How do you define ‘innovation’?
It’s an important question, and fundamental to what we are trying to do with Horizon 2020, our new research and innovation programme. In Horizon 2020, innovation is about turning good ideas (including the best research) into better products, services and social processes. I specifically include social innovation because it helps to meet social needs and create new social relationships or collaborations. So innovation needs to be taken up not only by large companies but also by SMEs, the public sector, the social economy and indeed people themselves.
What does ‘innovation’ mean within the European project?
Investing in innovation will give a boost to our economy and ensure a better quality of life. One of the major initiatives of the European Commission is to turn the European Union into an “Innovation Union”. This is about creating the right ‘framework conditions’: helping EU Member States to improve the performance of their research and innovation systems and improving the performance of the EU system as a whole. This has recently included agreeing the unitary EU patent, which could cut the cost of getting an EU patent by up to 80%.
Unemployment is one of the issues that is affecting the development of young people in Europe. What can European innovation and research initiatives do to support the creation of quality jobs?
If you look back over recent years, a very clear trend emerges: those countries in Europe that have invested more and better in innovation have weathered the crisis better. Innovative firms can compete on global markets, meaning they create quality jobs that last. At the European level, as I already said we are focusing on creating better framework conditions for innovation, and on funding the type of research and innovation that will make us more competitive. However, we have to fund the whole cycle from basic research through to close to market projects. This is why in Horizon 2020 there is a big emphasis on industry participation, including SMEs: we expect SMEs to receive at least 9 billion in funding over the course of Horizon 2020.
What are the opportunities for youth organisations and civil society to participate in building a more innovation-friendly Europe?
The most important thing is to get involved, and that starts locally. Recently, I awarded Barcelona our first ‘iCapital’ prize as the European Capital of Innovation. Barcelona won for introducing the use of new technologies to foster economic growth and the welfare of its citizens. You can help do the same in your town or city by speaking with your local government, or even getting yourself elected to it! Of course, you can engage at any level a�� local, regional, national or European.
Of course, civil society can also participate directly in innovation projects. Good examples are so-called ‘Citizen Science’ initiatives where scientists can ‘crowdsource’ help. In Horizon 2020 we will be funding this kind of work, and in general encouraging wider and more diverse participation in our research projects. We’re also currently running a public consultation on ‘Science 2.0’ (#science20) a�� a more open, inclusive and people-focused way of doing science.
How can research be better implemented in order to give solutions to urgent social issues?
In Horizon 2020, we make tackling societal challenges a priority. These are issues that affect us all like climate change, resource scarcity, food safety or our ageing society. In Horizon 2020, we are taking a ‘challenge-based’ approach: we identify an issue of concern, but leave it up to the research teams applying for the grants to propose the best solutions. We encourage these teams to draw on the broadest possible expertise in coming up with solutions a�� bringing in civil society, social scientists and more as necessary.
One of such area being supported in the first work programme of Horizon 2020 is about the Young Generation in an Innovative, Inclusive and Sustainable Europe. The idea is to understand what makes the young generation in Europe tick, help meet the challenges ahead and fulfil the goals of major European policy initiatives, such as a�?Youth on the Movea�?, the Youth Employment Package and the Youth Guarantee.
What kind of innovations would you suggest for the European institutions, in particular for the next European Commission?
I’m sure the incoming Commission will have its own ideas about how to innovate in the institutions. I certainly hope that youth organisations will make their voices heard going forward. We need to continue the drive to cut red tape in everything we do, and that can mean being innovative in our processes. I made cutting bureaucracy a priority for EU research funding, and as a result Horizon 2020 is a radically simplified programme.
Why do you think young people should have the right to innovate? What kind of skills need to be promoted in order to give to every European this right?
In our Innovation Convention in Brussels this March, I took part in a panel with seven young entrepreneurs, all under the age of 18. It was called ‘Lessons from Generation Z’ and you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncc02_rdjI4.
I listened to these young people tell us of their experience with the education system and trying to be creative and start businesses. They all said that young people need to be given space and be encouraged to be creative and innovative, and that the education system at the moment didn’t allow enough for that.
We must ensure that each young person is able to fulfil his or her potential to the maximum – and I believe that they have a right to expect this. Our education and training systems must take a lead in helping them acquire flexible skills such as idea generation, problem solving, critical thinking or cross-cultural communication a�� skills to help them create and innovate!
Youth organisations across Europe are providing non-formal education to young people giving them the opportunity to develop new skills. What is the value of non-formal education in research and innovation projects?
Non-formal education is important for research and innovation, precisely because it can help develop specific skills, and create a mind-set of creativity and entrepreneurship. Traditional academic research remains important, but modern innovation a�� ‘Science 2.0’ if you like a�� requires us to go beyond that.