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Research and innovation: Paving the way for the future

By Platform

The research and innovation session at Europe Let’s Cooperate 2021, attracted more than 350 participants, and delved into four emerging policy concepts for the programming period 2021-2027.

Marc Pattinson and Arnault Morisson, thematic experts in research and innovation at Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform together with two keynote speakers Luc Hulsman, Northern Netherlands (BEYOND EDP and CLUSTERFY) and Margaret Quinn, ERNACT (DIGITAL REGIONS), discussed the emerging policy concepts of smart specialisation strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth (S4+), mission-oriented innovation policies, Industry 5.0, and European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs).

Ana Mihaljevic and Kristaps Rocans, policy officers in research and innovation at Interreg Europe presented an overview of key results and achievements regarding Interreg Europe projects in research and innovation during the programming period 2014-2020.


Key learnings

The policy concept of smart specialisation strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth (S4+) emerged from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) report written by Philip McCann and Luc Soete titled Place-Based Innovation for Sustainability. The report highlights that the regional policy focus must be on transformative changes. Innovation must not blindly follow competitiveness logic but must respond to broader regional societal challenges and be an ‘intermediate step towards the longer-term goals of fostering sustainability and inclusiveness’.

As a result, the report proposes an evolution of the policy logic from S3 to smart specialisation strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth (S4+). S4+ means reinforcing the S3 mission-oriented policy approach with non-neutrality, direction, and system approach to engage regions in European initiatives dealing with missions. S4+ implies a policy shift in the way regions may consider setting policy priorities to push technological innovation and their responses to regional societal challenges (see also the Policy Learning Platform online discussion on the topic of smart specialisation strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth (S4+)). 

The policy concept of mission-oriented innovation policies aims to translate societal challenges into concrete problems which require many organisations and sectors to collaborate. Missions require a challenge-based approach, the creation of markets, and the integration of supply and demand-side policies (European Union). European research and innovation missions aim to deliver solutions to some of the greatest societal challenges facing our world. The European Green Deal, missions, and the shift towards Smart specialisation strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth (S4+) are some initiatives that provide top-down directionalities to address societal grand challenges in which regional bottom-up process such as the Entrepreneurial Discovery Pross (EDP) have a key role to play.

Societal challenges can be drivers for better innovation and help give a direction to regional innovation strategies, can support aligning actors around a common vision, can increase potential for radical innovation and structural change, and that through missions, regions can become lead markets for innovative solutions to societal challenges (watch also our Policy Learning Platform online workshop on Innovation for Societal Grand Challenge).

Under Digital Europe, the funding instrument European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs) aim to address the needs of the public and private sectors, including all economic sectors, by offering a wide range of specialised digital transformation services. EDIHs will function as one-stop shops and will provide services based on a specific focus/expertise, which will support the local private, especially SMEs and public sector with their digital and green transformation.

EDIHs will provide access to technical expertise and experimentation, innovation services, such as financing advice, training, and skills development, and the possibility to 'test before invest' with the overall objective for companies to improve business/production processes, products, or services using digital technologies. The services will mainly target 1) SMEs and small-midcaps and/or 2) public sector organisations conducting non-economic activities (watch also our Policy Learning Platform online webinar on Digital Innovation Ecosystem). 

The policy concept of Industry 5.0 emerged to respond to policy challenges coming with the adoption and diffusion of Industry 4.0 technologies. Industry 4.0 ranges from a variety of digital technologies such as 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and advanced robotics. It also implies the use of  new materials such as bio- or nano-based, or the setting up of new processes such as data-driven production, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic biology (OECD, 2017).

Digitalisation and digital technologies are transforming European industries and the role of workers. Industry 4.0 offers many opportunities for workers such as reducing dangerous and routine tasks but also new challenges such as the fear of automation and the reduced wellbeing of the worker. Industry 5.0 has three core pillars, namely, to be sustainable, resilient, and human-centric. Aligned with the European Green Deal, Industry 5.0 is a solution provider for people and the planet (watch also our Policy Learning Platform online workshop on industry 4.0 infrastructure and deployment). 

The online audience were active participants and questions focused on how best to share these policy evolutions with regional innovation ecosystem stakeholders, what are the best methods for engaging with SMEs to support digitalisation actions and what tools can be used for implementing good policy monitoring actions in support of regional strategies.

Image credit: BrianAJackson by EnvatoElements