European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has welcomed the results of a recent evaluation of the 34 European Technology Platforms (ETPs). At a meeting of industrial leaders of European Technology Platforms on 30 September, Commissioner Potocnik praised the ETPs, calling them 'unique and exceptional', and welcomed the results of the survey as overwhelmingly positive. European Technology Platforms were introduced in 2002 as a way of bringing together basic research and industry to produce 'a long-term strategic plan for research and development of specific technologies with a significant economic and societal impact'. They now cover 34 diverse research areas, including road transport, space technology, wind energy, hydrogen and fuel cell technology, nanotechnologies for medical applications, robotics and water supply and sanitation technology, to name a few. Commissioner Potocnik remarked, 'No one can deny the fact that overall, ETPs have made a remarkable contribution to overcoming fragmentation, by concentrating research effort and helping to realise the European Research Area. [...] It is clear too that ETPs have contributed to more, and better, research and development investment.' The evaluation was carried out at the request of the European Commission. Its main objectives were to map the functioning, concept development and objectives of the ETPs; list and analyse their output, results and impact; identify successes, limiting factors and best practices; and formulate recommendations for the future. The report made 18 targeted recommendations to policymakers and ETPs, and 12 concluding points. The evaluation recommended that EU and national policymakers 'clearly and unambiguously continue to support the ETP concept', promoting them more forcefully on the political level. In terms of communications, the survey noted that improvements have been made in the past three years, but interactivity can be improved. It recommended that ETP websites 'must be optimised and professionalised'. Websites were seen as key in saving time and enhancing coordination between platform members; they should be made more interactive to stimulate more involvement by the stakeholders. Moreover, the survey found that throughout the evaluation it was difficult to actually reach an ETP through its designated contact person. Fragmentation between ETPs needs to be addressed by policymakers, according to the survey, and possibilities for 'extended collaboration between ETPs by, e.g. the creation of common working groups' should be investigated. The report emphasised that coordination and cooperation between ETPs must be intensified 'in order to enlarge their financial scale, resources, added value and influencing power, to avoid duplication and inefficiency' and to find common approaches for social issues. At the moment, project proposals by collaborating ETPs are rarely approved; this shortcoming should be addressed. ETPs were called upon to pay special attention to the involvement of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and consumers: 'It remains a challenge to explain to society why large investments in R&D are needed and what the potential benefits might be,' according to the report. The evaluation also warned ETPs to be aware of the negative effects of becoming 'clubs', as there is a danger that members will seek to use the ETPs to generate funding inappropriately for their firms. 'Openness, transparency and clear-cut rules of membership, participation and governance are essential,' it states. The report recommended that the Commission clarify the possibilities for ETPs to extend beyond the EU, as several of them saw such international cooperation as essential to furthering competition with other world powers. ETPs were encouraged to establish peer-to-peer relations with Asian and American research programmes 'in order to exchange ideas and interests and look for synergies'. It was also important, according to the survey, that policymakers consult and invite ETPs 'to provide their opinion and contribution' during policy preparation in order that they might move beyond 'technology'. A specific recommendation of the evaluation to the platforms themselves was to move beyond scientific and technical challenges, shifting their focus to 'regulations and standards that affect the commercialisation of research.' ETPs should, according to the report, also be 'facilitators, communicators and promoters for new and adapted training and education programmes'. More attention should be paid by ETPs to fundraising and financial engineering, according to the report, including improved dissemination of funding possibilities to stakeholders. Additionally, ETPs were encouraged to increase their financial resources by introducing a fee-based system for their members. The main conclusions of the evaluation were that, generally speaking, all ETP stakeholders are fairly satisfied (score of 3.5 out of 5). They found that ETPs are generally considered to be sufficiently open and transparent; most successfully involve and represent a broad range of EU-wide stakeholders in their activities but NGOs and consumers need more representation and the participation levels of SMEs needs to be looked at more closely (successful involvement of SMEs is often hampered by their limited resources); all stakeholders value the strategic work of the ETPs; international cooperation is still hampered by several factors; ETPs are reasonably satisfied with the influence they have had on the definition of FP7 topics. In his remarks to the meeting of ETP leaders, Commissioner Potocnik stressed 'the importance we attach to ETPs as a strong symbol of the Commission's commitment to giving industry a leading role in developing the direction of research and to explore different forms of public-private partnership. A commitment which is now bearing fruit in the form of Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs), the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and other forms of industrial initiatives.' He called on ETP leaders to consider how the survey's results could help the platforms to evolve. 'I am always receptive to good ideas, especially those which show how ETPs can help support the realisation of the ERA, or how activities at EU, national and regional level can be better integrated and coordinated in support of the implementation of the SRAs,' he commented. Commissioner Potocnik concluded by saying, 'Over 90% of the nearly 950 respondents to the evaluators' survey of your members and stakeholders said that they would, given their experience of ETPs' involvement so far, gladly renew their membership. What greater endorsement could there be for all of your hard work.'
Policy making and guidelines
14 June 2007