Few analysts can claim to have predicted the events that shaped 2022 in Europe and beyond, yet it’s also difficult to talk about the events that unfolded as a ‘black swan’. Policy-makers’ agendas and roadmaps that had been carefully crafted to support ‘recovery and resilience’ following the pandemic and to ensure a ‘just transition’ to a ‘low carbon’ economy, were over-taken from February by the brutal and illegal Russian aggression against Ukraine. Policy talking points switched to securing energy supplies, tackling ‘foreign interference’ and providing support for those displaced by war. At the same time, the long-term societal challenges remain as pressing as ever: the climate emergency, the global loss of biodiversity and the ‘limits to growth’ require transformative change of our societies.
As a leading European specialist policy research and advisory organisation, EFIS Centre’s work seeks to assist policy-makers and stakeholders (from business, public sector and citizens groups) to design research and innovation (R&I) policies that can contribute to a rapid response to ‘unexpected’ events. At the same time, we increasingly work on the co-design of R&I policies and instruments that address global challenges and foster greater long-term resilience.
In this rapidly evolving global context, this EFIS Centre Insight provides a snapshot of our 2022 achievements and offers a glimpse into our future endeavours.
Providing advice and recommendations for key R&I policy reforms in Europe and beyond…
In the last year, EFIS Centre has led and participated in various projects that contribute to reforming, strengthening and improving the R&I landscape in Europe and beyond.
As a core partner of the Horizon Europe Policy Support Facility (PSF), for DG R&I, we supported strategic and operational policy reform in Romania, Moldova, Greece and Croatia by providing national stakeholders policy advice and practical support to enhance the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of national R&I systems. EFIS Centre led two PSF Country assignments in Greece and Moldova, where one common focus was on the strategic policy framework and operational implementation ensuring the economic and societal impact of research infrastructures. In Greece, we assessed the first phase of implementation of 28 national research infrastructures (NRIs) and proposed a policy framework for the future consolidation and long-term sustainability of the NRIs. In Moldova we also reviewed and advised on the set up of the national R&I funding systems as well as the preconditions needed for successful science-business cooperation. Working alongside national peers, international experts as well as national stakeholders allowed us to test the best solutions for a transition to unlock the R&I potential of these countries.
We have also reinforced another long-standing area of interest through support to the development and implementation of Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3). A topic that has been high on the agenda of the European Commission as well as Member States and regional governments for well over a decade. In the last quarter of 2022, we kicked off the three-year Smart Specialisation Community of Practice project, in collaboration with colleagues at Technopolis Group and IDEA Consult amongst other, for DG REGIO. Our core role in the project is to coordinate working groups with a focus on three of the S3 enabling conditions: innovation diffusion, industrial transition, and inter-regional collaboration. We will facilitate an exchange of experience among regional and national practitioners that will seek to foster and guide policy experimentation in these domains.
There is growing recognition that R&I policy is a core element of transition and transformation of countries at various levels of economic development across the globe. In the last year, we have worked to support the interventions of the OECD and UNECE to adapt entrepreneurship and innovation policy tools to the specific institutional context and development potential of a range of countries including Abu Dhabi and the Central Asia economies. Towards the end of the year, we began work on an assignment for GIZ (the German Development Agency) to develop a guide and toolkit for effective support policies for strengthening existing and emerging innovation ecosystems that can be applied flexibly across the 120 countries worldwide where GIZ intervenes.
Rising to the challenge – mission-oriented innovation policy
While mission-oriented innovation policies (MOIP) has been on our agenda in previous years, in 2022 the EFIS Centre team took a deep-dive into all complexities of mission implementation and assessment. At the request of DG Research and Innovation, we are pleased to be leading a team tasked with a first assessment of the five EU Missions, the review of the mission areas and the analysis of EU Missions’ portfolio of instruments and actions. The project was launched in November 2022 and will run until June 2023 feeding insights into the Commission’s evaluation of the European missions’ progress to date.
Our team has also been engaged in supporting national agencies on the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of MOIP. For Business Finland, in partnership with 4Front, we worked on the development of a monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) framework. The team put together an impact framework and associated indicators for monitoring and evaluation of missions building on the experience of Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands. The work in Finland focused on the (pilot) missions of zero carbon and increasing Productivity through digitalisation. In contrast, in Sweden the accent was on ‘Vision-Driven Health’, visionary innovation environments that engage actors throughout the society to make a difference to citizens’ health. Vinnova’s (Sweden’s innovation agency) ecosystem-based mission programme places a stronger emphasis on stakeholder engagement in selecting directionality and ensuring legitimacy of the R&I missions. Our work, in partnership with the Stockholm School of Economics, examined the type of evaluation required to capture measurable differences in outcomes. Thirdly, we have worked on supporting the development of two pilot missions (on enhanced material and energy efficiency and on strengthening societal resilience to security threats) in the Czech Republic as part of DG JRC’s stream of work on aligning smart specialisation with sustainable development goals (SDGS). The ‘action-research’ support provided to the Czech authorities will be used to inform similar initiatives in other countries such as Serbia and Ukraine.
In a similar vein, our team members have also led studies and consulting initiatives that contribute to the operationalisation of the concept(s) of mission-oriented innovation. For instance, we have worked on an OECD assignment undertaking a comparative study to understand better various aspects of successful innovation ecosystem governance and orchestration and the role of public administration in this process. Recognising that R&I missions are in essence ‘coordination devices’ that catalyse societal change, the insights of our recently concluded project, in partnership with Ecorys and Visionary Analytics, on Horizon 2020 synergies with other EU, national and regional programmes and initiatives are also of topical importance. The study undertook a comprehensive assessment of Horizon 2020 synergies and complementarities with other initiatives in the European R&I landscape providing actionable recommendations on how to improve the external coherence and hence also impact of the largest R&I funding programme in the world.
Furthering the knowledge base on socio-economic impacts and long-term sustainability of research infrastructures…
In 2022, we have contributed further to the knowledge base on the topic of research infrastructures (RIs), in particular our well-established track record on the societal impacts of RIs. Our team members have provided analytical support and coaching to two distributed RIs in Life Sciences: ELIXIR – RI for life-science information and EATRIS – RI for translational medicine. Through these collaborations we have improved our developed pathway approach to designing operational impact frameworks. The impact frameworks were designed in an interactive co-creation mode together with RI staff members serving both as conceptual maps for understanding and describing impact, as well as strategic tools for planning future RI activities and initiatives.
We have also maintained our biennial tradition to present our recent work at the International Conference for Research Infrastructures (ICRI). This year it took place in Brno, Czechia. We presented at the parallel session on societal and economic benefits of RIs addressing the question on how we know if we invest in the right things. The talk drew on the learnings from the PSF Greece project that focused on the enhanced utilisation of Greek national research infrastructures. EFIS Centre presentation showcased that national investment decisions must not be taken in ‘isolation’ – investment criteria need to address European/international linkages and synergies if return on investment is to be optimised. We have also continued our advisory efforts on emerging topics in the field of RI policy, such as through the ESFRI Working Groups on assessing impacts of RIs and on getting a better understanding of the collaborative relationships between RIs and industry (as users, collaborators or component providers). Both will identify the areas where RIs need further support and produce a guidance document that would further enhance the uptake of the impacts topic as well as collaboration with industry.
Our future activities are closely related with enhancing the available tools and training materials for the RI capacity building on impact assessment. We will work in close cooperation with selected RIs to develop training on socio-economic impact assessment that will be accessible to all interested RI staff members. We continue working with individual RIs on impact-related topics and aspects where our analytical and hand-on assistance is needed. For example, we continue with the ‘impact clinics’ with the national nodes of ELIXIR and we have just started working with the European Social Survey on their policy impacts. With these hands-on projects, we aim not only to provide tailored consulting and advisory services to RIs, but also to enrich the existing impact assessment toolkits that are currently available to RI managers and staff members (e.g. RI-PATHS, OECD)
Charting new policy approaches to more inclusive and resilient futures…
There is growing pressure to demonstrate that public investment in R&I is generating not only ‘research outputs’ or ‘commercial returns’ (from innovation) but also contributing to a broader societal return. At EFIS Centre our work focuses on providing evidence-based insights and policy recommendations that aim to create more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future. Innovation is a key driver of sustainable development and a principal tool for coping with major global challenges. Within this context, we have supported the European Commission’s DG R&I in the development of the 3Ps (Planet, Prosperity and People) dashboards. Here we identified, rationalised and analysed indicators, which will be used to measure the contribution of R&I policies to the achievement of the SDGs.
Transforming societal systems to become greener and more sustainable means rethinking not just technologies and production processes but also consumption patterns and ways of living. This requires an increasing role of social sciences and humanities (SSH) that can help engage all in society to develop shared visions and promote inclusive, collaborative and participatory governance.
R&I systems should provide a basis for a more flexible and responsive capacity of societal stakeholders. Governments, businesses, research and education institutions and civil society need full, timely and fair access to science-based approaches and practical tools that contribute to build resilience, not only as response to unexpected events, but also to prepare to react based on future scenarios. In this frame, starting January 2023, we will coordinate a Horizon Europe project that will connect R&I policies to resilience approaches. The FUTURESILIENCE project will apply foresight tool in diverse pilot cases to test innovative policy solutions that help different types of organisations, such as cities, regions, NGOs or SMEs, to cope with future complex scenarios.
We close by saying a big thank you to all our clients for trusting our team and to all our partners for the incredible work done together this year. We wish you all a more peaceful and sustainable 2023. May the new year also bring more opportunities for collaboration and exchange!