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Advancing SSA-EU cooperation in research and innovation for global challenges

Periodic Report Summary 3 - CAAST-NET PLUS (Advancing SSA-EU cooperation in research and innovation for global challenges)

Project Context and Objectives:
In 2007, heads of state and government from Africa and Europe launched the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) formulated in response to geopolitical changes, globalisation and the processes of integration in Africa and Europe. At the heart of the JAES is an overtly political relationship. Among the features distinguishing JAES from previous Africa-Europe policy initiatives is the associated action plan addressing priority areas for Africa-Europe cooperation. The contribution of scientific and technological research, development and innovation, and the centrality of capacity for research to economic and social growth and poverty alleviation, and for addressing global societal challenges of mutual interest is embedded in JAES. The value of cooperation between the continents is central and under JAES has already led to significant achievements for mutual benefit. CAAST-Net Plus objectives encourage more and better bi-regional STI cooperation for enhanced outcomes around topics of mutual interest, and particularly in relation to the global societal challenges of climate change, food security and health.
CAAST-Net Plus actions rely on bi-regional dialogue among stakeholders for gathering informed opinion and experience about the bi-regional cooperation process, formulating and disseminating it in such a way as to be admissible to the formal bi-regional STI policy dialogue process and to programme owners. Through informing the bi-regional policy dialogue for mutual learning and awareness, through building support for coordinated and innovative approaches to bilateral funding of bi-regional cooperation around global challenges, brokering the public-private relationship to foster improved uptake and translation of bi-regional research partnership outputs into innovative technologies, good and services, and through dedicated mechanisms to encourage bi-regional research partnerships, CAAST-Net Plus will contribute to the quality and scope of the Africa-Europe STI relationship for mutual benefit.
The goal of CAAST-Net Plus is a reinforced bi-regional STI relationship for jointly tackling global societal challenges and contributing to smart, inclusive and sustainable growth of both regions. Addressing this goal CAAST-Net Plus has a series of six core objectives:
1. Focus on societal challenges: Encourage multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral and bi-regional STI partnerships on key topics of mutual interest and benefit, focussing on major societal challenges.
2. Coordination of policies and programmes: Explore collaborative and novel programming options and funding mechanisms for bi-regional partnerships around global challenges, promoting improved coherence and reduced fragmentation between relevant EU, AU and MS policies and programmes.
3. Bridging the public-private sector gap: Foster greater public-private sector cooperation through enhancing mutual understanding to promote better exploitation of R&D outputs for innovation.
4. Improving framework conditions: Identify and propose innovative solutions to reduce or overcome restrictive cooperation conditions, constraints or barriers.
5. Mutual learning through bi-regional dialogue: Facilitate informal bi-regional stakeholder dialogues, complementing formal policy dialogue formats for advancing the bi-regional STI relationship, encouraging mutual learning, and understanding of national, regional and continental RDI in S&T strategies, priorities and instruments of relevance for cooperation.
6. Strengthening cooperation: Strengthen cooperation through increased awareness of the opportunities, the conditions, and the topics for cooperation supported by multilateral and bilateral programmes, through increasing capacities and networking of support structures for bi-regional RDI cooperation in S&T as well as fostering bi-regional networking of the science and innovation communities.

Project Results:
Since its beginning over 4.5 years ago, the diverse work of CAAST-Net Plus has made many contributions to advancing cooperation between African and Europe in scientific and technological research, concentrated around the global challenges of food security, health for all, and climate change.
A consistent theme has been extensive consultation with stakeholder communities, particularly in research, funding, policy and the private sector. Consultation served initially to gather informed opinion about the nature of bi-regional cooperation, and to identify its strengths and weaknesses, and then to validate interventions designed by partners to lower the barriers or reduce the asymmetries that are acting as constraints.
For each of the global challenge domains we have followed four lines of enquiry: 1) A critical assessment of the extent to which cooperation in R&I is addressing joint objectives and priorities with particular reference to the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES), 2) An assessment of the linkage between academic research and the business community in terms of research uptake; 3) The opportunity for coordination of national programming in support of EU-Africa research cooperation; and 4) An assessment of the process of cooperation, the environment within which cooperation takes place and the conditions which affect it.
The outcomes of consultations have been published as multiple reports. Broadly, in each of the global challenges we find there is a significant body of research funded under FP6 and FP7 resulting from collaboration between European and African institutes. We find however that there is a weak relationship between the JAES priorities and the focus of research projects. A low level of outcome thinking explains a paucity of plausible arguments to attribute project outputs to demonstrable outcomes. Statements of intended impact are often akin to aspirations, offering only arms-length support to wider climate and development targets, and explicit explanation of how impacts can be achieved may be entirely absent. While capacity has been developed and new knowledge generated as attested by many publications, challenges exist in ensuring that new knowledge is used to inform policy, systems and processes, expand product ranges, markets and trade, and support innovation for social and economic gain in both Europe and Africa. Results are pointing to a diverse range of barriers to more effective cooperation.
Over the last 18-24 months partners have used the knowledge gathered to help design, validate and implement sustainable interventions that will enhance the quality and/or quantity of bi-regional cooperation. In the health domain, CN+ has invested extensively in the Research Fairness Initiative developed by COHRED to adapt it for the context of Africa-Europe research cooperation. In climate change research, acknowledging the asymmetries that exist, partners have rolled out a programme capacity building for early career climate change researchers in Africa. In food security, partners are developing a blueprint, in response to demand from the EU-Africa high-level policy dialogue on STI, for a knowledge management and coordination system that would improve the visibility / availability of research knowledge.
Running in parallel to our efforts to improve cooperation in the global challenges has been a programme of events for raising awareness of cooperation opportunities under H2020, and in strengthening Africa’s expanding network of H2020 NCPs. The project ran 21 H2020 information and/or NCP training sessions in 16 countries between January 2013 and June 2017, reaching over 1400 members of Africa’s academic, research and science policy communities.

Potential Impact:
Africa and Europe share the regional policy objective of pursuing international cooperation to help address social and economic development priorities. The success of CAAST-Net Plus has been in supporting this shared objective, catalysing and reinforcing relations between Africa and Europe in the area of scientific and technological research and innovation, building trust through mutual understanding that leads to stronger bi-regional and inter-institutional partnerships around shared priorities.
The project’s partners have mobilised a range of activities that have focussed on major societal challenges, on support for bi-regional policy dialogue, and on strengthening and increasing effectiveness of cooperation.
The results of these activities will be the expansion and deepening of scientific and technological research and innovation collaboration between Africa and Europe generally, and the reinforcement of the EU-Africa STI partnership particularly, with its focus on food and nutrition security. Among the potential impacts are:
• A more enabling policy environment, including framework conditions for bi-regional cooperation (achieved through support for dialogue processes);
• The preparation of innovative new instruments, programmes or other interventions for enhancing bi-regional cooperation, including better synergy between existing actions (achieved through coordination and consultation efforts); and
• More strategic bi-regional cooperation under the H2020 (achieved through targeted operational support and maximizing synergy with other activities.)
It is the nature of policy coordination and support actions such as CAAST-Net Plus, and particularly in the area of international STI cooperation, that there is a wide gulf between the actions of the project today and the eventual social and economic benefits. There is wide consensus and abundant evidence pointing to the social and economic benefits of investing in STI research and research capacity. International cooperation too is not an exception but the rule for effectively addressing global challenges. Causality and attribution across the wide gulf in a complex landscape remain intractable problems for monitoring and evaluation and it is common practice to resort to weak proxies such as attendance at events, anecdotal feedback and the enumeration of short term outputs such as policy input papers to infer eventual impact. Assuring the relevance and quality of project activities and outputs is undoubtedly key to maximising the eventual impact.

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