FinCEAL+ BRIDGES delegation’s experiences from the European Research and Innovation Days and related visits in Brussels

October 30, 2019

The first annual policy event of the European Commission (EC) organized in Brussels, Belgium on 24-26 September gathered world leaders from industry, finance, academia, and business to debate and co-design the future research and innovation landscape. Speakers included ministers, commissioners, members of European Parliament, top researchers, and surprise guests each day. Engaging stakeholders to co-create and envision the strategic priorities for the first 4 years of Horizon Europe, the future of the next EU Framework Programme (FP) was at the heart of the 2019 European Research and Innovation Days (R&I Days). The programme for the event was aligned with the thematic sections of current FP Horizon 2020, and focused on three main thematic blocks: societal changes, science and society, as well as industry. Specific session themes included: vital areas of science, engineering, medicine, and wider social environmental concerns.

FinCEAL+ BRIDGES organized a delegation of senior members of Finnish academia to attend the event. Four expert delegates were from Savonia University of Applied Sciences, Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology, and University of Turku.

Alongside the R&I Days, on 24th of September, the Helsinki EU Office organized a morning discussion session related to the strategic program planning of Horizon Europe. The main speakers of the event were the representatives of Finnish Horizon Europe strategic configuration committee, Senior Specialist Hanna Vuorinen, from the Ministry of Employment and Economy and Senior Ministerial Adviser Saara Vihko from the Ministry of Education and Culture. The event provided an opportunity for participants to discuss the Horizon Europe strategic program planning, participation of the stakeholders, and ask questions related to this.

Reflections on the European Research and Innovation Days

The first day of the R&I Days was opened by Commissioner of Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas: In his opening speech Commissioner Moedas emphasized the importance of fundamental science and the change in how the leaders of the Europe feel about the importance of research and innovation. He noted that in recent years, the leaders of Europe have started to be vocal about the importance of science and of open science, open innovation and user innovation, and co-creation. Moedas also mentioned several EU science discoveries funded from ERC funds, such as the Speculoos exoplanetary project and the recent scientific discovery of creating an image of a distant black hole. He highlighted the open discussion around climate change and the public health and education systems, which are commonplace in Europe but not obvious in other parts of the world. According to him, this is a result of European science.

After the opening session and the keynotes, the program was split into parallel sessions dealing with many important topics related to European Research and Innovation.

In the session “The Missions: let’s get started”, the panelists, who were responsible for creating the original Horizon Europe Mission concept, discussed the process and reasoning behind the concept – namely, to create high-ambition, high profile initiatives to find solutions to some of the major challenges faced by European citizens. Five themes and associated Mission Boards were created to support the implementation of the concept. The Panel also discussed how different actors, sectors and disciplines would interact and collaborate in new ways through co-creation processes. The panel highlighted the “spill-over effects” of Missions, for example in creating societal impact and potentially increasing national investment in science and innovation. The role of accelerators was discussed, with the panel emphasizing their importance in co-creation processes. Public consultations and Mission Boards and Assemblies further support co-creation and steering the direction of the Missions.

The last parallel session we participated in that day was “Communicating Europe through Science Diplomacy”. The session focused on what science diplomacy is in action; how to engage society; and how scientists, particularly young scientists, can contribute to this engagement. The contribution of science to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was discussed, with the panel suggesting the EU nominate a scientific Ambassador for every Goal to stress the importance of these themes in science in the future.

The second day was a full day of parallel sessions focusing on issues from open science to the different missions that will be a new part of Horizon Europe to the role of philanthropic actors in research funding. In the “Open Science is the New Normal” session, the definitions and core principles of open science were discussed, with broad general agreement that: data should be FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable), boundary conditions (such as skills and metrics) need to be met, and open (participation, accessibility, evaluation, governance). The discussion also focused on the implications for researchers to conduct research following the principles of open science and ethical issues surrounding open science. The audience questioned the role open science can have on opening European science beyond its borders and the panelists argued that establishing global principles for open science can ensure equitable collaboration and data management.

The potential for new kinds of collaboration between public funders and philanthropic institutions was highlighted throughout the day. The session “Institutional Philanthropy: Supporting Science, Research, and Innovation” focused on discussing the conditions needed for more and better collaboration on research funding between the public and philanthropic sectors. Co-creation, creating a legal framework for cooperation, and simplifying the landscape for cooperation were highlighted by the panelists. Some topics and policies where collaboration was seen to make sense included: economic growth and job creation; sustainable development; ‘horizontal issue’ like intellectual property rights, open access and open science; health, especially poverty-related diseases or rare diseases; and social innovation.

International collaboration was highlighted in the “Going Global for Greater Impact” session. Much of the session focused on how international collaboration on large-scale research infrastructures can support scientific breakthroughs, along with what is needed to increase this collaboration. The audience raised the topic of the legal and technical rules for international collaboration in Horizon Europe. Panelist Signe Ratso, Deputy Director General of Directorate General Research and Innovation, responded that such rules can only be designed once the article of association is agreed in the European Parliament. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit clearly impacted the discussion during the session, preventing more technical or strategic discussion on the future priorities for international collaboration.

In the morning of the third day, the delegation had a chance to visit the European Parliament and meet Finnish Members of the Parliament (MEPs) Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Mauri Pekkarinen and Henna Virkkunen who are members of the European Parliament Committee of Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE). We discussed the current situation at the ITRE Committee, presented the work carried out by UniPID and FinCEAL+ Plus BRIDGES, and the university representatives gave examples of the ongoing cooperation they have with colleagues in the BRIDGES regions. The delegation emphasized that it would be important for MEPs to deliver messages in the committee that in the new Horizon Europe it would be important to secure a sufficient budget and also emphasize the importance of the Third country participation in the programme.

The third day of the R&I Days featured two sessions focused on improving the use of R&I evidence for policy making, among other topics. Interestingly, several speakers highlighted the necessity of having “bridges” between the research community and policy and decision makers; special intermediaries that are able to acts as “translators” between academics and politicians. Speakers argued that narratives and images are needed to turn scientific evidence into a clear message that can be taken up by a decision maker. Facts alone are not enough. Scientists should be aware of what the policy makers need and be able to anticipate these needs. Presenters also argued that more research is needed on designing successful science to policy processes, and that this is something social sciences researchers should address.

Horizon Europe, European R&I Days and Finland’s impact in the future?

The European Research and Innovation Days will be organized annually and FinCEAL delegates agreed that it is very important for Finland to be involved and active -- either through expert delegations or by holding side-events during the Days to showcase Finnish R&I expertise. The delegates suggested Finnish experts should also participate more as panelists, and Finland could be involved in arranging sessions or innovative hubs. It would be useful for EU Member States, including Finland, to have “country corners” during the event featuring pioneering research. This would also give the researchers attending the Days new angles and views for their future research.

The FinCEAL delegates also emphasized the importance of networking related to Horizon Europe and that Finnish HEIs should be more involved in related events. At a national level, Finnish HEIs should be more active in building national and international networks to have more impact.

Dr. Johanna Toivonen de Gonzales from the Biodiversity Unit at the University of Turku shared similar thoughts:

“It is important to follow the preparation processes of Horizon Europe to be aware of the moments and ways to give feedback, participate in the open consultations, etc. Joint delegations and well-planned common messages are very important when aiming to impact policy making”.

Read more on Johanna Toivonen de Gonzales’ blog post on Turku University’s website.

More information:

European Research and Innovation Days website

* Picture credit: Jarkko Mutanen