By Johannes Starkbaum and Anna Gerhardus, Institut für Höhere Studien – Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), Austria
How to support collaborative research and innovation? How can policy and funding enable collaboration on eye-level? These questions were the core of the third session of RiConfigure’s Virtual Final Event on June 15th, 2021
Participants from academia and innovation experts were invited to reflect on ways to support inclusive innovation. After a round table discussion with Anne Loeber (Vrije Univ., NL), Kathrine Collin Hagan (DBT, DK), and Michalis Tzatzanis (FFG, AT) that focussed on the themes of excellence as category for funding and citizen engagement in R&I, all guests were invited to bring the discussions into split groups that used Online-Whiteboards (https://miro.com). By collaborative innovation, we mean various approaches to non-traditional innovation such as Quadruple Helix Innovation, which aims to involve actors from specific sectors, namely academia, business, politics and civil society, as well as other Open Innovation approaches that aim to democratise innovation processes through representation. While an obvious solution for strengthening collaborative R&I is a general increase in available money and funds, discussions eluded to a number of additional ways for policy and funding to provide support.
Reducing the barriers and simplifying processes: A number of statements addressed the matter that allocation of funds and money is often a complex process optimized for professionalized actors. This excludes non-typical actors such as citizens, CSOs or smaller businesses as one statement summarized: “Bureaucracy is a huge limitation! Small entities (…) can rarely access to funds because calls are complex and require too much paperwork.”. A more accessible language could support the diversification of actors in R&I. However, a drawback of lowering barriers is that the number of actors in R&I would rise, which would increase competition and reduce success rates for fund allocations. This might, again, be most challenging for non-typical actors in R&I.
Adapting the dominant system: R&I systems rather support and reward traditional ways of innovation and entail specific evaluation criteria and career rewards. This is often not transparent for non-specialists or inexperienced applicants. The question of who should be brought to the table, to ensure a plurality of perspectives, is yet hard to answer. A first step named would be to review the evaluation criteria for project funding with regard to more open set of skills and experiences.
Increasing and sharing knowledge: Finally, the importance of providing knowledge and skills, through trainings and other means, was brought up. Linked to this last point, participants named a number of individual skills and roles that they perceive as crucial for collaborative innovation processes. These include, among others, creativity, flexibility and openness for adaption, motivation and availability, moderation skills, empathy and the ability to make compromises. As one participant summarized it: “The ability to listen! and to critically reflect on one’s own assumptions in light of new and unexpected information that one then hears”.
The event highlighted different routes for fostering collaborative innovation and empowerment of diverse actors in R&I, with a focus on non-traditional actors. Their implementation is challenging and may create new pitfalls. We suggest to be aware of these and to continue to reflect on a more democratic way of innovation for the challenges ahead of us.