responses questions. When stakeholders first access the survey, they will be notified that any of their responses to open text (non-multiple choice) questions will be made available to regional coordinators verbatim but with no reference to their identity.

Structure of the survey

The questionnaire aims to identify key bottlenecks in channels and intermediaries for innovation diffusion, along with policy options (regional or national) that could improve the functioning of these conditions. The key questions about innovation diffusion are related to the topics below. These topics could be addressed in follow-up workshops with stakeholders:

Innovation diffusion channels are sources of information that firms may encounter in their normal business operations. Channels expose companies to new ideas and help them develop (or find) the know-how to source and implement the innovations.

  • Supply chains: Are supply chains important channels for innovation diffusion in your region? Do SMEs in your region learn through linkages with foreign direct investors and large firms in the region?

  • Worker mobility: Are workers relatively mobile? If so, do they move between large and small firms, between multinationals and domestic companies, across regions or countries? What helps or hinders worker and manager mobility in your region?

  • Knowledge-intensive business services: Do (small) businesses in your region use knowledge-intensive (consulting) services for learning and innovation?

  • Academic-business collaboration: What are the strengths and weaknesses of academic-business collaboration as a source of learning and innovation diffusion in your region? Do HEIs have linkages with SMEs that transfer knowledge. Do HEIs facilitate start-ups by staff and students?

Framework conditions affect firms’ incentives and capacities to adopt innovations. The aim is to assess how the region’s framework conditions such as its regulatory framework, market conditions, access to finance and skills, and infrastructure support or hamper innovation diffusion.  The key questions to address are:

  • Institutions: Is the regulatory framework of your region (and country) supportive to innovative start-ups and scale ups and to business innovation?

  • Access to finance: Is access to finance a major impediment to innovation adoption in your region? Do start-ups rely more on public or private sector funding? What about SMEs in general?

  • Market conditions: Are market conditions in your region favourable to innovation, the adoption of new technologies and start-ups?

  • Infrastructure: How is the physical (e.g. airports, roads, ports, etc.) and digital infrastructure needed for innovation in your region (e.g. broadband connectivity; online selling platforms and software; cloud computing)?

  • Workforce and managerial skills: Is access to skilled workers a major impediment to innovation adoption in your region, in particular for SMEs and start-ups? Do managers have the capabilities and attitudes to promote innovation in their firms?

Intermediary organisations are entities that facilitate the diffusion of innovation without being directly involved in its production or adoption. Such intermediaries include peer-network building intermediaries (e.g. employer associations, chambers of commerce, managed clusters, science & technology parks), partnership-building intermediaries (e.g. technology transfer offices, research and technology organisations, investment promotion agencies), and capacity-building and funding agencies. The key questions to address about these organisations are:

  • Peer learning network intermediaries: What roles do employer associations, chambers of commerce, and science & technology parks play in innovation diffusion in your region? What types of knowledge do companies obtain from their peers?

  • Partnership intermediaries: How do technology transfer offices, research and technology organisations and investment promotion agencies contribute to innovation diffusion in your region? What are the main bottlenecks, in particular for SMEs and start-ups?



  • Capacity-building and funding intermediaries: Do capacity-building and funding agencies play a major role in innovation diffusion in your region (e.g. those that support innovation, regional development, business development, etc.)? What are the main bottlenecks, in particular for SMEs and start-ups?


If you are interested to learn more about the project or to get involved, please contact:

Alexander C.


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