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Fostering research excellence in EU Outermost Regions

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - FORWARD (Fostering research excellence in EU Outermost Regions)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2020-07-01 al 2022-06-30

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, blue economy, renewable energies, health, social sciences and the astronomy and space science.

The purpose of FORWARD was to improve ORs' excellence in research and innovation potential to strengthen participation in EU research and innovation projects, link research activities with territorial development and, overall, increase visibility and recognition of their expertise and capacities.

Based on a multiactors, multidisciplinary and cross-sectorial approach, the project aimed at facilitating the collaboration and networking among representatives of the quadruple helix (university, SMEs, governement, civil society) at regional level, between ORs, and with counterparts from EU Members States and third countries at international level. The project aimed at building skills, implementing tailored actions to support connections and networking of ORs with EU and third Countries and defining a joint strategy for ORs to strengthen their R&I ecosystems and foster their participation in research activities and research Framework Programmes, as well as 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 under WP2, by mapping R&I actors and assessing regional systems. These activities allowed to produce the FORWARD Joint strategy for OR R&I ecosystem performance, aimed at presenting a common vision, mission and values for the ORs to improve, promote and support their R&I ecosystem in the participation of the EU Framework Programme (FP), based on a co-creation process involving all ORs.

Thematic working groups (TWGs) were established in WP3 in 8 common strategic fields of expertise: 1. Health; 2. Social sciences and social innovation; 3. Earth, space & universe sciences; 4. Information and Communications Technology; 5. Climate change and Energy transition; 6. Agriculture, applied life sciences, biotechnology; 7. Biodiversity; and 8. Marine sciences & technologies. TWGs brought together OR experts and other representatives from EU and third countries’ institutions. Over 500 members registered in the groups, and over 50% were greatly proactive and participative in the proposed activities. Tasks of TWGs were centred on search & analysis of EU FP calls opportunities, preparation of project proposals, networking, and peer learning. TWG work resulted in >70 EU calls’ opportunities assessed and 5 submitted proposals, out of which 4 approved.

WP4 was focused on the promotion of capacity building actions to increase local knowledge and awareness on FPs to favour mobilisation of funding to ORs. This action resulted in >85 trainings/workshops organised across the 9 ORs and more than 3,000 persons engaged. WP4 also worked on a OR governmental level to establish the foundations of an OR R&I Officers Network, named the ‘OR-izon Network’. This OR-izon Network will last in the long term and will serve to increase the performance of ORs' R&I systems; mobilise regional organisations and policymakers on a common pro-Horizon Europe agenda; help networking with the most dynamic/promising partners; and increase the synergies between our R&I systems on common fields of interest and professionalise support services.

In parallel with capacity building, WP5 promoted networking activities aimed at strengthening the collaboration between ORs and other research organisations in EU and Third countries. Networking actions were organised in different modalities and supported to the establishment of partnerships and projects. FORWARD achieved the implementation of 33 networking events, 37 short mobilities, and 3 long mobilities.

WP6 was dedicated to facilitating the dialogue between the research community and policy makers. This WP produced practical guides & tools, policy recommendations & briefs aiming at tackling OR’s gaps and challenges in the current and future Framework Programmes at the European level (namely for Horizon Europe) and the regional level (ERDF / Operational Programmes / RIS3), in line with the United Nations 2020-2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. Under WP6, the consortium also promoted 44 ad hoc events targeting policy makers and stakeholder consultations.

WP7 formed part of the transversal actions of the project, aimed at monitoring and evaluating the progress made by the project in general and the results emerging from the implementation of the Joint Strategy.

WP8 focused on project communication, awareness and capacity raising, dissemination of results. Infographics, newsletters, and digital interviews were produced, as well as 3 promotional videos. Numerous social media campaign were executed, being able to reach >35,000 users towards the project end. Finally, 3 international dissemination conferences were organised, respectively by La Reunion, French Guiana, and Guadeloupe.
The overall impact expected by FORWARD was to favour the increased participation of the ORs in the Research Framework Programmes and the reinforcement of the visibility and recognition of ORs’ research and innovation expertise and capacities.

The achievement of FORWARD impacts was sought by:
• Defining a joint strategy for ORs to strengthen their R&I ecosystems;
• Supporting connections and networking of ORs between themselves and with EU and Third Countries and fostering their participation in research activities and Research Framework Programmes, as well as implementing thematic action plans to foster collaboration of the ORs in specific topics of interest;
• Building skills, implementing tailored networking, peer-learning, and policy making actions and events; and
• Promoting ORs’ visibility and strengthening the recognition of their R&I potential and expertise at EU and international level through dissemination and awareness raising.

Throughout its whole duration, FORWARD committed the nine regional governments of ORs and main R&I actors to work in close cooperation with regional actors and between ORs, as well as with other partners in Europe and in Third Countries whenever possible, for the improvement of their excellence in research and innovation.

FORWARD has been a highly valuable experience and has generated an important impact on the 9 ORs. All ORs have worked towards the establishment of a Common OR Innovation Ecosystem, strengthening capacities, promoting networking and decision-making awareness to the role and representativity of the ORs for the European Research Area. FORWARD, therefore, has contributed to set the bases for ORs’ excellence in Europe, with increased awareness of and participation in the European FPs.
Project final conference - Brussels - 2 June 2022