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Producing a shared vision on how to harness Research & Development for Sustainable Development

Final Report Summary - VISION RD4SD (Producing a shared vision on how to harness Research & Development for Sustainable Development)

Executive Summary:
VISION RD4SD aims to ensure that Europe has tools that make it able to contribute to a more sustainable development of the world, by formulating policies and taking decisions based on robust, up-to-date knowledge and experience. This knowledge should be excellent with respect to both scientific quality and relevance for society.

To fulfil this objective the following sub-objectives were identified when the project idea was developed:
o To develop a shared vision between science funding bodies, science administrations and national science policy advisory institutions in the European member states, on how best to harness research and development for sustainable development (RD4SD)
o To develop a dialogue between the European science policy institutions to make exchange of ideas and experiences efficient and productive towards developing such a shared vision
o To establish a catalogue presenting strategic goals and road maps that can be used by the science funding bodies and science policy institutions in the preparation of national strategies and action plans to be implemented in the member states
o To draw conclusions and develop recommendations for the design of Horizon 2020 and the realisation of the 2020 ERA Vision.

A fifth sub-objective was included since present knowledge regarding experiences and ongoing activities was fragmented and scarce:

-To elaborate a state of the art (overview) of past and ongoing RD4SD in the European Union, including actions taken by funding organisations to promote RD4SD.

The tool finally selected to achieve these objectives was to establish a platform for dialogue and exchange of experiences and to develop an overview of present practices among science funding bodies, science policy administrations, and science ministries in Europe regarding this topic. Collaboration between funding bodies has in the past mainly happened within the ERA nets. However, for the particular purposes of this project it was much more appropriate to use the collaboration activity format. The dialogue platform gathered relevant policy makers across Europe and offered the opportunity to develop an interface for the exchange of new SD-oriented research and innovation. The platform was designed similarly to technology platforms; i.e. exchanging information and good practices, developing a vision, discussing strategic agendas and starting to implement them. This reflects a new framework beyond national and regional boundaries, perceiving Sustainable Development (SD) in an ERA-context, a multi-level, multi-domain and multi-instrument landscape, seeking a systemic, holistic and dynamic policy approach.

A central part of the project has consisted of a successful series of workshops, each attended by around 40 people, held in Stockholm, Venice, Brussels, Bern, Berlin, Lund, Athens and Reykjavik. Also, nine case studies on the state of the art (UK, NL, S, CH, F, D, South Europe, Eastern Europe and the EU) were completed and along with a number of good examples of RD4SD funding made publicly available on the project website. This enabled the project to target what finally became its three major outcomes:

• The VISION and the PRINCIPLES for harnessing RD4SD - two statements prepared for support and inspiration for anyone working on research and innovation (R&I) and who wishes to ensure that R&I will contribute to SD.
• An interactive Resource Tool on how to design and carry out funding programmes that will support R&I for SD – a web-based tool where a prototype now is publicly available. The Resource Tool is based on experiences gained among the partners and observers, and includes suggestions for good practice within all the different steps to be taken within the programme cycle. It is our hope that this Resource Tool will be used and further developed in EU science policy as well as by its member states.
• A proposal for a Platform for action designed to create a supportive communication for R&I for SD beyond the project. The platform should be a network of networks connecting existing initiatives. A secretariat should be established which provides support regarding state of the art and exchange of good practice for R&I for SD. It could also be the host for the Resource Tool.

It should also be noted that during the lifetime of this project R&D has been extended to become R&I, in line with what is happening in the work related to the realisation of the 2020 ERA Vision.

Project Context and Objectives:
Research for Sustainable Development (SD) has been funded in the EU for more than 20 years, at regional, national as well as EU-wide level. Key roles are played by DG RTD and DG ENV at the European level, as well as by research ministries and other national research funding institutions in European Union member states. Research has now been conducted in European cooperative projects as well as within national initiatives on indicators for SD, validation and measurement of SD, evaluation processes, developing methods, models, scenarios, decision-support systems and other specific tools to be used for RD4SD.
However, most, if not all, of these attempts assume that RD4SD is basically similar to other forms of research and that RD4SD needs to function within the given established frameworks for organization, management and funding of research.

The VISION project challenges that basic assumption. Many aspects of RD4SD are so different from ‘science as we know it’ that fundamental changes are required in its organization, funding and management. Precisely because it has been treated as ‘science as usual’, many of its necessary elements have not been developed to the extent needed to achieve important advances. Doing more of the same thing (or doing a very similar thing just with more funding), is simply not enough.

RD4SD is not science as usual but science of a somewhat different type. It requires broad participation of societal stakeholders, multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches as well as iterative research procedures. These provide opportunities for mutual learning and enable assumptions and positions to be revisited in the course of a programme, paving the way for a dynamic adjustment in the research process. The approaches to research management and design must integrate sustainability principles and objectives into each and every aspect of the research process. This also requires consideration of aspects such as knowledge management, communication and dissemination, and the handling of risk and uncertainty. The requirements for RD4SD need to be taken into account in research design and funding schemes within the EU. But they also have broader implications, including changes in the educational foundations for new generations of scientists and career incentives that work differently from current disciplinary science and research. This also requires changes in the peer review system and evaluation processes, development of suitable methods, tools and approaches, as well as allowing time frames adequate to deal with the challenges on the ground and the need for long-term iterative processes.

All of this calls for a new vision for funding RD4SD. This project was about the vision of science policy makers: Which kind of RD4SD do we want to support and fund? The previous absence of such a vision is probably one of the most important explanations of the failure of tools and approaches developed so far to promote contributions of research to be applied in society, in order to achieve a development in a sustainable direction.

This project focuses on research policy and a dialogue among European science policy makers, science policy administrators and those funding policy makers and administrations in general who demand and need solutions from RD4SD, as well as the scientists, on how to harness RD4SD with the tools and possible actions available to them. For this purpose it was necessary to develop an overview of how research and development towards sustainable development is being funded, supported and evaluated by science policy at the moment. In this respect there are immense differences throughout Europe. R&D programmes with focus on sustainable development (in some or even all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects) as well as global change research agendas (climate change, biodiversity, land use, global water supplies, desertification etc.) are well developed in some European member states. However, in others these topics have been discovered only recently and activities in these directions are only in an early stage. Furthermore, some R&D programs in some member states are not accounted as actions towards SD, even if they actually address similar topics. The perception about SD is different between countries and governments, a difference in perception which influences national R&D programs.
As further background we conclude that the aim of the renewed Sustainable Development Strategy (June 2006) is "to identify and develop actions to enable the EU to achieve continuous improvement of quality of life both for current and for future generations, through the creation of sustainable communities able to manage and use resources efficiently and to tap the ecological and social innovation potential of the economy, ensuring prosperity, environmental protection and social cohesion." In this context the specific role of research is to provide "short-term decision support projects and long-term visionary concepts" and "to tackle problems of a global and regional nature".

The aim of the VISION RD4SD project was to make it possible for Europe to contribute to a Sustainable Development of the world by formulating policies and decisions based on robust, up to date knowledge of highest scientific quality.
The project focused on a dialogue among European science policy-makers, administrators and those funding-policy makers in general who demand and need solutions from VISION RD4SD. The project also aimed to develop an overview of how research and development to support a sustainable development is being funded, supported and evaluated by science policy.
The most important objectives were:
- To initiate and develop a dialogue between the involved European science policy institutions, to make exchange of ideas and experiences efficient and productive towards developing a shared vision of RD4SD.
- To give a first input to the EU Commission regarding the design of Horizon 2020 and thereby an important step towards realisation of the 2020 ERA Vision.
- To get an overview of past and on-going RD4SD in different regions of the European Union, including actions taken by funding organisations to promote RD4SD.
- To agree about a shared vision on how best to harness RD4SD.
- To agree about the principles on how to harness RD4SD, and to discuss how these principles can be applied in practice.
- To prepare the Resource Tool presenting good practices and experiences to be shared with others along the research programme cycle. A prototype of this web-based tool is available (figure 1) and it is expected that it will be further developed and used by science funding bodies and science policy institutions in the preparation of national strategies and action plans for RD4SD.
- To prepare the suggestion for a Platform for RD4SD. A concept has been developed for a platform that consolidates and integrates existing experiences, frameworks and approaches of RD4SD, linking existing networks and communities of RD4SD practice as well as integrating new actors necessary to develop this field.

Project Results:
The project has been very successful in establishing a broad knowledge base for the dialogue by means of the national and regional case studies, all the while making important progress in the dialogue by organising a series of workshops: Scoping 1 and 2, Visioning and Pathways 1, Roadmap 1, Pathways and Visioning 2 and Roadmap 2. A final project conference was organised in September 2013 in Reykjavik, Iceland, also based on dialogue as the main method, where a wider group of policy makers including several funding organisations outside Europe were invited to give their view on the project outcomes.
Altogether nine R&D case studies have been conducted. These studies identify what already exists in the countries and/or regions regarding established R&D funding and initiatives, research agenda setting, evaluation and community building. The studies are brief overviews of established RD4SD in UK, NL, S, CH, F, D, South Europe, Eastern Europe and the EU. They provided a much needed knowledge platform for the workshops and for the ongoing dialogue among the research funders, i.e. the partners of VISION RD4SD.
Four additional so-called Ad hoc studies were conducted, focussing on Interface Organisations, that act as mediators between research and science policy in Europe as well as communicators of the specific approaches, topics and challenges of RD4SD; on Evaluation of RD4SD, as one of the key problem areas for harnessing (funding, managing, operating) this area of science and R,D&I; a third looked at a European Competence Centre for RD4SD termed ‘RD4SD Platform’, as a possible continuation of the dialogue of the project with a wider and much broader target group (including science, science policy, science administration and management); finally, a study on possible Support Actions for RD4SD from the side of science funders, such as specific communication and/or trainings on successful scientific and project communication, transnational programme collaboration, outcome evaluation, support and capacity building, and research integrity.
Taken together the nine case studies and the Ad hoc studies provided a clear orientation on the specific character of RD4SD. It was on this basis that the project was able to make more detailed and critical analyses of possibly better design, management and funding of RD4SD. The knowledge platform developed during the workshops in which research and innovation was discussed particularly for their possible and actual roles in contributing to the solution of persistent problems of unsustainability also contributed substantially to completing the picture.
Today, the systems of science, research, development and innovation in Europe remain strongly dominated by disciplinary structures. Scientific excellence still implies predominantly disciplinary excellence and not interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary excellence, the latter being far more important and in demand for successful implementation-oriented RD4SD. The challenge for science funding and science policy aiming to contribute to sustainable development remains to a large extent to provide reliable and lasting incentives for the European communities of science, research and innovation to develop such (new) forms of excellence. RD4SD thus appears in the context of European science policy still to be a huge regulatory challenge; with much to be gained in all regions of Europe.
Essential for solutions that could work on the ground is also the integration of stakeholders into the processes of R, D&I. This, if done properly, provides the chance for integration of other forms of knowledge (practical knowledge / know how, systemic knowledge, transfor¬mational knowledge etc.).

The Vision and Principles on harnessing RD4SD are a central outcome of the project. In the Vision, improving Quality of Life is at the core of policies dealing with science and innovation. Achieving the Vision requires a systemic approach in science and transdisciplinary knowledge integration and understanding. The Principles provide important guidelines to support achievement of the Vision. Furthermore, the pathways discussions showed clearly that there are multiple and very diverse institutional arrangements and contextual settings within which R&D systems operate across Europe. The workshops identified a wealth of examples and international initiatives from which to draw learning experiences on how to implement the RD4SD Vision in various ways in practice. However, there are no blue-prints; rather there are different pathways, which are context and region/country dependent. One of the central differences among European countries is the capacity to make changes in research and research funding. The financial crisis with severe budget cuts increased these differences by reducing the room of various countries to manoeuvre. At the same time, the VISION RD4SD workshop participants emphasized the need for R&D that addresses the societal challenges effectively and helps countries to become more resilient to crises. In other words: research, innovation and development that contributes to the transition to a more environmentally, socially and financially sustainable society.

An interactive online tool for everyday funding management:
Primarily for the target group of RD4SD funders and programme managers, an interactive online tool was developed. It is designed as a “living” information system and knowledge exchange platform and contains examples of and links to good practice in RD4SD programme development and funding procedures. The priority is to provide practical help for the further development of RD4SD funding. It can be further developed into a platform for those who use it and contribute their own ideas and feed in their own experiences. Thus it links people involved in funding RD4SD across Europe and is an opportunity for funders to present their approaches to their peers, to get feedback and support. A follow-up process can develop the current prototype into a professional software tool and continuously feed in new material and experiences in RD4SD funding.

An RD4SD Platform as an international focal point:
Adapting funding procedures to the needs of RD4SD is only part of the solution. To implement the Vision & Principles a broader reform process is needed. The necessary changes cannot be developed and implemented by the science policy makers and research funding organisations alone. The changes will involve scientists, policy makers, business, industry and civil society. This process could be supported by the development of an international RD4SD Platform. The VISION RD4SD project has drafted a concept for such a Platform on European and/or international level. It is seen as another way to develop joint standards and frameworks without losing the strengths of diversity.

Together with the Vision & Principles these results can strongly contribute to ensuring that research, development and innovation are able to support sustainable development in Europe and its Member States.

At the start of the project a procedure was designed to synthesize the results of each workshop through assigning rapporteurs for each session and compiling their reports into a concise document after each workshop. The procedure was applied at each step of the project starting with the Kick-off workshop. The syntheses of each workshop are available on the website.
Collection of feedback from external experts and countries outside the EU has been implemented largely through participation in a range of international conferences and workshops. It has continued throughout the project, also with the final conference which provided feedback on the overall results of the project and was also attended by participants from outside of the EU.

Potential Impact:
Impacts on the policy makers taking part in the coordinated action

The policy makers taking part in this coordinated action have benefitted from being a central part of the work being done to establish a common vision on how to harness research and development for sustainable development, as well as the principles. As leaders for this work they have developed their understanding of RD4SD and are now much better prepared to put this knowledge into action. They have also benefited from playing a central role in the compilation of information, while having direct access to the state-of-the-art overviews and being part of the process of preparing them. They have shared views and experiences with each other, representing organisations all across Europe, on good practice in the EU for promoting research and development that supports transitions to sustainable development.

The development and testing of the Resource Tool, performed by the science policy makers in the project, has given them knowledge and experiences and it is believed that the Resource Tool will be used directly in their daily work.

The work related to developing the idea of a Platform for coordination of RD4SD has further emphasised the need for support and help to implement RD4SD. If the platform can be realised that would be very valuable for the future work on RD4SD.

Impacts on the European level in terms of establishing a common VISION for sustainable development

The European Commission (primarily DG Research & Innovation) and other European science policy makers who did not directly participate in this coordinated action will benefit from the work carried out by being able to adopt the vision and the principles on how to harness research and development for sustainable development in their work. They will also benefit from the outcome of this coordinated action in terms of dissemination of the results, mainly by the Resource Tool and the concrete proposal for a Platform.

Impacts on European scientists
It is of great importance for many scientists around Europe that their research will be applied and make a difference for the development of our societies. However, the experience among the research funding organisations is that the majority of researchers have difficulties to formulate their research questions in a way that they will contribute to sustainable development. This coordinated action has also supported these researchers, through the Vision and the Principles, with knowledge and arguments for how to formulate objectives and hypotheses providing important knowledge that can contribute to the development of Europe in a more sustainable direction. Furthermore, the Resource Tool presenting good practices along the research programme cycle will be useful for the scientists when they are planning, applying for, carrying out and communicating their science projects.

Impacts on the European level in terms of contributing to the ERA
In a changing world characterised by accelerating globalisation of research and technology and the emergence of new scientific and technological powers, the ERA has been proposed as a cornerstone for a European knowledge society. One of the driving forces for the development of the ERA was the need to strengthen the collaboration between the European states regarding R&D. It is important to note that creating the ERA is now in the Treaty of Lisbon as a clear objective. The VISION RD4SD project contributes to this goal through providing a platform for science policy makers to engage in a dialogue about strengthening European research on sustainable development in a holistic way. It also contributes by benefiting from the outcome in terms of dissemination of the results, mainly by the Resource Tool and the suggestion for a Platform (if it is implemented).

Follow-up activities

Mainly two possibilities for follow-up activities have been identified during the last workshops and confirmed at the final conference:
Continuing to develop the Resource Tool into a professional software accompanied by a dialogue and exchange process among research funding managers, who use the tool as a basis for learning and experience exchange and actively contribute to it.
Starting an initiative for the development of the proposed RD4SD Platform based on the draft concept and the related Ad-hoc study.

The central dissemination strategy for project results is to encourage and enable the VISION RD4SD partners and observers and additional workshop participants to make concrete use of these results. Partners need to contextualize the projects results within their own work and bring them to good use for their contacts within their countries. Within the Member state context the project results will be further distributed, including all project documents and other outcomes. To support this, all partners and observers have been provided with a ‘dissemination kit’ consisting of a set of the central documents in print and the complete collection of project documents on USB sticks. This was welcomed in advance by several participants, who already had concrete ideas about their dissemination activities. In addition the following instruments have been applied during the project:
• An interactive website www.visionrd4sd with external and internal parts
• A leaflet presenting the VISION project and a VISION-folder
• A Newsletter with around 300 subscribers at the end of the project
The website – with all relevant results and descriptions of the projects process – and the prototype of the Resource Tool will be hosted by the project leader Formas for another two years after the project ends. Other organisations have shown interest in hosting these results also more long-term.

At the final conference in Reykjavik several participants took part who had not been involved in the VISION RD4SD dialogue before. They were impressed by the achievements of the projects and interested in the results as well as in taking part in possible follow-up activities.

List of Websites: