How POLICY ANSWERS provides and coordinates capacity building in the WB region

An interview with Đuro Kutlača and Lazar Živković, Mihajlo Pupin Institute

POLICY ANSWERS also provides and coordinates capacity building and pilot actions in the Western Balkans to contribute to the region’s EU integration process and to strengthen their innovation ecosystems. In the following interview we discuss how the project’s capacity building programme can strengthen the local efforts in the region to support policy making and programme implementation of the WB Agenda through training activities.

Photo credits: IMP

This interview is part of a series that shall inform interested readers about the concrete initiatives and outcomes of the “POLCY ANSWERS” project. Read below an interview with Djuro Kutlaca and Lazar Živković from Mihajlo Pupin Institute who coordinate the Work Package “Building Capacities” in the project.

POLICY ANSWERS: IMP has guided the approach towards the development of a “Capacity Building Programme”. Could you briefly explain what was the starting point for this activity and which steps you proposed for the development of the programme?

Lazar: The main aim of the capacity building programme is to strengthen the local efforts in the Western Balkans to support policy making and programme implementation of the WB Agenda through training activities. The starting point was the development of a joint methodology for identifying capacity building actions. Based on the joint methodology, project partners in each WB economy went through predefined steps for assessing capacity building needs and identifying capacity building actions. The three key steps have been conducted in each WB economy: (1) assessing capacity building needs by identifying key gaps in the current strategic policy framework (2) consultation with key policy stakeholders aiming to ensure commitment and engaging stakeholders in the design and implementation phase and (3) drafting the capacity building programme in respective WB economy.

POLICY ANSWERS: How did the partners implement the guidelines? Did you see some good practices and success stories?

Lazar: The final capacity building programmes in each WB economy were drafted following the joint methodology and agreed steps. Numerous consultations, including face-to-face meetings, short workshops and focus groups with key stakeholders, have been conducted. Stakeholder consultations have ensured the diversity of the spectrum covered so that the programmes are truly tailored to the local needs.

I would like to highlight that a total of 28 capacity building actions have been developed and will be implemented in the coming period. I am sure that the implementation of the actions will have a significant impact on improving the skills and knowledge necessary to create a more efficient research and innovation system in the region.

POLICY ANSWERS: And what are the concrete next steps now? Have the programmes been launched? Where can interested participants find more information?

Lazar: The next step involves the implementation of the Programme in the period October 2022 – August 2023, when the next update of the Programme is planned in order to enable each WB economy to reconsider the capacity building needs and define additional actions. The implementation of the program started in October and in the coming period you can expect many interesting events useful for local stakeholders. Information on the upcoming events will be available on the project website.

POLICY ANSWERS: Lazar, on a different note, you just finished your PhD analysing academia-industry cooperation in Serbia. From your work, can you deduct some “POLICY ANSWERS” on how to better link these two sectors?

Lazar: The low level of academia-industry cooperation is a common challenge for the entire Western Balkan region and even beyond. As emphasized in my dissertation, in order to more effectively address these challenges by implementing research and innovation policy, it is necessary to gain a full understanding of different ways of interactions and types of cooperation. The key factors influencing academia-industry cooperation should be identified, but also there is a need for a new methodological approach to assess the intensity of academia-industry cooperation.

Policy instruments should be more focused on reducing the barriers that are a consequence of the systemic differences between the “two worlds”. They need to be more oriented towards enhancing the absorptive capacity of the industrial sector, encouraging the business sector to invest more in R&D, more investments in research infrastructures, creating incentive measures for greater visibility and use of research infrastructure by the business sector, etc. In addition, the role of technology transfer offices in fostering academia-industry cooperation should be reconsidered.

POLICY ANSWERS: Djuro, you have supervised this PhD and worked on this topic in the region for several decades, could you suggest some approaches on how to implement support on a regional level?

Đuro:  In general, I would also say that the most important thing is the ability to make decisions and the will to implement them while getting inspired also from already existing “good practices”. Secondly, adequate finances need to be made available for the integration of the academic sector with society and the economy while an innovation-oriented mind-set needs to be created.

This can be fostered through:

  • Transformation and Restructuring of the academic sector, but not necessarily privatization of institutes, with strictly controlled private higher education and support for dual higher education
  • Promotion and support of STE(A)M higher education [introduction of A – abbreviation for ARTS, due to the development of student’s creative abilities – following the example of Hungary];
  • Financing of innovation activities in SMEs for the use of knowledge in the innovation process – Innovation Fund, which mostly (at least 70%) finances SMEs, with a significantly bigger IF budget (tens of millions of EUR);
  • Funding of research in national projects, the main criterion is the commercialization of research results, with a high success rate of such project proposals (60%-80%) [The Science Fund of Serbia with a success rate below 30% is meaningless, less than 20% of researchers are “employed” through the projects.]
  • Training activities for establishing a dialogue between the academic sector and the economy and building a national innovation system as well as training of trainers for entrepreneurial and innovation consultancy, for creation and implementation of education programs in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship, and finally for governance of selection and financing of research and innovation on the level of economy

POLICY ANSWERS: And could you link this back to the capacity building? Which skills gaps do you see and how can capacity building address them?

Lazar: The capacity building programme will address a wide variety of skills gaps, including the low level of university-industry cooperation in the region. Most of the actions will be focused on capacity building and technical assistance in policy design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. These capacity building actions should improve the process of implementing research and innovation policies aimed at increasing university-industry cooperation. Furthermore, some of the actions strive to provide specific support to universities and technology transfer activities that should improve the current level of university-industry cooperation in the respective economies and beyond.

On the other side, actions aiming to improve digital skills and greater use of green technologies in the business sector will contribute to increasing the absorptive capacity of the business sector, which is one of the prerequisites for a higher level of cooperation with the academic sector. Finally, support for the improvement of project writing skills of the business and research sectors will contribute to greater utilization of available EU programmes and a greater level of cooperation between the two sectors through work in joint consortia.

POLICY ANSWERS: Many thanks for the interview!

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