Today, I attended the conference “European Research Excellence – Impact and Value for Society” in Tallinn, organised under the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The conference attracted more than 300 delegates with the aim to demonstrate to policymakers that excellent research is essential to addressing Europe’s challenges and for increasing competitiveness.
Commissioner Moedas opened the event with a video message remarking the importance of developing an European innovation ecosystem and set missions or challenges that people can relate to. Mark Ferguson reported that the most cited articles worldwide have at least an author from the industry and international collaborations and referenced a framework to evaluate impact of any scientific project. He also reported that most of the research results are incremental while disruptive results are less frequent.
Both Valeria Nicolosi and Nicole Grobert, both winners of an ERC grant along their carriers, brought their experience of combining basic research and innovation with industry, reinforcing the message that synergies are possible and should be pursued. Nevertheless, they remarked that basic research needs time and freedom, also, developing relationship with industry, listening to them and understanding their problems is essential. This aspect links to a comment from Pim Tuyls, who stressed the importance of ensuring that there is money for research but also for the next step, to make sure innovation from research results take place in Europe.
Luc Soete reported that one of the differences between Europe and other innovative regions is a low level of investment in R&D from the private sector, and this is caused by different factors such as a still fragmented market and a lack of tax breaks. He referred to the cost of non-Europe in innovation. It was suggested that a possible way to better engage industry is to work on big societal challenges like decarbonisation of society or clean water could stimulate the R&D in the private sector.
Another key message that got my attention is the importance of involving more actors from social science and humanities in the research and innovation activities. Disruptive changes affect our daily life and being able to evaluate the impact so to prepare for the effects is vital for ensuring the maximisation of value for the society. Trust on science by society is also a gap that needs to be closed or at least shortened and a speaker pointed out at a recent article appeared in the Financial Times: “How experts can regain our trust“.
The conference concluded with the announcement of a declaration, the Tallinn Call for Action composed of three main pillars: investment, impact and trust. Robert-Jan Smits, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, endorsed the declaration and commented that one of the key challenges is now to convince the Ministries of Finance to support it.
Above, I shared the main take-aways of a very rich day and I’m sure more insights will pop up in my mind over the next hours. A final thought is about the quality of the organisation of this event. This is the first Presidency led by Estonia and you could perceive the energy and passion infused in it to make it a success.