Interview with Margit Noll: towards the implementation of the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda

The Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) represents the long-term strategy and program for JPI Urban Europe during 2015-2020. It includes priorities, actions, instruments, resources and an implementation timeline. The agenda was presented during the SRIA Launching Event at the end of September 2015, making the theoretical part of its story available to the public. Now that the SRIA is approved and published, JPI Urban Europe’s dedication and efforts are focused on its implementation.
Margit Noll, responsible for the development of the SRIA, provides us with some insights regarding the practical steps on the road towards implementation. Additionally, our interview questions aim to reveal how the SRIA can facilitate broader JPI Urban Europe ambitions.

Could you briefly explain what the first year after the SRIA Launching event might look like?

Actually, after 2 successful pilot calls we have just launched the first call that is entirely dedicated to the SRIA; this call (ERA-NET Smart Urban Futures – ENSUF) opened on December 16. Besides this call, we plan to start some implementation measures. Based on our experiences from the pilot calls we became aware that we need new concepts and new instruments to really implement our research agenda and realise our amibition. For example, we are going to set up a programme management that brings together the actors of the different projects: research, city administration and other urban actors. We are also looking into new instruments; funding schemes and funding framework conditions that support a multi-stakeholder involvement and the involvement of civil society; local initiatives; involving city representatives in research and innovation projects as much as possible.

Which are the tools JPI Urban Europe will use in the SRIA implementation stage? Which actors will be involved and how?

The instruments that we are going to use are different ones. They were also presented during our SRIA Launching event. There is a pyramid of instruments that we are using:
instruments2– on top we have Joint Calls that will be based on our multiannual call agenda: here, we follow very much our research agenda and we ask for projects to enter on dedicated topics;
– next is the alignment level: this means building upon the different national priorities, programmes and expertise of our member countries. We are aiming at connecting and aligning these national programmes and national research and innovation activities. This way we hope to leverage the capacity that has been established in the countries: might that be expertise and research infrastructure at universities, research organisations or city administration; might that be funding programmes, policies or strategies. We aim to align and connect them along our research agenda;
– at the bottom line so to say we have defined a couple of supportive measures: examples are the programme management and our international outreach. One particular measure is the development of strategic partnerships with European actors, networks and platforms so that we team up and strengthen future policies that support European research and innovation.
The spectrum of actors we want to involve is very broad and we need dedicated efforts to involve them in different ways anticipating the needs of the different stakeholder groups. The SRIA emphasis the demand for transdisciplinary research to provide scientific evidence to policy and decision makers; to mutually benefit from a close cooperation between science, cities, industry and society. We therefore need:
– cooperation of the funding agencies, ministries or research councils – the national organisations that are managing national national programmes and research funds
– to mobilise the cities, so that we can build upon their needs and priorities and support them in the best that we can;
– to involve the research community in different kinds of projects and activities;
– to support industry in their innovation ambitions;
– to learn more about the innovative actors in the cities, might that be local initiatives or social entrepreneur.

Which are the decisive factors for ensuring the SRIA’s best possible translation into practice?

I think there are many issues that we need to address, but there really needs to be a high commitment of various actors. The SRIA cannot be implemented by just the Management Board, and not even by the Governing Board. In order to achieve the transition into practice, many different actors need to be committed and to contribute; in particular the funding agencies, as they are very important partners in the implementation of our agenda. Moreover, we need the cities and the research organisations to take the implementation up; to come up with new ideas; experiment with new concepts and solutions; to get involved in different kinds of projects. A commitment and a joint effort certainly are very important aspects in order to translate the SRIA into practice. On the other hand, we are really emphasising a new paradigm in urban research and innovation. We want to support a process wherein research, science and cities are teaming up as actors and joining forces in different activities. This means that we need appropriate instruments; we need appropriate framework conditions that support a new kind of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and innovation. I believe that this will be another decisive factor of the implementation’s success: how we will be able to define new framework conditions; new instruments; new ways and new means to support cooperation across disciplines and sectors. This brings us back to the starting point of the question. These new instruments, they will need commitment from funders but also from urban actors and research community; to be willing and able to adapt their conditions; to look into new approaches. Some room for experimentation is necessary, as this is a method that helps to validate, not only in terms of content but also in terms of how research should work and how we can connect research, policy making and users in a new way. Whatever concepts we come up with, we need our partners to fully implement them: the process requires a lot of commitment, but it also requires flexibility and innovativeness on all ends.

The SRIA defines five thematic priorities. How do the different thematic priorities influence each other and how will they be addressed?

For each of the thematic priorities we have developed a roadmap which is indicated in our agenda. We are very much aware of the fact that these priorities are highly interlinked. This is why we do not want to address the thematic priorities in an isolated or sequential way, but in a rather interrelated and connected fashion. Looking at the multi-annual Call agenda, we try to combine the roadmaps to annual calls that uses the synergies between the different priorities and themes. Although the call agenda follows the main aim to enhance our knowledge and experience on transition pathways each of the annual call topics has a particular focus that combines such as governance, resilience, accessibility, welfare issues. Given all this, we will have some main starting themes for each of our Calls and from there establish links with various roadmaps. The ENSUF Call for example already directly addresses quite a couple of the thematic priorities:
– it looks into the issue of public services and how to finance them under the concept of tight budgets: this links to welfare and finance;
– we have the issue of growth and shrinkage and new concepts of urban transformation, which goes more into the vibrant economy roadmap;
– there are issues which link to an inclusive vibrant urban communities. This is related to the theme of urban governance.
Here I would like to add that the roadmaps and themes also serve as a basis for our alignment activities. We can use a roadmap’s research questions as an indicator of the main needs that have been identified. Some questions could be supported by research organisations and others might be taken up by national programmes in some sort of a multilateral Call.

What role can the SRIA play in widening JPI Urban Europe and attracting new members?

Widening is important and it is important on different levels: on the level of formal member countries and partners since we have the clear ambition to include and serve all EU Member and Associated Countries; on the level of urban actors, cities and research organisations to extend our network within new and already participating countries, to reach out to new stakeholders and mobilise them for joint actions. Looking into widening of JPI Urban Europe in the European context, the research agenda is now our baseline. It allows us to continue and further enhance the strategic discussion with different actors: we want to approach new countries, new cities and involve new actors. Our aim is to widen our stakeholder involvement, also in the strategic discussion, so that we can really integrate the demands and priorities of new members, new countries and new cities and through this process reflect upon and further develop our agenda. You could say that the SRIA is our call: it is this baseline that will prompt all the mentioned processes. From there the Management Board and the Governing Board will start all the discussions on widening that will take place.

In a global urban age, how far-reaching are the SRIA’s ambitions of becoming not only a reference at European, but also at global level? How can the SRIA achieve this status?

The abovementioned holds true for the global context as well. We will increase our international outreach by investigating other programmes on international scale and see how they relate to and match with our agenda. We have learned from our Launching event that the SRIA is very timely and that it links very well with international and European policies, such as the EU Urban Agenda and the UN-Habitat New Urban Agenda. I think this again provides a solid basis to reach out to other countries, to other continents and to discuss and define opportunities for joint calls and exchange between cities, between research organisations.
The SRIA provides different measures that can foresee in how we can set up an international cooperation.

We started an exchange with New Zealand and China. At the end of October, for example, JPI Urban Europe together with the DragonStar plus project organised a workshop on sustainable urbanisation in Beijing, China. At the forum Chinese and European funding agencies and other key actors met to deliberate on mutual benefits of and opportunities for of joint efforts . This dialogue will be continued and extended to other regions of the world.

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