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Middle East Research and Innovation Dialogue

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

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

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.
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,
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 p
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