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Fostering research excellence in EU Outermost Regions

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FORWARD (Fostering research excellence in EU Outermost Regions)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

The EU has nine Outermost Regions (ORs): Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Saint martin, Réunion, Mayotte (France); Azores and Madeira (Portugal) and Canary Islands (Spain). ORs are an integral part of EU territory but, as Article 349 of the EU Treaty recognizes, they differ from the rest of the EU due to their remoteness, insularity, small size, their adverse topographical and climatic conditions and their dependence on a limited number of local industries. At the same time OR's exceptional geographical and geological characteristics make then useful laboratories for research and innovation in scientific domains such as biodiversity, blu economy, renewable energies, health, social sciences and the astronomy and space science.

Despite of those assets and of existing cooperation and partnership practices, the participation of ORs in Research Framework Programmes has been so far inhibited by the fragmentation of their research communities due the geographic isolation but also due to the lack of commitment of research institutions and missing connectivity with excellent partners in Europe and in Third Countries.
The overall objectives of the project is to improve the Outermost Regions' excellence in research and their innovation potential in order to strengthen their participation in EU research and innovation funded projects, link research activities with territorial development and also generally speaking to increase the visibility and recognition of ORs' Research and innovation expertise and capacities.

Based on a multiactors, multidisciplinary and cross-sectorial approach, the project aims at facilitating the collaboration and networking among representatives of the quadruple helix (university, SME´s governement, civil society) at regional level, between ORs, and with their counterparts from EU members States and third countries at international level. The project aims at building skills, implementing tailored actions to support connections and networking of ORs with EU and third Countries and by defining a joint strategy for ORs to strengthen their R&I ecosystems and foster their participation in research activities and research Framework Programmes and by implementing thematic actions plans to foster collaboration of the ORs in specific topics of interest.
FORWARD started its activities with an extensive and detailed analysis of regional R&I Ecosystems. A methodology was developed for the collection and analysis of data in each region. Data considered included regional, national and EU statistics, collection of data on project participation and more qualitative data collected through interviews, focus groups and workshops organized in each region. The preliminary results obtained were shared with partners and external stakeholders in a mutual learning event in Brussels in October 2019. The event served also to put the stones for the FORWARD Joint strategy for OR R&I ecosystem performance.

The Joint Strategy, aimed at “presenting a common vision, mission and values for the OR’s to improve, promote and support their R&I ecosystem in the participation of the EU Framework Program”, based on a co-creation process involving all ORs. Thanks to the work carried out, the Strategy could include a clearer definition of the strategic sectors to invest on already identified at the proposal stage and mentioned in Annex I of the proposal. Those strategic sectors are at the basis of the establishment of thematic working groups foreseen under WP3 and which will work throughout the whole project. Working thematic groups (TWG) have been established in eight common strategic fields of expertise (1- Health, applied Medical Technologies, Diagnostics and Therapies; 2- Social science and social innovation 3-Earth system, space & universe sciences; 4-Information and Communications Technology; 5-Climate change and energy transition; 6-Agriculture, applied life sciences, biotechnology and bio-systems engineering; 7-Biodiversity conservation and restoration; 8- Marine Sciences and technologies. TWG ring together OR experts and other representatives from EU and third countries’ institutions and will be in charge of drafting thematic action plans to guide the work of regional R&I ecosystem to improve their participation to EU Research Framework Programmes, increase their networking capacities and to a further extent unlock their research and innovation potential.

To contribute to those objectives, a pool of talented researchers and innovator is needed. For this reason, a Common Capacity Building Plan designed taking into account the specific needs of each region – as highlighted by R&I ecosystem analysis - has been developed. The Plan will result in a Training programme for R&I actors which will be implemented throughout the project.

At the same time, partners have started at planning short and long-term networking activities and at mapping external actors and organizations to liaise with for the development of joint projects and initiatives.

Finally, the project aims at supporting policy makers at regional and EU level in the formulation of more targeted and effective research and innovation supporting policies. To do so, the consortium submitted in November last year an OR position for the EC consultation on “Horizon Europe Strategic Planning”. At the same time several events targeting policy makers have been organized and recommendations have been produced targeting policy-making stakeholders- Since one of the objectives of the project is to contribute to the new Smart Specialization Strategies of the partnering regions, a first version of D6.1 (practical guide on Recommendations for future RIS3 strategies), officially due by the end of the project, has been drafted in advance to provide an effective / useful contribution to the ongoing revision of RIS3 strategies in most OR’s.

Project activities and in particular the implementation of the Joint Strategy will be continuously monitored, and their effectiveness and impact assessed based on a ad hoc methodology developed.

Finally, dissemination and communication activities include the organization of three scientific conferences the first one organized in Reunion last July and the development of Brand for OR Research which will help promote further Research excellence in Outermost Regions.
An extensive and detailed analysis of Outermost Regions’ R&I ecosystem has been performed. The analysis described not only the structure and dimension of the ecosystems but also analysed the participation of the Outermost Regions in Research Framework Programmes and other international collaborative projects. Likewise, the analysis identified main assets and shortcomings thus setting the basis for an improvement of the R&I performance in the regions and for a more stable, fruitful and long-term collaboration among them and between ORs, Europe and Third Countries. The analysis represents an important advancement with respect to the state of knowledge available on ORs R&I ecosystem. On the other side, the identification of common priority thematic area for R&I cooperation among ORs represent another important progress and the starting point to reach the main objective of the project which is an increased participation of ORs in Research Framework Programme.