E-workshop recording: Innovation for grand societal challenges

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On Wednesday 8 September 2021 from 14:00 to 17:00 (CET), the Policy Learning Platform organised an online workshop on Innovation for Societal Grand Challenges. Allowing for networking opportunities during breaks, the event was organised around three distinct sessions: a panel discussion with keynote speakers, learning from practices, and thematic working groups.

The growing interest to address societal grand challenges is changing research and innovation policy dynamics. Societal challenges, such as climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic, require tailored, complex solutions, which cannot only be limited to technological, or market-oriented domains.

The European Green Deal, Horizon Europe with the concept of 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.  

Webinar recording 

Adrian Tistan from the European Commission presented research and innovation actions on food systems and bioeconomy under Horizon Europe Cluster 6. The increased demand for food combined with growing interest in sustainable production and biodiversity protection make food systems and related bioeconomy issues, complex and multi-faceted societal challenges for the European Union. Two strategic initiatives provide directionality for the food system and bioeconomy stakeholders:

  • From Farm to Fork, which is part of the European Green Deal, proposes measurable targets to encourage sustainable food production, distribution, and consumption,
  • The 2018 EU Bioeconomy Strategy and Action Plan provides system-wide approach with policies across sectors.

Elvira Uyarra, Professor at the University of Manchester, discussed the role of transformative innovation policies and mission-oriented innovation policies to address societal challenges. She stressed that regional policymakers have an important role to play as societal challenges are not only global but also local and regional. Societal challenges can thus be drivers for better innovation and help give a direction to regional innovation strategies, can support aligning stakeholders  around a common vision, can increase potential for radical innovation and structural change, and that through missions, regions can become lead markets thanks to public procurement initiatives, for innovative solutions to societal challenges.

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.

Webinar agenda overview

Navigate to the discussion topics of interest in the webinar agenda overview below. 

Moderation and concept by: Arnault Morisson and Marc Pattinson, Thematic Experts research and innovation.

Some key insights from the workshop

  • The keynote speakers emphasised that regions could take advantage of European top-down directionality initiatives to experiment with innovation policies to tackle regional societal challenges. Public procurement of innovation (PPI) can be a policy tool for such policy experimentations. For regional policymakers, the challenge is how to turn regional needs, problems, and values into innovation and market opportunities. 
  • Local food value chains can respond to local societal challenges. From SUPER, Cornelius Traas presented the Tipperary Food Producers Network (TFPN), a network of 32 artisan food producers who are working together to strengthen their brand images, develop their businesses, generate initiatives as a County Food Strategy, participating in international food fairs, educational programmes, signature Tipperary Breakfast, etc… A clear local vision and bottom-up food initiatives can be powerful tools to promote local food artisan producers and to help them scale-up their businesses while addressing societal grand challenges.
  • Demonstrators for active and healthy ageing can drive better innovation. From ITHACA, Sandra Evans presented the LebensPhasenHaus (LPH), a physical space to promote co-creation, experimentation, product and service demonstration and testing for the silver economy. Indeed, active and healthy ageing will increasingly require assisted age-friendly infrastructures and digital healthcare solutions. The LPH facilitates the development and deployment of assistive age-friendly solutions by involving end-users, working as a testbed, and diffusing knowledge related to the silver economy.
  • Regional societal grand challenges can be drivers for selecting S3 prioritising sectors. From IWATERMAP, Pieter de Jong, presented Wetsus, a European centre of excellence for sustainable water technology that aims to build an innovation ecosystem and disruptive innovations in water technologies. For regions and in light of smart specialisation strategies (S3), societal grand challenges can rally multiple stakeholders around vision for the future. Further cooperation actions through the set-up of thematic European Partnerships  such as Water4ALL will also be major drivers of interregional RDI cooperation.
  • A vision can be a very powerful tool to align forces when addressing societal grand challenges. Elisabetta Marinelli, Policy research interface, pointed out that visions must be based on the regional and local manifestations of societal grand challenges that can be very different depending on the context (i.e. climate change).

Future Policy Learning Platform activities

Several follow-up activities were discussed with the participants:

  • Regions that are interested to learn from peers to design innovation policies for tackling societal challenges can consider applying for a peer review from the Policy Learning Platform. 
  • The Policy Learning Platform offers an on-demand expert support through the Policy Helpdesk. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have further questions regarding innovation for societal challenges. 
  • Please do not hesitate to contact the Policy Learning Platform to share ideas for policy briefs, stories, topics for online discussions and online workshops.

Other useful materials

Credit: picture from thananit_s on envatoelements
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Innovation
Challenges
Water
Food