Brussels, 11 Oct 2005
With the Commission's pilot action of excellence on innovative start-ups (PAXIS) coming to an end, the results of a peer review of the network's success were presented to delegates at the European Innovation Workshop in Edinburgh, UK on 6 and 7 October.
The review of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) centred on the four key themes of PAXIS activities: learning, networking, mobilising and innovating. The overall conclusion was that PAXIS has succeeded in creating a community of excellence among regional innovation actors, but that continued implementation of the hundreds of good practices identified through the network is necessary in order to keep momentum and have a significant impact on regional innovation.
According to Alex Talacchi, PAXIS project officer for the Commission's Enterprise and Industry DG, the peer review process revealed the truth behind the network's motto that 'excellence can be learned'. Indeed, learning emerged as the key aspect of the programme: 'The PAXIS partners demonstrated a strong capacity for knowledge sharing through both formal and informal routes, as well as tacit forms of learning such as observation and emulation,' he said.
On the negative side, the peer review identified a weakness in extending the learning process beyond the 22 regions of excellence involved in PAXIS, citing a lack of formal mechanisms to achieve this as the reason for the failure. There is also a problem when it comes to converting lessons learnt into concrete actions and policies, and a general methodology for doing just this was identified by the reviewers as an element that was lacking from the programme.
The other main element of PAXIS was networking, which the peer review concluded had been highly productive within the programme largely thanks to the regional innovation actors entering into a spirit of partnership, rather than competition. 'This allowed PAXIS to create highly efficient networks as a whole, as well as cross-networks between the various projects and thematic networks,' said Mr Talacchi. As with the difficulties in extending the learning process beyond the network, however, the lack of a platform for wider cooperation meant that networks were restricted mainly to the 22 PAXIS regions.
In terms of mobilising resources, people and ideas, this was achieved sufficiently to draw regional and national experts and policy makers into the activities of the network, and was described by Mr Talacchi as 'one of the most successful results' of PAXIS. All involved would have liked more time and money to mobilise yet more actors and policies, but as Mr Talacchi emphasised: 'It was a pilot action, after all.'
In terms of innovating, the main focus was on identifying ways to analyse and test the policies and practices emerging from the network, both in terms of their suitability before transferring them from one region to another, and in terms of their effectiveness post-implementation.
This analysis of the network's strengths and weaknesses led the reviewers to speculate on the opportunities and threats that present themselves as PAXIS comes to an end. Of the former, the most obvious is the chance to build on the results of PAXIS and to make the best practices identified available to a wider audience through the European Innovation Portal, manuals for policy makers, and further workshops and conferences. Equally, maintaining the networks and contacts developed within PAXIS will present extensive opportunities for launching future actions, through EU as well as bilateral or national programmes.
The positive momentum built up during PAXIS was due mainly to the regional actors involved in the network, and Astrid Severin, another of the PAXIS project officers from DG Enterprise and Industry, urged them to remain motivated and to continue their work. There is also a risk, she said, that PAXIS will end up having little in the way of practical impact if the hundreds of ideas and practices identified through the network are not translated into concrete action.
Provided that all involved can avoid these pitfalls and capitalise on the various opportunities that now present themselves, the outcome of the peer reviews generally suggested that PAXIS has been a success story. Ms Severin pointed to the 1,400 actors that have been involved, the 300 best practices identified and the tools and methodologies that can now be customised for any country or region to use. 'The results show that PAXIS was built on the right ingredients, particularly learning and networking, and future actions will seek to overcome some of the weaknesses and build on the great strengths of the network,' she concluded.
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