Skip to main content

Programme Category


Article available in the folowing languages:

Supporting experimentation in innovation agencies

To incentivise innovation agencies to engage more in policy experimentation and to use RCTs to evaluate the impact of their schemes, and to encourage ""innovating the innovation support system"" through brand new schemes or significantly improved ones[[A ""new scheme"" means ""new to the world"", not just new to the applicant agency; ""significantly improved"" refers to adapting an existing scheme – either making more effective a scheme already in place in the agency, or adapting to local specificities a scheme successfully used in another country.]], the European Commission proposes two types of grants to innovation agencies which wish to innovate their innovation support schemes addressed at SMEs and start-ups. Both types of grants should include testing using RCTs. Financial support to third parties as a direct support to SMEs is possible if required for RCTs (please refer to the grant conditions for this topic).

  1. Strand 1: Grants for small-scale experimental pilot projects which aim to investigate, including small-scale RCTs, either a feasibility of a promising idea for a brand new SME innovation support scheme ('proof of concept'), or test different options of significantly revising an existing support scheme. Funding for grants awarded under this topic will take the form of a fixed lump sum of EUR 60.000[[Use of Lump Sum authorized by the responsible authorizing officer as the amount does not exceed the amount of a low value grant]].
  2. Strand 2: Grants for large-scale experimental pilot projects which aim to test on a larger scale, with RCTs, new SME innovation support schemes. The Commission is looking for proposals to test promising scalable innovative new schemes in support of innovation in SMEs to provide clear evidence of their impact. Proposals requesting a grant of around €300.000 - €500.000 should allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts. Given the budget involved, a pre-condition to get funding under this strand (unlike under strand 1) would be that the schemes to be tested had either been piloted at a small-scale first or a feasibility study had been done (or both).

Since 2014, the action ""Peer learning of innovation agencies"" (""INNOSUP-5"") has supported national and regional innovation agencies to engage in peer learning on all topics relevant for improving design and delivery of innovation support programmes for SMEs using 'Twinning+' methodology. A deliverable is a Design Option Paper (DOP) on the challenge investigated. Beneficiaries of INNOSUP-5 may apply to this call to test the ideas described in DOP.

Only innovation agencies may apply (including applications from single innovation agencies). For the purpose of this call an 'innovation agency' is defined as an entity entrusted by national or regional government to develop/or implement innovation support programmes for SMEs.

For the first stage of the call applicants should provide a concept note (of max. 5 pages), which should include: a clear description of the idea, including a rationale and expected impact of a new/improved SME innovation support scheme, what makes it innovative compared to existing schemes, and information about the applicant(s). In addition, proposals for Strand 2 should include preliminary budget and evidence that the scheme in question had either been piloted at a small-scale or undergone a feasibility study. This may be evidenced by supporting documents for example on the pilot outcomes or feasibility study results.

Only proposals which pass the evaluation threshold for the first stage will be invited to a second stage to submit a full proposal including timeline, CVs of the project and research teams, and full budget. Moreover, all the applicants should include a letter of intent signed by the president of the applicant innovation agency or its governing authority indicating intent to scaling up the scheme to be tested, if proven successful.

Considering that the use of RCTs in innovation support is not a common practice, a background note with information on RCTs will be made available on the call page at the Participant Portal under ""Topic conditions & documents"". Moreover, an event or webinar will be organised for the applicants invited to submit stage 2 proposals to explain how RTCs could be organised.

The beneficiaries of the action will be assisted from the onset of their projects by a contractor in design and running of RCTs (see Other action 7 'Support to design and running of randomized controlled trials under INNOSUP-06-2018').

Given that one of the objectives of the action is to make new or improved support schemes available to the innovation support, beneficiaries are requested to make the results of the pilot projects publically available.

Innovation support agencies, i.e. the regional and national agencies that design and/or implement innovation support programmes for SMEs are important intermediaries for SME innovation. Focus, design and delivery mechanism of innovation support programmes determine to a large extent the economic impact from the supported actions and the satisfaction of the beneficiaries with the support provided.

With new business models and technologies emerging, it is more important than ever that innovation support agencies constantly adapt and innovate in the way that they provide support. Yet, innovation support agencies rarely engage in policy experimentation - for lack of funds, time pressure to deliver new support, and the fear of a backlash against 'money wasting'.

At the same time, there is a linked problem that evidence on the effectiveness of both existing and proposed new support mechanisms is limited and inconclusive[[For example, 2013 ""Compendium of Evidence on the Effectiveness of Innovation Policy Intervention Project"" by Manchester University; or What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth's analysis of around 1700 innovation support evaluations from the UK and OECD countries discovered that only 3% credibly investigated what would have happened to the beneficiaries without the intervention, for example by using the control group. And only a miniscule number of 0.3% found that the impact of an intervention under evaluation had been positive.]]. Schemes are continued or introduced with no adequate way of testing their effectiveness. However, there is evidence that SMEs benefitting from support programmes are often dissatisfied with the services received[[See for example “Making public support for innovation in the EU more effective”, Commission staff working document SEC(2009)1197]].

These two linked issues need to be addressed: growing pressure on public budgets demands that the support schemes become more innovative, effective, efficient, and evidence-based and that scarce resources are allocated to schemes with the greatest impact.

These two issues can be addressed jointly by combining policy experimentation and innovation with the introduction of a more evidence-based approach to the support schemes provided by innovation support agencies, i.e. rigorously measuring the impact of interventions using randomised control trials (RCTs) - a method successfully used in other fields most notably medicine. This would encourage them to experiment more, reconcile 'trial and error' attitude with existing expertise, to design and pilot innovative support schemes for new challenges, and scale-up the most successful ones.

  • The number of innovation agencies engaged in policy experimentation significantly increases.
  • Use of RCTs in design and testing of innovation support schemes significantly increases.
  • A broad range of new or significantly improved SME innovation support schemes are investigated and developed and their impact rigorously tested. Pilot agencies scale up these new schemes.