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Novel services for future proof agencies and SMEs

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FUTURE PROOF (Novel services for future proof agencies and SMEs)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2021-06-30

The first decade of the second millennium has emphatically shown that we need to prepare for the non-preparable, and we need to foresee the unforeseen. The world is changing rapidly and in greater levels of complexity, thus quick reaction and resilient strategies are a necessity for businesses and policymakers. Innovation agencies, as well as companies and policymakers, need to anticipate future developments in order to be prepared for them and be able to adapt and address the changing needs of their clients. While it is relatively easy to prepare for short-term linear development, longer-term shifts in the socio-technical system and the impacts of the exponential technological disruptions are harder to cope with. In this context foresight is an approach to support the longer-term anticipation of alternative futures and for triggering responses (adaptation) to them.

In order for innovation agencies to be able to respond to the complex nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a different type of governance is needed including a redesign of policy processes and services that will promote sustainability, resilience, social inclusion and societal well-being. In Europe, we can find many new approaches of policy-making based on agile governance tools. From policy labs elaborating new policy techniques and focusing on end-users, to regulatory sandboxes where companies can experiment and test innovative business models, products, and services, there are increasingly improved tools, measures and processes for more dynamic and more agile governance. They can broadly be differentiated in being developed around existing governance structures or changing the existing policy-making system . Nevertheless, innovation agencies lack behind, as policy continuity is more likely than policy change. It is difficult to change a certain policy path because actors and policies have become institutionalized which would require a great deal of effort and cost by the actors who seek change. Consequently, the exchange of new experiences among stakeholders and peer learning among policy actors is a crucial next step.

Future Proof has addressed the complexity and rapid transformations that bring enormous change to the innovation environment. Online business, cloud technology and marketing via social media, just to mention a few of the new trends affecting SMEs and their productivity and competitiveness, need new approaches and trigger new needs. Policymakers and innovation actors in Europe need to act fast and develop new, hands-on services and support-schemes in order to make SMEs fit and resilient. Future Proof has enabled to look into the future requirements of SMEs as well as possible solutions on how to meet those requirements by exchanging best practices and sharing new efficient support services.

Taking into account the above, the overall objectives of the Future-Proof project had been threefold:
- To utilize strategic foresight methodologies for designing new services and/or programs that will respond to the future needs of our SME clients.
- To exchange best practices in designing and implementing foresight-related services to SMEs that will create high-performance, resilient, future-proof SMEs.
- To broadly communicate the project outputs to the European innovation ecosystem.
The scope of Future Proof project was to explore current changes and future trends that will allow the project team to identify the future requirements and emerging needs of SMEs, and to co-create innovation services that will better respond to current and future needs and conditions. Stakeholder engagement, i.e. involving policy makers, innovation agencies and SMEs, and the exchange of ideas and experiences has been a central task, which has been manifested itself in Future Proof´s Horizon scanning process, the Delphi study as well as in the Design Thinking workshop.

Work Performed & Results
The covid-19 pandemic has seriously affected all aspects of life and naturally had an impact on the project implementation, as several tasks had to re-designed to address the global lockdown effects. Specifically, all the projects tasks requiring physical presence (participatory workshops) have been cancelled and redesigned or replaced with virtual online workshops in order to fulfil the planned obligations and objectives. The main work phases are described below:

-Starting in March 2020 Future Proof initiated a Horizon scanning process on the online Gremlin crowdsourcing platform in order to collect current signals and trends relevant to SMEs. During the 4 months crowdsourcing period, 32 different trend ideas had been submitted and evaluated resulting in 11 potential service categories.

- In March 2021 an online Delphi study took place inviting 100 futurists and experts from SMEs, innovation agencies, and research organizations to evaluate the 11 service categories according to probability and impact by 2030. The response rate in each of the two survey rounds was about 50%. 4 service categories had been evaluated as highly impactful and highly probable by 2030, 2 service categories had been evaluated as highly impactful but with low probability.

- On April 2021 the consortium organized an online Design-Thinking workshop with 9 participants from 4 countries to co-create, based on the 6 service categories that have been evaluated as highly impactful, and resulted in two groups of suggested services.
The tangible result of the project is the design of two futureproof services for innovation agencies that were composed through specific steps based on strategic foresight methods.
(i) A virtual platform supported by AI.
(ii) A knowledge network of local sustainability hubs.

The main dissemination activities are summarized below:
- Interview with the Greek public news agency that was re-published on many websites.
- The DOP has been published as a technical report at Research Gate.
- Posts in the social media accounts of the partners.
- Newsletters and project updates sent to target groups like the EEN sustainability Group, the Foresight Europe Network, EUREKA & EUROSTARS, World Future Society Foundation, etc.
- A special webpage hosts all the main project outputs.

Overall, it is estimated that the dissemination campaign has reached over 30,000 individuals, well above the foreseen target.
The project partners have taken advantage of their key position in the European innovation and foresight ecosystems in order to ensure the participation of many experts across Europe (over 100 experts participated in the Delphi study, in the horizon scanning process, and the participatory workshop), and achieve dissemination towards both the innovation agencies but also the broader society.

The intangible impacts of the Future Proof project are the following:
-It has improved the forward thinking and the resilience of the participating innovation agencies. The three agencies have been involved in a focused foresight exercise that enabled them to creatively consider the future innovation system and explore ways to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
- It has brought the needs of the SMEs in the centre of a novel forward-looking co-design process of new services.
-The produced DOP has raised awareness across the Enterprise Europe Network and other relevant networks about the need to adapt fast in order to meet future SME needs.
Future Proof summary
Infographic project outputs