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International R&I cooperation to keep up with new challenges

Global exchange in research and innovation (R&I) is becoming increasingly important, affecting multinational companies, academia and politics. But policies to support R&I internationalisation sometimes lag behind global dynamics, seen only as an appendix to national R&I policies and programmes. At the same time, global challenges – such as climate change, reduction in biodiversity and the overuse of our planet’s resources – do not stop at the EU border. International R&I policy will be measured in terms of its contribution to solving these global challenges.

An Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility (PSF) Mutual Learning Exercise (MLE) set out to increase the capacity of EU Member States and Associated Countries to formulate and implement relevant National Strategies and Roadmaps for International Cooperation in Research and Innovation, and thereby create favourable conditions for the production of new knowledge. Representatives of ministries in charge of international R&I cooperation and/or research and innovation funding agencies from 15 EU Member States and Associated Countries participated. Most of these countries have an internationalisation Strategy or Roadmap which focuses on: excellence in research (1), science diplomacy (2), development of the European Research Area (3), global challenges (4), and innovation (5). 

The consistently positive perception of international R&D cooperation during the past decades is giving way to a more selective and critical approach. Martina Hartl, the Chair of the Strategic Forum for International Cooperation (SFIC) and MLE participant, puts it like this: “International research cooperation is taking place in an increasingly contested environment. While, on the one hand, cooperation helps to tackle societal challenges and create common knowledge, there is also competition for markets, talents and economic exploitation of results. The MLE has greatly helped in understanding the main motives and strategies for international cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in the different countries. It has also helped finding common areas of interest where a future cooperation could benefit both the Member States and Europe.

After working together from March 2019 to February 2020, and making three field trips together, to France, Romania and Sweden, the MLE participants’ conclusions address several issues: 

First, the strategies and roadmaps for international R&I cooperation need to be updated with clear intervention logics. Upcoming issues, such as SDGs and challenge-driven R&I, innovation and normative ”good principles”, need to find their place in international R&I cooperation policies. This calls for co-designed approaches, effective cross-government coordination and multi-level participation processes in policy planning and implementation. As regards the latter, also investments in relationship management and stakeholder engagment at home and abroad are necessary. 

Second, strategic alignment of domestic R&I policies to meet the broadening R&I internationalisation rationales has to be enhanced and sufficient resources for multilateral R&I coordination and internationalisation activities need to be secured. This should go hand-in-hand with improved policy intelligence tools such as foresight and more and better efforts to monitor and evaluate international R&I cooperation policies. 

Lastly, science diplomacy should be valorised and more effectively operationalised, but also funding partnerships with private and third sector entities explored. More could be done multilaterally between the EU Member States and the Associated Countries than is today. For this it would be conducive to empower SFIC to play a more active role in the coordination of joint R&I internationalisation activities. 

The findings and good practices highlighted by the MLE panel members and participants are detailed in the final report and summarised in an article on the PSF website.

For further information: 

Read the Final Report of the Horizon 2020 PSF Mutual Learning Exercise on National Strategies and Roadmaps for International Cooperation in R&I

Read more about the Horizon 2020 PSF Mutual Learning Exercise on National Strategies and Roadmaps for International Cooperation in R&I

Lear more about the Horizon 2020 PSF Policy Support Facility

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