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MERID Report Summary

Project ID: 645846
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.6.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MERID (Middle East Research and Innovation Dialogue)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-06-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The MERID project (Middle East Research and Innovation Dialogue) proposes a comprehensive action to intensify and encourage research and innovation cooperation between the EU and the Middle East region, directly involving partners from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, directly involving partners from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. The project intends to build upon the experience carried out in countries of the region that have already participated in the previous framework programmes, and therefore are at a relatively advanced stage of research cooperation with Europe, like Egypt and Jordan. Attention is paid to calibrating in the most appropriate way the intervention logic of the project, adapting actions to the specific needs of the target countries and their research constituencies. The needs of Iran and Iraq will for sure prove different from those of countries where cooperation with the EU has a proven track record behind.

The project is the first attempt to systematise support to the policy dialogue and involvement of research communities of Iran and Iraq in the H2020 programme, as well as an initiative that seeks to give continuity to collaboration frameworks already established between the EU and Middle East countries. The project has high potential to deliver long-lasting impact and structuring effects on cooperation between the EU and the Middle East region. It focuses on enhancing direct cooperation among researchers and on laying or consolidating preconditions, in the region, fostering joint research projects and initiatives with the EU, establishing optimal framework conditions for international cooperation and increasing coordination between policies and programmes. These objectives will be achieved through series of different on-line and in-person activities, among which are meetings of researchers, brokerage events, info-days, training and coaching, webinars and other tools, relevant for this project proposals.

MERID project represents a significant breakthrough for the cooperation between the Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and European research communities. Its main contribution for the society is that it sets up for the first time a structured platform for participation of Iranian and Iraqi researchers and experts in the field of STI. By employing science diplomacy, we are removing the remaining obstacles in cooperation, boost the collaboration frameworks and thus bring closer the scientific societies. Capitalizing on this type of cooperation, the project can be defined as a tool for combating social prejudices, bridging between different cultures and religions and particularly enhance the mutual understanding. Therefore the MERID project has manifold impact on society by striving to foster the inter-regional cooperation, the knowledge transfer and the institutional capacity building.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

MERID project started on 1 January 2015 and was officially launched with the first project regional conference that took place in Portorož (Slovenia) from 11 to 12 February 2015. The event, under the title “Science Diplomacy – Re-Thinking Euro-Mediterranean Cooperation”, aimed at discussing the importance of science diplomacy for the future of the Euro-Mediterranean and Middle East region, how to foster the collaboration between Middle Eastern and European research communities and identify major challenges for improving the cooperation. During the kick-off meeting, following the conference, MERID partners stressed the importance of the project as the very first attempt to involve researchers from the wider Middle East (with particular focus on Iran and Iraq) and a bridge of science diplomacy among between researchers and research institutions from the Middle East and the EU. The MERID project represents an important turning point as it will contribute to the creation of a comprehensive strategy in order to further enhance cooperation between the European Union and Middle East in the future.

For the purpose of dissemination, raising awareness and project visibility, conference publication was designed and printed (150 pieces). More about the publication can be found in section “Project publications”.

In the first half of 2015, we concluded the administrative procedures, i. e. signing Financial identification Forms and Consortium Agreement and money transfer.

Along with the administrative, coordinating and financial issues, work on gathering information for research and deliverables started. EMUNI prepared and submitted the Kick-off meeting report (Deliverable 1.1) and the Quality Assurance Plan (Deliverable 1.3) that serves for project coherence (in terms of deliverables, templates and procedures). SCOM prepared and submitted the Dissemination Strategy Report (Deliverable 5.1).

MERID visual identity was created (MERID website, logo, promotion video, flyer) and social media channels set up (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). To better promote the project, promotion material was produced, i. e. pens and roll-ups (see section Promotion materials).
Along with the research work (for background papers, inventory of key stakeholders), preparations for MERID activities began, i. e. training events, coaching sessions, regional events etc.

The first MERID training event was carried out in Cairo (Egypt) from 28 to 30 October 2015. The event was organized by CIHEAM (in cooperation with MHESR, Egypt) in synergy with the MedSpring project (Mediterranean Science, Policy, Research & Innovation Gateway, FP7-INCO-2012-1) and INCONTACT project (both funded by the DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission). The aim of the training was to equip the participants (particularly from the Middle East and South Mediterranean) with the information about the Horizon 2020 Progamme of the European Union and enhance their capacity on writing proposals and identifying partners from the EU.

The second MERID training event was carried out in Naples (Italy) from 25 to 27 November 2015. The event was organized by CIHEAM (in cooperation with EMUNI and EfB) in synergy with the MedSpring project (Mediterranean Science, Policy, Research & Innovation Gateway, FP7-INCO-2012-1) (funded by the DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission). The aim of the training was to equip the participants with relevant information and knowledge about the research and innovation policies in the Mediterranean region and how to transfer them from project ideas to realisation. The main emphasis was on Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union.

As a result of both training events, a comprehensive training report was prepared (Deliverable 4.2), which includes the objectives, strategy, results achieved and statistics about participants. The report includes also the training material, which was used during sessions and online.
In the second half of 2015, a research work was being carried out in order to prepare the ground for the next regional event in Tehran (Iran). Information on state statistics, identification of relevant regional stakeholders, interviews and other methods were used to work on drafting the basis for background papers (Deliverable 2.1), inventory of key stakeholders (Deliverable 2.3), obstacles in cooperation and policy dialogue action plan (Deliverable 3.1). This work continued also in 2016 and reached its peak with MERID regional event in Barcelona (Spain) from 11 to 13 May 2016.

Important regional event took place in Tehran (Iran), organized by MERID partner IRAMOT. The event took place from 16 to 17 December 2016 and was organized back to back with the biggest Iranian Science and Technology conference in order to capitalize on the effects and outreach of the project. EMUNI and CeRISS organized an information session about the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union. The event served as the first overview of the insights of political dialogue between Research Institutions in Iran and the European Union. Researchers, coming from different fields (e. g. energy, water, oil sector, business, research& innovation, academia etc.), were informed about opportunities, arising from H2020 programme, rules of cooperation, how to find partners etc. The meeting was attended by over 40 participants.

In the beginning of 2016, work on preparing deliverables continued, particularly on-line (skype sessions and phone conferences). In addition to this, EMUNI started collecting information about partners’ efforts and their achievements in the first 12 months of the project.

Gathering information on Palestinian research community continued at Palestinian Research Week that was organized by the IUG from 16 to 18 April 2016. The aim of the event was to promote the cooperation between the Palestinian and EU research communities and present the Horizon 2020 Programme of the European Union as one of the financial support mechanisms.

The most important mid-term event was MERID regional event, organized by EMUNI in cooperation with ESADE Business and Law School from 11 to 13 May 2016 (Barcelona, Spain) with the title “Migration, Diaspora and Brain Circulation – Drivers for EU-Mediterranean Cooperation”. The aim of the event was to address the role of diaspora in intercultural dialogue, trust-building and development cooperation between the European Union, Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East countries. In addition to the main event, a panel with particular focus on Water and Energy was held. Also, a round table discussion with participants from the Middle East and South Mediterranean countries was about the obstacles in cooperation and how to surpass them. As a result of the event, a comprehensive report was released (Deliverable 3.4), containing Event’s recommendations and Review of Obstacles in cooperation between the EU and the Middle East and South Mediterranean research communities.

During the events, two coaching sessions were performed with the aim to equip participants with relevant information about the Horizon 2020 calls, opportunities, rules of cooperation and other relevant information about the programme. In addition, the coaching sessions serves to train the relevant representatives of STI institutions on how to foster and enhance the institutional capacity building with the aim of better participation in the Horizon 2020 tenders. Results of the coaching sessions are summarized in Deliverable 4.3.

Project activities continued to be implemented by the brokerage event from 26 to 28 May 2016 in Bari (Italy). CIHEAM (in cooperation with EMUNI) organized the Euro-Mediterranean brokerage and venturing event on research and innovation in synergy with the MedSpring project (Mediterranean Science, Policy, Research & Innovation Gateway, FP7-INCO-2012-1, funded by the DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission). The aim of the event was to bring the idea carriers from the Euro-Mediterranean countries and potential investors (i. e. clusters) at one place to meet, discuss the potential cooperation and exchange good practices. One of the goals of the event was to discuss the collaboration within different financial mechanisms, among them the Horizon 2020 Programme of the European Union.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Activities and work done in the first 18 months within the MERID project were marked by capitalizing on its high potential to deliver long-lasting impact and structuring effects on cooperation between the EU and the Middle East region. We focused on enhancing the direct cooperation among researchers by bringing them several times (through project activities, i. e. trainings, coaching, regional events and other) at the same place and discuss possibilities for cooperation. Through these activities, we contributed in fostering joint research projects and initiatives with the EU.

MERID, with its activities back to back with other projects, has extended the cooperation between the EU, Middle East and the Southern Mediterranean countries along with other projects (e. g. INCONTACT, MedSpring et al.). Bilateral meetings were helpful particularly for newcomers to Horizon 2020 programme, namely Iran and Iraq, where MERID’s intervention turned out to be very successful. Concrete impact in the first half of the project can be elicited by the number of submitted projects, where Iranian and Iraqi research and STI institutions are partners.

Research and discussions during project activities resulted in drafting certain observations and preparing some crucial documents, namely policy recommendations, paper on obstacles in cooperation, background papers, inventory of key stakeholders etc. These documents were discussed with the top-ranking EU organisations (e. g. European Commission and European External Action Service) and other relevant regional players (e. g. Union for the Mediterranean, Anna Lindh Foundation etc.). Papers produced so far will be of great help for further research and will serve as background papers for building regional activities.

MERID project contributed in setting up a continuous support mechanism for institutions (particularly from the Middle East and Southern Mediterranean) that pursue their internationalisation strategies. Brokerage event, trainings, info-days and conferences generated an increased interest in cooperating within Horizon 2020 projects and collaborating with the European counterparts. Project partners have been striving to be seen as catalysts for cooperation.

One of the major impacts of the project so far can be found in the fact that MERID has already contributed to the S&T cooperation in the region, which is reflected by signed agreement between the IRAMOT (Iran) and Ministry of Science and Technology (Iraq). Working with relevant regional players and stakeholders in S&T, MERID has laid favourable ground for further agreements.

After 18 months of continuous work with MERID partners and those stakeholders that are following MERID’s activities, coordination has improved significantly through bilateral and regional meetings as well as through increased policy dialogue (e. g. between institutions that previously did not have structured cooperation, e. g. Iran-Egypt and Iran-Iraq).

All in all, the MERID project has already increased the regional scientific cooperation and contributed in exchange of knowledge and experience between the European and Middle East and South Mediterranean research communities and academia as well. During the conference, we pointed out certain challenges (e. g. water, energy, refugee crisis, science diplomacy, regional cooperation etc.) and tried to find and draft common regional answers to how to address them.

In the next 18 months (by the end of the project) we expect the impact to significantly increase due to capitalization on following elements:

- implement policy dialogue activities towards enhancing the framework conditions for cooperation;
- awareness spreading towards identified target scientific communities;
- further consolidation of information and support structures;
- further building on innovation potential.

These goals will be pursued by intense focus on dissemination and exploitation and communication activities. During the first half of the project, we found out that appropriated and targeted communication very important to give the impetus to research communities.

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