Brussels, 21 Oct 2005
Fifteen expert reports on key research and technology domains for Europe's future are now available; having been debated at a recent conference on 'Key Technologies for Europe'. The final report compiled by the group of experts attempts to look beyond the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and the Lisbon Agenda to make recommendations for the future research priorities of the European Union.
Attendees at the conference, in debating the conclusions of the expert group's foresight report, have made six recommendations for a research agenda 'beyond the Lisbon strategy'. The report draws together in one document the detailed reports prepared by experts in the group on each of their technological fields; including existing areas in transition such as agriculture or energy, and emerging or converging fields such as biotechnology, cognitive science, information technology (IT) and nanotechnology.
The group, assembled by the European Commission, aims to produce recommendations for a research strategy that look towards an Eighth Framework Programme (FP8) and beyond. Both the report and conference attendees agreed that Europe must adopt a more optimistic and proactive approach to its research policy, while balancing conflicting aims and trends.
For example, there is a need for a dual strategy that incorporates flexibility in addressing short to medium-term needs, while working within a long-term framework for research policy. Similarly, Europe needs to address its innovation systems failures, such as weak knowledge transfer mechanisms and poor absorption capacity for innovation, while engineering creative long-term transition. This should be achieved through a differentiation approach, based on its own strengths, rather than imitation of the United States and Japan.
The report goes on to say that this long-term strategy then needs to be translated into an action plan based on six pillars. Firstly, the EU needs to project a global vision that responds to emerging players in key technologies and supports the research strategies of neighbouring countries and regions. Secondly, Europe should follow a 'creative system disruption' approach that identifies emerging sectors where a research gap has not yet developed, and targets investments in key technologies as drivers of social change. This would be complemented by changing research strategies, shifting towards a bio-economy, capitalising on IT and making a transition towards sustainable lifestyles.
The EU then needs a new long-term research agenda, with an emphasis on basic research, developing infrastructures and clustering multidisciplinary research teams. This also needs to address issues such as the scientist-citizen divide and risks in investing in new technologies. The fourth pillar would be based on foresight approaches that analyse the evolution paths of key technologies, bridge between framework programmes and contribute to bottom-up priority setting through technology platforms.
The expert group recommends that Europe change its linear framework for the exploitation of knowledge creation. It must overcome poor knowledge transfer, and exploit the capacity of SMEs, as well as invest in and protect European intellectual property. Lastly, the EU needs to invest in societal learning; engaging the public and addressing cultural constraints on investment and acceptance of key technologies.
Speaking at the conference, held in Brussels on 19 and 20 September, Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik welcomed the recommendations with the words, 'we need to think beyond Lisbon, we need to think in the long-term and make decisions which will be in line with a long-term approach'.
Attendees took part in wide ranging discussions on the report and the various technological fields, including the relevant members of the expert group. 'Design' and 'context' emerged as key concepts, linking the different technologies and the systematic challenges.
Early in the conference, Josephine Green of Philips Design in The Netherlands had suggested that as the economy moved away from products and consumers, it would be based more on co-existence with technology, emphasising experiences, transformation and systems. Such a 'context-driven' economy might move beyond productivity as a basis for prosperity, towards sustainability.
As the work of the expert group points out, products and services are increasingly being brought together in complex systems, and there is a need for more specific research into interdisciplinary fields, such as robotics, statistical and dynamical models, pharmacology and linguistics.
Beyond the production of knowledge, EU policy makers need to know how it is shared and used - knowledge diffusion is the issue. Some think fields such as complexity theory and cognitive sciences can contribute to greater understanding of knowledge systems and help close the science-technology gap. Europe enjoys strengths due to its potential for empirical study (linguistic, cultural and socio-economic diversity) and a wealth of applications, challenges and research approaches.
Meanwhile new application areas are emerging; like services, where society is running far ahead of our institutional framework, or security and safety, where technology is driven by both political incentives and public concerns. One delegate commented that from a social science perspective, such emerging fields, whether driven by new applications or new technologies, could be seen in terms of 'new engineering professions'. Some attendees characterised the next stage as a 'knowledge-based bio-economy', and concluded that there is a greater need than ever for a proactive approach to dialogue with the public, civil society and legislators or policy makers.
Other conference contributions concentrated on the challenges facing Europe and the world. While energy efficiency technology is available now, it was pointed out, it is far from certain that the technologies needed for the world's energy needs in 2040 will be available in time. Speakers contrasted the urgency of action needed with the research topics being pursued. One suggestion was that technology platforms involving stakeholders and policy makers might help to address and raise awareness of these issues.
In presenting his report on foresight activities on the final morning, Professor Emilio Fontela, from the Universidad Antonio de Nebrija, spoke on developing a long-term future scenario for the next technology wave, and what he called the 'sustainable knowledge economy'. The key policy issues would revolve around cooperation in science and technology, efficient research structures and the design of socio-technical systems. In his view, foresight and social sciences must try to build bridges between demand-pulled technological fields (agri-food, manufacturing, environment) and supply-pushed areas (nano- and biotechnologies, IT and cognitive sciences). It is in this second group that the European and international dimension for cooperation will be most important.
Commissioner Potocnik had earlier promised that the recommendations of the expert group would be channelled into the policy preparation for FP7, but he also stressed that the report's implications reach beyond EU policy making.