Dr. Klaus Schuch
Strategic Research Management
Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI), Austria
The policy dialogue cycles are a core part of MIRRIS. Can you tell us how the process works?
First, let me tell you about the
objective of the MIRRIS policy dialogue: its tangible outcome should be an
action plan with a roadmap and a list of prioritised interventions designed to
increase the participation of research organisations as well as companies from
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania,
Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic and Slovenia in HORIZON 2020.There are several reasons for the low
participation rate of some of these countries in the European Framework
Programmes for RTDI, and we believe that it is worthwhile to talk about it and
reflect on it jointly. Therefore, MIRRIS organises a policy dialogue which
brings together major national stakeholders. They usually know best for their
own organisation why participation is obstructed. But what might be valid for a
university might not be valid for an SME. Variations also occur along themes
and instruments. Stakeholders have different rationales and varying room for
action. A holistic view of the problem can only be generated when talking to
each other, exchanging opinions, reviewing beliefs and collectively thinking
about possible solutions, which – at the very end – could be greater than just
the sum of its parts.In its essence, a policy
dialogue focuses on regulatory, policy or planning issues that are of common
interest. This is done by bringing diverse interest groups around the table to
open up discussion, to improve mutual understanding, to assess the degree of
consensus and controversy that exists and to seek jointly to formulate
practical solutions to complex problems.
What are the different stages? Why organise
MIRRIS suggests implementing a 3-cycle targeted policy dialogue in each EU13 separately with the aim to exchange information, build consensus recommendations and to establish an action plan with a roadmap for launching relevant short-term and long-term interventions.
Each cycle consists of round table debates and workshops which go into the subject in more depth and, in principle, always involves the same group of stakeholders, complemented by MIRRIS experts who can provide input to specific topics as requested by the policy dialogue forum. Preparatory activities and follow-up action are part of each cycle.
The first policy cycle is on convening and issue focusing. It aims at organising a productive and respectful exchange of information about the constraints on widening participation in HORIZON 2020. An essential cornerstone of the first policy cycle is “product framing” to clarify "what do we want to have at the end of the Policy Dialogue?"
Policy cycle 2, emphasising exchange and discussion among the stakeholders, is about pushing the parties to understand the concerns and positions as well as underlying interests and the existing (if at all) remediation strategies of the different stakeholders vis-à-vis the “widening” topic. The overall situation for the country should be assessed and a SWOT analysis of the country’s likely participation in HORIZON 2020 should be established.
Policy cycle 3, finally, which is about solution-seeking and consensus building, aims to support all parties with a view to discover, clarify and create the maximum joint gains possible. The length of each policy cycle is variable depending on each country’s preference and the availability of stakeholders. In general, a policy dialogue should not be squeezed; otherwise it runs the danger of becoming formalistic and hierarchical. 1.5 or 2 days of convening would be a good duration for each round. This enables a focused policy dialogue which deals sufficiently with the complexity and offers participants numerous opportunities to reflect on the context and consider implicit assumptions and limitations in each position, argument or approach. It also provides enough time for flexible procedures and reflexivity with regard to processes.
What is the profile of the different stakeholders to be involved?
MIRRIS proposes to include relevant stakeholders from the following three "layers" in the policy dialogue:
- Policy makers including representatives of ministries of research, technology and innovation; representatives of ministries of economy; representatives of regional governments if they are important in the overall RTI context; owners and managers of the most important STI programmes (e.g. agencies).
- Implementing organisations including research and technology development organisations (such a major universities, the Academy of Science or major governmental and non-governmental research organisations); National Research Councils; (other) funding bodies.
- Operational support institutions (if relevant) such as the National Contact Point coordination (NCP); major regional development agencies; main technology and science parks; major umbrella incubator associations; major national promoters of the European Enterprise Network; major technology transfer umbrella organisations; major umbrella cluster organisations, etc.
These three layers should ensure continuity, a holistic approach, and the necessary power to mobilise and initiate change. Due to budget restrictions we have to limit the MIRRIS policy dialogue to around 15 stakeholders.
Non-recurring attendance of stakeholders should be avoided. Nevertheless, the Policy Dialogue composition will slightly change from one round to the next, because different ad hoc external experts can be involved according to the process demands and their particular expertise.
What do you see as the main advantages of organising a policy dialogue cycle?
By retaining low participation in HORIZON 2020 each country loses millions of Euro each year and access to ground-breaking progress in research and technological development, which is even more important. To remediate this situation should be motivation enough. A sound policy dialogue, which is not a one-off show, creates momentum for a combined effort. It facilitates exchange and supports creative solution finding. Evidently, some aggravating factors for a low mobilisation and participation of national research communities in the European Framework Programme for RTDI are of a structural nature and cannot be changed overnight. But probably some factors can be changed more easily without costing much. It is necessary to tackle both the short-term and the long-term. Those concerned have to talk about it, if it is not to fall on deaf ears. Important factors for success of the policy dialogue are the provision of qualitative analysis and technical information, the mobilisation of the right mix of stakeholders and the methodological precautions which have to be taken to support an effective process management. Therefore, the advice provided by MIRRIS at all stages of the policy dialogue has to be:
- relevant by addressing the policy makers’ and stakeholders’ key questions;
- credible by being sound and authoritative in its analytical input;
- legitimate by developing a fair process;
- timely to inform the decision-making process in time without creating unnecessary delays
How will the results of the policy dialogue cycles in the EU13 be used to support the aims of MIRRIS?
At the end of the policy dialogue we want to have recommendations and - based on the recommendations - a joint action plan and roadmap on how to improve the situation, which might include activities assigned to different stakeholders. MIRRIS will assist the parties in making informed choices and capturing agreement as well as helping to gain formal approval, document and prepare for implementation of the agreed activities. Evidently, the recommended interventions have to be tailored to the countries’ specific needs and conditions. MIRRIS will not propose a magic formula, but will support the identification of suitable long- and short-term interventions through the provision of technical expertise and inspiring practices developed elsewhere.
From your experience in running policy dialogues
in other contexts, can we look forward to some unexpected results?
Policy dialogues are open-end. Nobody knows it better than the European Commission. A lot depends on favourable framework conditions. The availability of structural funds and smart specialisation strategies could be such favourable framework conditions. But they need to be approached and used in a clever non-bureaucratic non-compartmentalised way.The quality of the policy dialogue process itself is of major importance too. Sometimes you can achieve great results with the help of prevailing good spirit and professional moderation. Fifteen stakeholders can make a difference if they all have a say and if all are committed to give and take. Unfortunately, research systems in some countries are still very much isolated from the field of economic and social innovation and can be quite bureaucratic and hierarchical. The policy dialogue has to break up formalistic structures and create a level playing field between all participants to stimulate vivid exchange and creative solution-finding. Red tape needs to be avoided and the belief in one-size-fits-all solutions should be ditched once and for all. Dr. Klaus SCHUCH is an expert on research and innovation policies and international S&T developments. At present he is strategic research manager and senior scientist at ZSI (Centre for Social Innovation) in Vienna, Austria as well as managing director of the Austrian Platform for Research and Technology Policy Evaluation (fteval). Klaus was awarded his PhD from the University of Vienna. He has been and is involved in many European and national projects and has published more than 50 papers and reports.
2) An article by Michael Galsworthy:
"Eastern Europe needs
joined-up policy as well as topped-up"
(Research Europe, 20 February 2014)
EU bonuses can help to level the playing field. But other reforms will be needed for Europe as a whole to maximise its scientific potential, says Michael Galsworthy.
In the years preceding Horizon 2020, science in eastern Europe faced two main problems. First, the region’s participation rate in EU-funded projects was desperately low. Second, stagnant pay and rising living costs were compounded by austerity measures that cut into science jobs and salaries heavily.
EU funding offered no respite. The European Commission would pay salaries at the local rate, even though the rate for doing the same work, on the same project, in a wealthier European country would be substantially more. As a result, scientists fled eastern Europe at a time when the region needed to retain them to replace an inefficient old guard left over from the communist era. With talent starved and driven out, the mood among young scientists was glum.
For a long time, documents from the Commission noted the uncompetitive nature of eastern Europe and the strong salary inequalities across the continent, but offered little in-depth analysis. Generally, the patronising line was that there could be no compromise on the criterion of excellence for European science. This meant no tokenism or hand-outs for struggling eastern European research institutes and their scientists. Yet eastern Europe has a strong history in science and a huge reservoir of potential for a new, open Europe.
Things changed late in 2012. Anyone employed on an EU project anywhere can now be paid a bonus of up to €8,000 a year. In addition, Horizon 2020 includes a €722-million fund called Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation, aimed at restructuring outmoded research organisations and bringing in talent. Structural funds, often misspent or unspent during Framework 7, will be targeted to substantial ICT, research and innovation efforts according to the plans for regional ‘smart’ specialisation that governments will put before the Commission. This regional development fund will be a colossal €100 billion, and money for centres of excellence in the east is attracting the interest of big western research institutions. It is an ambitious and multifaceted package, but is it enough to cure eastern Europe’s research and innovation ills for good?
The pay problem
Allow me to
write of my own experience. When working in Slovenia on projects funded by
Framework programmes 6 and 7, I loved being part of large international teams
but the low salary made it impossible to make ends meet. I noted ruefully that
although we divided up work months evenly, huge differences in salary meant
that the bulk of the budget would be going to our western partners. If I had
claimed my work hours from London, I would have tripled my net pay and lived
comfortably. This observation triggered my return to the UK, and I knew that
other colleagues in Slovenia were planning and implementing their escapes.
in the most recent member states, known as the EU-12, reached the Commission
via the permanent representations of those countries in Brussels. Things came
to a head at a meeting of the Competitiveness Council in October 2012. Research
ministers from all EU countries debated two potential solutions. One was to pay
all scientists on international projects at the very generous Marie Curie
rates. The other was rooted in the observation that during Framework 7,
some of the wilier institutions in poorer regions had been paying their
researchers bonuses from EU funds. This was legal, although something of a grey
area. The option was to formalise such top-ups, so that up to €8,000 in bonus
payments could be claimed each year.
The idea of
paying everyone Marie Curie rates was ultimately discarded: it was
prohibitively expensive, the cross-level rate setting was complex and the
measure could be disruptive as many young researchers in poor countries would
be earning more than their bosses. The €8,000 maximum bonus was agreed as a
flexible, quick and simple fix.
this is not the whole story. I had been exploring the salary issue as part of
my academic work on mapping EU-funded health research. An impact assessment
from the Commission showed that, during Framework 7, the EU-12 had participated
in 6 per cent of health-related projects but received only 2.5 per cent of the
total funds for this research. The notion that this ratio of participation to
funds must have been the result of rock-bottom salaries in the east was
confirmed by a Commission report from 2007, which found huge variation in
scientists’ salaries across Europe, even after controlling for living costs.
Yet there was a dearth of commentary in the impact assessment itself and in the
Horizon 2020 plans. Even the 136-page Researchers’ Report 2012, published by
Deloitte for the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, said only:
“Researchers’ remuneration levels differ substantially across European
countries (correlating with the cost of living).” How irresponsible to deal
with such a fundamental issue so offhandedly.
bonus is an immediate solution but, with large salary differences remaining, it
may be applying a bandage where an operation is needed. There are essentially
two competing arguments: either scientists should receive equal pay for equal
work, regardless of geography, or institutions must compete with each other
like companies, with what they pay factoring into that competition. Both
arguments have merit. However, if the latter becomes policy then institutions
must be genuinely permitted to compete, meaning that they can claim for their
services more freely. Rules that effectively tie salaries to national wealth
The structural problem
Structural problems at my research institute were another reason for me to leave Slovenia. This issue, like salary, is something that a top-down analysis will not show. For example, Slovenia seems to be doing very well in EU-funded research, with high levels of participation. Yet no matter how many grants a country pulls in, if salaries are poor, bureaucracy heavy, resources for networking and support thin and the career path unattractive, many ambitious scientists will look elsewhere.
Western Europe has had more time and money to build up international competitiveness, so eastern Europe now needs a jump-start to get in the race. One option is an infusion of western organisational know-how, so that local young talent can be nurtured in improved environments. The Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation fund should help struggling regions develop the structural and skill capacities to compete for greater access to Horizon 2020 funding. This means special posts to retain or win back top talent, and funds to team up with western counterparts, analyse and identify problems and get institutions into better shape.
Another major component to building the required infrastructure will come from structural funds. During Framework 7, the €350bn available was not channelled into research and innovation in eastern Europe, despite the Commission’s recommendations. Many governments felt that their priorities should be to put out economic fires, leaving them no capacity to apply for the funds. This will change as policy helpdesks assist governments in putting together smart specialisation plans that provide clarity on what development is needed. Essential infrastructure can be funded once a coherent vision is in place.
These large funds can help to create centres of global excellence such as the Extreme Light Infrastructure, a laser facility based in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. It would be politically dangerous for a struggling government to advocate such a big project on its own. But once established to global standards of excellence using EU funds, such projects become national treasures and magnets for talent and investment.
The networking problem
So far, so good-in theory. But there will be inertia to overcome. How do those who have never been in the habit of competing for EU grants suddenly change? Why would groups of western institutions that always apply together suddenly take on eastern partners?
In some cases, outreach from western or Pan-European bodies can fit their own interests and mission. One example is in public health, where improving life expectancy and reducing inequalities is a Europe-wide mission. I have been drawing up plans with the European Public Health Association and the European Public Health Alliance to promote eastern European involvement in research programmes and conferences. Networking eastwards and building local research capacity helps health systems in critical need of strengthening, thus raising European standards and saving lives.
Young researchers in the east also need more of a voice in policy. Anyone who has worked in eastern Europe has seen the cultural divide between the bright, eager youth and some of their elders in positions of power. Pan-European bodies and the Commission would benefit from contact with young eastern researchers who can talk about the situation on the ground. Such groups could help the Commission disseminate opportunities or gauge the impact of their efforts, such as whether the €8,000 bonus is making a difference.
We now need a sustained effort to fully integrate eastern Europe into the European research and innovation ecosystem. I was delighted to hear two senior speakers at the UK’s Horizon 2020 launch say that eastern Europeans are no less bright than westerners. The Commission is also now putting money down in a way that indicates bold investment rather than trickles of charity. Now that we have the right sentiments and funds, we need to define the yardsticks of successful investment. It will all take hard work, but that work will bring everyone dividends a decade from now and onwards.
Dr. Michael Galsworthy graduated from the University of Cambridge with a 1st class degree and College Prize in Natural Sciences, specialising in Psychology. He began a PhD on the subject of Behaviour Genetics in the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, on an MRC award.
He worked in the Medical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana at the Institute for Biostatistics and Medical Informatics (IBMI). He then moved to the National Institute of Public Health, Republic of Slovenia. There he worked on an EU FP6 project, Health Research For Europe (HR4E) which mapped and analysed all health-related research funded under FP5 & FP6. He then worked on an FP7 project, European Collaboration for Health Optimisation (ECHO) which brought together the national anonymised patient databases of several EU countries. From there he came to UCL as a Senior research at the Department of Applied Health Research.
3) Calendar of MIRRIS Events
The table below is presenting
calendar of the 1st session Policy dialogues scheduled in MIRRIS beneficiary countries.
During the first session the country
profiles produced by the Universities of Aalborg and Coventry will be
presented. These documents provide detail specific to the countries’
participation in FP7 and presents a range of wider indicators of research and
innovation which provide context and help to explain patterns of participation.
||Malta Council for Science and Technology|
||Directorate General for European Programmes|
||National Innovation Office|
||Ministry of Education, Science and Sports|
||Ministry of Education, Science and Sports|
||Permanent representation of the EC|
||National research council|
||Ministry of Education and Research |
||Technology Centre AS CR|
||National research council|