TAFTIE Input to the European Research Area Debate 2007

DEVELOPING A KEY ROLE FOR RESEARCH AND INNOVATION AGENCIES IN EUROPEAN TRANS-NATIONAL COLLABORATION

 

TAFTIE Input to the European Research Area Debate

December 2007

 

1. Introduction

 

Today research and innovation agencies play key roles in trans-national collaboration within Europe. At its Board meeting in December 2007, the members of TAFTIE adopted a new strategy which will guide its actions for the next period. The strategy sets out a vision for the organisation.

 

A Vision for TAFTIE;

  • TAFTIE will be a leading influential and respected organisation in Europe for Research, Development, and Innovation (R&D&I) management and best practices
  • TAFTIE as an organisation will function at the highest professional level and will be characterised by adding real value to the goals and objectives of its member organisations.
  • TAFTIE will be an important contributor to the development of the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Innovation Agenda

 

Recognising that it is not itself an organisation that makes policy, it is also very aware that the experience of its members in dealing with the implementation of policy brings a unique perspective. This perspective is of great value in the development of new policies about the future of science, technology and innovation in Europe because it will allow such policies to be rooted in the reality facing enterprises and research performers.

 

TAFTIE member organisations are among the most active innovation agencies in Europe.

 

Some facts and figures on TAFTIE

 

Ø  TAFTIE currently has 19 member organisations that are leading national innovation agencies. Further agencies are in activity discussion with the organisation seeking to join.

Ø  Overall their annual funding budget amounts to approximately  € 5.8 billion

Ø  The annual innovation related budget amounts to €4.1 billion

Ø  TAFTIE members are engaged in 41 out of 61 ERA-NETs 

Ø  TAFTIE members are involved in 3 out of 5 INNO- Nets, 4 out of 4 INNO-Nets at definition stage and have strong representation on the Pro-Inno Group that is setting a course for the future.

 

This communication is an input to the ERA consultation that the European Commission has launched in the summer of 2007, as the TAFTIE network wants to contribute to this debate. 

 

2. TAFTIE: a strong supporter of the European Research Area

 

TAFTIE was set up in the early 1990s as a network of Europe’s leading innovation agencies, since when its members have demonstrated their effectiveness in, and commitment to, international collaboration. The Association has enabled national organisations to share and implement best practices, based on analysis of how other members manage their activities. TAFTIE has in recent years progressed towards a closer collaboration between it members – today 19 European agencies – and has taken steps to open up programmes for trans-national co-operation in order to use them fully at European level and beyond. The TAFTIE agencies promote trans-national collaboration in the interests of their clients, allowing both firms and research performing organisations to exploit cross-border complementarities and synergies.  The work of the agencies is therefore critical to enhancing the competitiveness of Europe.

 

 

In the view of the TAFTIE agencies, the current ERA debate brings an important focus to the role and value of a strong research system in Europe. Globalisation has a direct effect on competitiveness and economic growth as it opens up markets to new competition which may involve a lower cost base and easier access to raw materials. For European enterprises to survive and grow they must reposition themselves in the value chain to upgrade the level of skills they employ, become more sophisticated in their use of technology and take a more active approach to open innovation, which will allow them to capitalise of new market conditions for their own ends.

 

 

The ERA Paper cites a number of areas for future support and development and some comments are set out below:

 

An adequate flow of competent researchers with high levels of mobility between institutions, disciplines, sectors and countries;

 

TAFTIE members see that for enterprises in Europe to complete the repositioning to higher added value that is an imperative, enterprise must have access to high quality skills which are flexible, capable of being absorbed quickly into industry, and with a strong commitment to life long learning. The proposed investment in the research system has the potential to satisfy this demand if properly managed. The aspect that requires the greatest effort is in mobility especially concerning the interaction between research performers and industry to ensure that the skills created flow freely into the productive sector to the benefit of European competitiveness.

 

World-class research infrastructures,

 

TAFTIE members have been involved at a national level in the debates on research infrastructures. Science creates new knowledge which can lead to new products and services at the forefront. Proper quality research infrastructure will allow Europe to develop a high international profile for science which will attract investment and also encourage young people to experience the excitement of discovery.

 

Excellent research institutions engaged in effective public-private cooperation and partnerships, forming the core of research and innovation 'clusters' including 'virtual research communities', mostly specialised in interdisciplinary areas and attracting a critical mass of human and financial resources;

 

The lack of flexible transfer of knowledge from the research environment into industry has been called the European Paradox and is felt to be a major impediment but it need not be so in the future. Existing mechanisms are in operation by TAFTIE members such as competence centres, which provide structured and effective mechanisms to develop high quality college – industry interaction. Where industry sees value in such interactions it is willing to participate and provide financial support directly. New and unusual mechanisms such as Innovation Vouchers, operated in Holland and recently launched in Ireland, are in themselves an innovative response and are being considered by a number of countries. For the future TAFTIE members see this area as being critical to their work and would be willing to work closely with the Commission to bring forward operational views on the efficiency of different approaches and new ways in which the divide between the research performing community and enterprise can be bridged.

 

Well-coordinated research programmes and priorities, including a significant volume of jointly-programmed public research investment at European level involving common priorities, coordinated implementation and joint evaluation

 

TAFTIE members have engaged whole-heartedly in ERA-inspired initiatives such as the open methods of coordination (OMC), ERA-NETs and INNO-NETs. These are important steps towards more coordination and opening of research and innovation programmes. The bottom-up approach of inviting groups of agencies and ministries to develop ERA-NETs, combined with the ‘variable geometry’ principle, have led to a widespread engagement among agencies in these initiatives, in order to serve their customers´ goals of innovation and international partnerships. The agencies have thus demonstrated the power of such self-organised networks.

 

3. ERA in Action

 

TAFTIE supports the aim of ERA to reduce fragmentation in Europe. If there is to be clarity and coherence in the supports provided by the Commission to achieve these features, it will be important that a high level of co-ordination be achieved with the operators of programmes at Member State level. This will avoid a situation where new instruments are introduced that might overlap, be sub-critical in size or which are insufficiently supported by the innovation agencies involved to be effective. To assist this process, TAFTIE members will be open to discussions on the development of new instruments and will consider being more selective in their participation in future.

 

As the Commission wishes to open up existing programmes run by the various funding organisations in the member States it would be necessary to pursue a continuing dialogue with the relevant programme management officials in the relevant agencies. Opening up has many gradations and modalities. The priorities and budgets for joint and trans-national programmes must be decided by the Member States and their agencies as only they have the understanding of national social and economic needs which will allow them to prioritise. 

 

Finally, it should not be forgotten that national programmes respond to national needs that may differ between Member States. Although it is accepted that fragmentation should be avoided, a certain degree of diversity is not necessarily negative. It is important to make a distinction between such diversity and unwanted overlap and duplication.

 

The European Commission has played a mayor role as a catalyst for joint programming and opening up of national programmes, and the TAFTIE members look forward to further effort from the Commission in close cooperation with the national governments and national agencies to continue this effort.

 

Practical experience with ERA-NETs has shown that a range of obstacles still remain in developing effective international collaboration, including, IPR agreements, specific national administrative procedures, joint decision making on projects to be funded, and handling the subsidy flows. Participants still meet regulatory and financial obstacles when attempting to work with partners abroad.  While Member States are often willing to open up national programmes difficulties remain in adapting the selection procedures, evaluation criteria, terms and conditions of programmes that were originally designed for national operation. Harmonisation of such programmes can only take place on the basis of international best practice, adhering to flexibility in terms of the programme’s goals. TAFTIE agencies believe that opening up national and regional programmes is a powerful tool in enhancing international collaboration. The decision for implementation remains the responsibility of each member state.

 

While the European Commission has been instrumental in facilitating the process of trans-national collaboration through the ERA instruments, the TAFTIE members would welcome it facilitating a more strategic process of coordination and allow Member States the flexibility needed to develop their ERA agenda in a variety of ways, including Eureka and the services this platform can offer to ease international collaboration in R&D.  The Commission should allow as wide a combination of mechanisms and approaches as possible, as the TAFTIE experience has shown that it is very difficult to make EU wide networks work well. Smaller networks can sometimes work faster.

 

In the view of the TAFTIE agencies, the current ERA debate should recognise in greater detail the specific issues concerning trans-national cooperation in research for innovation and industry oriented research.  For the TAFTIE agencies, trans-national collaboration needs to be developed even further in the interest of the agencies’ clients: firms and research organisations. A step change needs to be made if the ERA concept is to translate into the area of innovation and subsequently into enhanced competitive advantage for European industry. This is strongly consistent with the missions of the TAFTIE agencies, i.e., to increase the exploitation of knowledge for societal and economic purposes, and ERA instruments should be designed in ways that take this into account.

 

4. Concluding Remarks

 

The TAFTIE community of innovation agencies welcomes the openness of the Commission in its debate on the future of the European Research Area. TAFTIE itself sees a new future for itself, drawing in new members and devoting time and resources to the process of learning from each other and acting as an advocate for innovation in Europe. The ERA Green paper has set out ideas which challenge current thinking and this in itself is an innovative approach. If European economies are to grow, the Research Area must become a vibrant and effective space for research and the translation of the results of that research to the productive sector. It is imperative to have the correct policies and the right programmes and actions to create impact from those policies. The member agencies of TAFTIE accept this significant responsibility and look forward to working with the Commission in making the next phase of the ERA project a success.