POLICY ANSWERS Pilot Programmes: Five activities for the development of the Region

POLICY ANSWERS implements a set of dedicated, carefully selected activities to support change and increase impact “on the ground” in the Western Balkans. The general objective is to

  • foster participation in Horizon Europe and other EU programmes,
  • promote the WB Agenda on Innovation, Research, Culture, Youth and Sport,
  • co-design processes leading to market integration and network building,
  • foster researcher’s mobility, as well as
  • improve policy processes including technology transfer, the implementation of Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) or the development of institutional reforms at funding or implementing organisations.

The pilot activities are designed to build capacities of programme managers and administrators by jointly setting up and implementing regional programmes and learning from each other’s practices, while at the same time building capacities of final beneficiaries (e.g., in relation to industry-academia cooperation, by offering a mobility experience, providing training and exchange opportunities, etc.).

During the first 18 months of the POLICY ANSWERS project, four out of the five tasks focused on preparatory activities. Nevertheless, the participatory approach applied to all tasks already contributed to reaching some of the common objectives, such as peer-learning and capacity building.

In a nutshell, we would like to present you the activities carried out so far in the project in relation to the pilot programmes.

POLICY ANSWERS Pilot Programme 1: Regional incentives scheme supporting academia-industry links

Since the beginning of the project, the design processes of a regional incentives scheme supporting academia-industry links looked at the EU Member States’ good practices and at the WB specific context. What is more, through consultation processes with consortium partners and WBs national innovation funds, the design is heavily based on local expertise. Thus, the design of the “Western Balkans Innovation Vouchers” addressed the disparities in the local innovation ecosystems in favour of a WB Common Regional Market, at the same time taking into consideration the European best practices. Read our interview with Katarina Kreceva, former task leader from the Fund for Innovation and Technology Development of the Republic of North Macedonia (FITD) and our focus article from July 2023 to learn more about the innovation ecosystem of the region.

The concept of the Regional Innovation Vouchers outlined has the conventional aim of the EU MS innovation voucher schemes to initiate collaboration between SMEs and academia but also aims at boosting innovation in SMEs by incentivising cross-border collaborations, consequently, not only resulting in success stories to further inspire others to innovate but also in gathering information on the regional RDI market.

The number of awarded Innovation Vouchers (IV) will depend on the availability of the budget and quality of proposals, up to EUR 240.000 maximum. The implementing agency will be FITD, as a consortium partner with prior experience in implementing innovation vouchers.

POLICY ANSWERS Pilot Programme 2: Regional Mobility Scheme

POLICY ANSWERS has also been actively working on another regional programme, the Western Balkans Mobility Scheme.

In the frame of the preparatory phase, an elaborated input paper was designed in which four mobility schemes, prepared in the frame of the International Service Facility’s report “Researchers’ Mobility in the Western Balkans”, were presented and analysed according to criteria of feasibility, relevance and future possibilities.

The POLICY ANSWERS team discussed the different aspects and the pros and cons of the mobility schemes and finally selected a Research Infrastructure-Based Training and Mobility Scheme for the pilot regional mobility scheme to be further developed and implemented within the project.

Based on this decision, the preparation of the Workshop on Researchers’ Mobility to discuss the options, decide on the specificities of the scheme and identify and plan concrete steps for the subsequent development and implementation together with local actors and other stakeholders. This workshop took place back-to-back with the POLICY ANSWERS Conference on “Policy Dialogue for Aligning Priorities in the WB” on 14-15 September 2023 at the RCC premises in Sarajevo.

POLICY ANSWERS Pilot 3: Regional promotion campaign for youth

This pilot activity will take place in the next period of the project. Follow our channels for more information!

POLICY ANSWERS Pilot 4: Regional promoter scheme for research infrastructures

Research Infrastructures (RI) are proven to have a powerful social and economic impact, helping to meet global challenges and attract the best talents. One of the challenges in the Western Balkans is that outgoing mobility is higher than incoming mobility due to, among other reasons, underdeveloped research infrastructures, lack of first-class research facilities and access to the newest technologies in the region, as well as insufficient support for participation of the WB in leading core European Research Infrastructures (ERIC, ESFRI).

The primary objective of this regional platform is twofold: firstly, to enhance the visibility of ongoing efforts and activities related to RI development in the WB, and secondly, to facilitate improved access to all potential sources for their funding.

To efficiently tackle this challenge, it is essential to continuously emphasise and systematically promote the importance of RI for the Western Balkans. The concept was to identify and reward high-level RI Ambassadors to co-create a platform for RI promotion. 

The selection of the RI Ambassadors was based on a prior analysis of the most prominent RI in the region, including existing facilities, those under development, and noteworthy success stories. The selection was also based on a thematic grouping approach, ensuring a diverse representation across five domains.

For more information on the selection process and research infrastructure promoters, visit this focus article from 2022 on the WB Info Hub.

The following RI Ambassadors for the respective thematic domains were identified:

  1. Agri-Food: Highlighting the ANTARES project, still the only example of a successful project of the Teaming programme in the WB, aimed at transforming the BioSense Institute in Novi Sad, Serbia, into a European Centre of Excellence. Vesna Bengin has been appointed as the Ambassador for this domain.
  2. Health & Biotechnology: Highlighting a large-scale RI under the development, the BIO4 Campus, a multidisciplinary R&D complex dedicated to life science in Belgrade, Serbia. Smiljana Krivokuca has been appointed as Ambassador for this domain.
  3. Digital: Showcasing the RASH project, the Academic Network of Albania (NREN) in Tirana, Albania, within the GEANT/NRENSs framework. Arjan Xhelaj will be Ambassador for the digital domain.
  4. Social Sciences: Focusing on ESS ERIC, the European Social Survey infrastructure, and the broader advantages of participating in leading core European infrastructures (ERIC, ESFRI). Nenad Celarevic has been appointed Ambassador for this field.
  5. Green & Digital + Financials & Governance: Promoting the Tech4Green High Performance Computing Centre initiated by the City of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Almir Badnjevic is designated as Ambassador for this combined thematic area.

The first promotional activity for this task involved the organisation of a dedicated workshop centred on RI for the WB. The workshop was held on 14 September 2023 at the RCC premises in Sarajevo.

The workshop agenda included two dynamic sessions with nine distinguished panellists, including the RI Ambassadors. The first panel focused on “Promoting Research Infrastructures for Societal Challenges: Progress in the Development of Research Infrastructures in the Western Balkans”, while the second panel discussed “GEANT for the Western Balkans & InfraBooster Initiative Opportunities in the Region”.

During the past 18 months, POLICY ANSWERS also secured the participation of an RI Ambassador in the 2nd ESFRI Stakeholder Forum Meetup in Tenerife. This event, organised under the Spanish EU Presidency, focused primarily on three key areas: Funding, Access, and Industry and Interaction with Technology Infrastructures.

Additionally, there was a dedicated dialogue on how these topics should be incorporated into the next EC Work Programme 2025-2027 and the new Framework Programme. Almir Badnjevic, the RI Ambassador responsible for Financial & Governance, has been appointed to attend the Forum and contribute to discussions on these topics, which are relevant to the WB.

POLICY ANSWERS Pilot 5: Regional Innovation Academy

This programme aims at providing educational courses in different format (video, text, ppt) on the support of innovation activities tackling aspects related to the thematic domains of green transition, digital transformation and healthy societies. A variety of educational materials will be provided on the so called “Western Balkan Regional Innovation Academy” (WB RIA) online platform.

So far, a total of 86 educational materials were collected from all consortium partners and classified into a-priory agreed four segments of the WB RIA platform:

  • Experience sessions (34);
  • Innovation Basics (15);
  • Innovation Management (27);
  • Funding Innovation (10).

We are planning to issue videos, podcasts and more, stay tuned and check the WB Info Hub for WB RIA content!

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