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ESPRIT programme introduces new procedures to help improve flexibility

The Community's specific programme in the field of information technologies (ESPRIT), has introduced a number of new procedures aimed at increasing the flexibility and accessibility of the programme to potential participants. In the past year, the programme has introduced the...

The Community's specific programme in the field of information technologies (ESPRIT), has introduced a number of new procedures aimed at increasing the flexibility and accessibility of the programme to potential participants. In the past year, the programme has introduced the following: - A rolling work programme: the work-programme, describing the technical tasks and supporting measures for which the programme invites proposals, is adapted each year to take account of industry's changing priorities; - More frequent focused calls, announced well in advance, which will allow proposers to plan ahead. This will also help the programme to coordinate its activities with those of other specific programmes - in particular the ACTS and TELEMATICS programmes. More generally, the way in which the programme is implemented will be progressively fine-tuned to take account of changing developments and trends; - Two-step evaluations: this means that for the first evaluation, a short, relatively low-cost, proposal may be submitted. On the basis of an evaluation of this proposal, a further complete proposal may then be requested; - The possibility of continuous submission in certain areas: this allows a better fit between the timing of the work done in the ESPRIT programme and external events; - Faster evaluation and contract letting: a contract can be signed and work commence within six months of the closing date for the call, assuming that the proposals is well formulated and the partners in the consortium reach a consensus in time. The main objectives of the programme have also been modified slightly. Emphasis had, hitherto, been placed on encouraging cooperation between IT enterprises and the strengthening of the EU's information technology industry. Increasingly the focus will be on helping to develop the services and technologies that underpin the emerging Information Society. In order to do this effectively, greater attention will need to be paid to the needs of users and the market. The aim of the programme is to improve the competitiveness of all industry in the EU (and not just the IT sector) and to help to improve the quality of life. In particular this means: - A greater emphasis on spreading best practice, fostering user-supplier collaboration, helping enterprise gain access to new technologies, making these technologies user-friendly, as well as training people in their use; - Launching initiatives to help SMEs to participate in the programme and to take advantage of the results; - Putting more effort into coordinating work carried out in the context of Member State initiatives and in collaboration with countries outside Europe; - A greater investment in disseminating and helping to commercialize results, as well as increasing their impact through, for example, technology transfer actions and the use of the World Wide Web. Building the Information Society calls for a broad effort involving legal and regulatory changes, initiatives in the cities and the regions, changes in education and training curricula and in developing new services. Research and development in information technologies is a key part of this effort, providing new tools and technology, spreading best practice, reducing costs and helping to train professionals and developing standards. ESPRIT is contributing to this effort at a European level. The recently published "Applying Information Technology - 101 Success Stories from the ESPRIT programme" illustrates how the programme is contributing to providing the building blocks for the Information Society. Results from the projects have contributed to: - Enabling more effective methods to be derived for organizing business and manufacturing, thereby reducing costs, wastage and pollution; - Speeding-up innovation through stimulating access to timely information, communication between co-workers and development tools; - Generating new products and services and new employment opportunities; - Providing the basis for the more effective delivery of public services and for a more accessible government and administration. The EITC'95 Exhibition demonstrated a range of results achieved through the ESPRIT programme: - Europe is now a significant manufacturer of flat panels following work carried out in the ECAM projects by the Flat Panel Display Co. (Philips, Thomson-LCD, Sagam, Merck). Flat-panel displays are essential components for a high proportion of products incorporating IT (Display Technologies); - Access to large, multimedia databases for travel, culture and entertainment applications has been made easier through the development of a number of "user-friendly" technologies (projects INTUITIVE, IMPROVE-VAMP, EPOCH/EDS); - Information technology that can save lives and reduce suffering has been developed in CHARADE (forest fire management), PLANAR (patient information system for use in hospitals) and NAOPIA (finger print recognition); - Results that reduce waste in manufacturing by making it possible to inspect parts automatically have been developed in a number of projects. To date, there have been four calls for proposals under the ESPRIT programme. The fifth call for proposals will be published on 15 December 1995. Over 1,700 proposals were received in the first two calls, of which 430 were selected for funding. The total budget allocated to these is about ECU 500 million. Over 500 proposals were received for the third call for proposals which was published on the 15 June 1995. This call is still being evaluated. Users are playing a major role. In the first two calls, nearly 38% of all participants were user industries. The ESPRIT work programme is currently being revised. The new edition will be available early in 1996. The change in contents will be relatively modest and will reflect the changing needs of industry and advice received by the programme has received from many quarters.