Baltic Science Network Rests Committed to Spreading ExcellenceEstonia, the pioneer of digital innovation and e-society, hosted the key Baltic Science Network seminar on spreading excellence and widening participation in Tallinn, the second most innovative capital of the EU. Discussions which took place at the beginning of the second phase of the Network´s implementation gave a notable contribution to the overall understanding of which existing initiatives and potential new measures should be combined to enhance the research potential across the Baltic Sea Region.

On 15 November 2017, the Baltic Science Network (BSN) held a Steering Committee meeting. One of the key themes was the concluding discussion on the joint non-paper dedicated to the Framework Programme 9. Likewise, the Network members shared initial thoughts on the future guiding thematic areas of joint transnational strategies themed as welfare state, photon and neutron sciences and life sciences. These suggested broad thematic areas serve as the initial point of departure. Consequently, expert groups will be established that will hone the exact niche of common interest. In order to enrich the Network´s awareness of the potential future support measures for research cooperation across the Baltic Sea Region, a brainstorming workshop facilitated by Gaia Group, was held during the concluding phase of the BSN meeting.

On 16 November 2017, the BSN transnational seminar “New Tools for Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation in Research and Innovation Programmes” was held at the helm of the Estonian EU Presidency at the Art Museum of Estonia (Kumu).

The BSN transnational seminar was the most notable occasion of macro-regional discussions on widening measures implemented with the support of the EU Framework Programmes so far. While mapping the potential solutions to the existing challenges associated with the innovation gap in the EU, the Baltic Sea Region remained the overall focus area. In addition to the EU Framework Programmes, a special attention was turned to widening participation strand of some of the research cooperation programmes aligned with the European Research Area.

During her opening remarks Mailis Reps, Estonian Minister for Education and Research, elaborated on the importance of presenting sound arguments, once suggesting the development of new policy measures. Minister pointed out the importance of BSN and Baltic TRAM (Transnational Access in Macro-region), the two projects endorsed during the first CBSS Science Ministerial, as well as the BONUS Programme. Likewise, she pointed out the topicality of the CBSS Baltic 2030 Action Plan.

The main findings of the seminar were threefold, focusing on domestic research excellence, enhancing the complementarities between the existing support schemes as well as recognising the unique characteristics of challenges faced by the Baltic Sea Region in relation to the existing innovation gap.

It was re-affirmed that excellence should be first and foremost developed at home. Likewise, the focus should be kept on people as the main catalysers of innovation. The driving force behind a research excellence ambition should stem from setting long-term goals and investing time in building networks. It was stressed that the EU13 challenges affect EU15 as well, since all institutions are interested in benefiting from the cooperation with EU-based institutions which represent a growing research competitiveness and renowned expertise.

While acknowledging that the overall support schemes´ landscape is very dense and not the easiest to navigate, participants recognised the value of exploring further complementarities of research support schemes of the Cohesion Policy and the EU Framework Programme and other means. One of the promising starting points in terms of aligning the joint activities with relevant thematic transnational and European commitments taken up by the BSN members is the Network´s contribution to the implementation of the EU Global Strategy, as pointed out by Indrek Reimand, Deputy Secretary General at the Ministry of Education and Research of Estonia. Gunnel Gustafsson, Director of NordForsk, presented lessons learnt from the Nordic cooperation which could bear relevance to the Baltic Sea Region-wide setting. Anders Bergstrӧm, Coordinator of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) Policy Area Education, Research and Employability (PA Education), expressed readiness to explore support measures which would help to enhance the drafting skills for the EU Framework Programme´s project applications.

The challenges to widening participation and the reasons behind the persisting dissimilarities in innovation performance in EU were discussed among speakers with many suggestions of specific solutions. Kadri Ukrainski from the University of Tartu presented to the conference attendants the key findings of the BSN research paper “Participation in ERA and Baltic Sea RDI Initiatives and Activities: Analysis and Policy Implications for Widening Participation of Strong and Moderate Innovators”.

The BSN Tallinn seminar allowed to explain to the wider audiences the newly introduced term “functional proximity”. It is tailored for assessing to what degree the innovation and knowledge generation capacities are of a compatible character, thus making cooperation easier including lower transaction costs. Similar institutional and governance structures can contribute to increasing functional proximity. In other words, functional proximity reflects the orientation towards similar focuses e.g. processes and end-products. Currently, the Baltic Sea Region is characterized by a low level of functional proximity. However, if applied in a careful manner the concept could facilitate the passage of the Baltic Sea Region towards offering solutions for an inclusive research excellence development. 

BSN´s second phase of implementation will be guided by the encouraging words offered both by the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) and the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) of the European Commission. Namely, Wolfgang Burtscher, representing DG RTD, brought the audience´s attention to the simple fact that Europe´s talent pool is everywhere. However, unlocking its full potential requires time due to the fact that networking and finding the most appropriate cooperation partners is not a speedy process. Rudolf Niessler, representing DG REGIO, noted the importance of further supporting the engagement of researchers and enterprises in the international communities of innovators, which shape the overall understanding of technological development. He pointed out that there was a gap in funding and supporting companies until they can fully commercialize their product. Thus, a suggestion to design in the next upcoming financial framework of INTERREG a tailored strand to address this matter was presented for a wider consideration.

Photo credit: Aron Urb, Foto-Orants OÜPhoto credit: Aron Urb, Foto-Orants OÜ

Besides the earlier mentioned speakers, a wealth of other perspectives on which niches might serve to advance the Baltic Sea Region´s research excellence, were presented, for example, circular economy, bio-economy, agriculture and civil engineering to name a few. The seminar also testified to the overall understanding that further advancement of research excellence is inseparable from national financial contributions as well as acknowledgement of achievements reached both by pulling together national resources, as well as benefiting from the Cohesion Policy instruments and the EU Framework Programmes. The BSN Tallinn seminar was concluded by highlighting the commitment of the macro-region to build stronger and more competitive Europe. Seminar´s moderator Andres Koppel, slightly paraphrasing the widely cited saying of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, closed that the Baltic Sea Region should ask not what Europe can do for the macro-region, but what the macro-region in a joint fashion can do for Europe.

Videos of the BSN Tallinn seminar panels are available on the YouTube channel of the Estonian Information Technology College:

Photos of the BSN Tallinn seminar are available on the CBSS Flickr account here.

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