Future European innovation policy: Results of a foresight exercise

Findings from an innovative research project, FARHORIZON, warn policy makers to steer clear of creating an innovation policy silo and recommend taking a less conventional approach to research and innovation policy. This, they argue, would help Europe mobilise its research assets to achieve long-term policy goals in areas as diverse as adaptation of agriculture to climate change, and teaching and learning in an ICT revolutionised society.

FARHORIZON used a collaborative methodology: pre-meeting survey on wildcards, key note speech, plenary session with the identification of key drivers, sub-groups by themes and key conclusion. The University of Manchester (the project’s coordinator), organised four thematic workshops aimed at producing immediately useful results for participants in the research-policy nexus. The project’s overall goal was to “pilot the use of foresight to align strategic and applied research with longer-term policy needs in Europe”.

In their effort to achieve this, the project partners employed a workshop-oriented methodology known as ‘Success Scenario’. This involved recruiting a group of high-level participants to collaborate in formulating a joint vision of future success, a vision which includes a ‘stretch’ target for all stakeholders to aim towards.

The selection of participants in Success Scenario sessions was crucial. As the researchers point out, the method “relies on those who take part being in a position to influence the policy/strategy in question”. All participants are expected to apply their talent, imagination and influence to the task. Building an ‘advocacy coalition’ is part of the concept.

Following the advice of an independent panel, FARHORIZON explored four foresight themes, each of which was covered in a separate workshop:

  • Giving innovation a central role in European policy.
  • Adaptation of agriculture to climate change.
  • Critical minerals and metals.
  • Teaching and learning in an ICT revolutionised society.

The FARHORIZON partners reported several policy priorities in the participative workshops including the one entitled Giving Innovation a Central Role in European Policy. These included recognition of the need to link Europe’s ‘Grand Challenges’ to the creation of lead markets, i.e. markets where local conditions, such as regulations, or customers willing to pay a premium or provide high quality feedback, favour the emergence of innovations which subsequently spread to other places. The successful emergence of wind energy in Denmark and Germany provides one such example.

The exercise also identified a need to improve procurement processes for innovation while reinforcing existing innovation policy instruments, such as grants for firms and support for clusters. With respect to broader issues, the workshop participants concluded that Europe is in need of a “less conventional innovation policy”, warning that linking research and innovation policy can actually become a problem if it ends up focusing vision “only on research-driven innovation”. They specifically urged stakeholders to “avoid creating another innovation policy silo”.

Looking ahead to success scenarios leading up to 2050, the FARHORIZON workshop on Adaptation of Agriculture to Climate Change produced a vision that foresees possible development of several breakthrough technologies. These include new varieties of plants with reduced need for fertilisers as well as a network of disposable wireless sensors for early detection of fungal disease. The workshop also identified a need to use existing knowledge more effectively, suggesting that much of the plant molecular biology of the late 20th century was at risk of languishing in research silos for lack of an integrated approach to the adaptation challenge.

Minerals and metals are essential to almost every aspect of modern life and every economic sector, particularly in high technology areas such as electronics and new green technologies. Europe relies heavily on imports of scarce metals and minerals (including, for example, rare earths), thus creating a strategic dependence. In partnership with the French geosciences agency BRGM, the workshop Breakthrough Technologies: For the Security of Supply of Critical Minerals and Metals in the EU called for an integrated strategy for Europe until 2030. Research priorities identified included the need for better minerals intelligence, including sharing of information, new technology for ‘urban mines’, which separate rare materials from other waste, and ways of mitigating the environmental impact of mining and processing.

Teaching and Learning in an ICT Revolutionised Society formed the subject of the fourth workshop. It sought to achieve a clearer vision of what is needed to create a digitally competent European society; one which is able to compete on an even footing with other advanced nations and continents. The workshop explored the underestimation of the role of ICT not only as a tool for learning but also as tool for teaching new skills required to engage effectively in a digital society and economy. It covered themes such as future scarcity of teachers and the exclusion of the ageing population. Participants called for a high-level initiative driven by the European Commission and more effective collaboration with other policy domains, such as innovation and industrial policy.

FARHORIZON - Use of foresight to align research with longer term policy needs in Europe (duration: 1/9/2008 – 1/2/2011). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 7 "Foresight activities", Research area 7.4 "Blue sky research on emerging issues affecting European S&T". Collaborative project (small and medium scale focused research project).

See: http://www.farhorizon.portals.mbs.ac.uk

Contact: Luke Georghiou, luke.georghiou@mbs.ac.uk