Europe’s future: Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World

The Tour d’Europe meeting in the EU presidency country, Bulgaria, was organised by an independent Think Tank in Sofia.

The meeting took place on 29 January 2018 at Structure Gallery and gathered a broad range of actors from policy advisers and former Bulgarian ministers, scientists in the recognized Academies of Science and top universities, as well as innovative start-ups and young entrepreneurs active in the new digital economy. The RISE high-level expert group and authors of the RISE book were represented by Daria Tataj, Luc Soete, Mary Ritter, Julio Celis, Dainius Pavalkis, Ivo Slaus, and Marzenna Wareza.

Key messages:

  • Openness has boundary conditions.

Openness has both a digital and a physical context. The ‘scientific capital’ in Europe should be open and accessible for digital start-ups across Europe. However, when openness builds on an asymmetric context, it can aggravate brain-drain and decline of R&I systems. Therefore, openness must be balanced by a local agenda, including links to cultural diversity and absorptive capacity. It is not about global or local; it is about a smart combination of both.

  • Reconcile history and future.

Many R&I systems in Eastern Europe have undergone dramatic transformations. Comparative strengths shape future opportunities in accumulated R&I. In the early days of the digital revolution, Bulgaria was the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe. The science system in Bulgaria still retains a scientific specialization in physics, mechatronics, advanced computing, and artificial intelligence. This R&I profile opens up for synergies with the growing digital service economy, where the young generation in Bulgaria – and in other Eastern European countries – is increasingly successful and competitive. However, a reconciliation of past and future strengths requires trust-building and new forms of collaboration between the established scientific community and the new and young digital platform economy.

  • Diffuse knowledge and technologies.

First, create the regulatory and financial framework conditions for universities opening up for closer science-business collaboration; this also implies actions at EU level to modify State Aid rules. Second, understand the motivations of researchers and create incentives. European funding can combine different incentives: curiosity-, challenge- and entrepreneurial incentives. Third, reinforce cooperation networks across Europe; common European missions, where different countries and regions can bring their value added, could help in framing this diffusion, training, and networking.

  • Build trust to bridge science and society.

Citizens must be involved in the R&I process as lead-users, co-creators, and crowd-funders. However, citizens’ involvement also entails a danger of capturing the policy agenda. Researchers should explain and society should have a strong voice in priority setting. We should mobilize a combination of existing communication channels: social innovation communities in cities and local communities, universities as platforms for evidence-based public discussion, direct discussions with experts from different sectors – and from abroad -, and organized use of social media. The smart specialization strategy was an excellent example of striking a balance between top-down direction setting and bottom-up openness to people, businesses and municipalities.

  • Simplify programmes and project management.

Focus European funding on results, not on the process. Abolish the reporting obligation for time-sheets and focus the monitoring on the achievements of the project and its contribution to overall programme objectives. A more simple administration may also speed up the grant award process, which would make the programme more attractive for start-ups and innovative firms, for whom speed is crucial.