WBC-RRI.NET Final Conference on “Sustaining Responsible Research and Innovation in the Western Balkans”

The Final Conference of the WBC-RRI.NET project titled “Sustaining Responsible Research and Innovation in the Western Balkans” took place on 8-9 February 2024 at the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Skopje, North Macedonia.

The event aimed to disseminate project results, highlight achievements, and foster discussions for the continuation of Responsible Research and Innovation efforts in the Western Balkans. Besides, to promote project achievements, have discussions about future collaboration, as well as to have a skills competition “Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in practice – a case study competition”, where selected students from the project partners countries had the chance to work in mixed teams and then to present their work in front of the attendees on the second day of the event.

During the two days, the final project event gathered 79 participants coming from the Western Balkans region and beyond, out of which 33 were male and were 46 female attendees.

The conference began with opening remarks from the hosts Prof. Radmil Polenakovikj from NCDIEL and Jana Prodanova from MASA, as well as the project coordinator Prof. Goran Stojanovic, who introduced the newly established Association for Responsible Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.

Presentation of the WBC-RRI project results and impact on the region – Key results and key findings

Representatives from all five Western Balkans territories presented the primary focus of the implemented RRI activities in each of their region, particularly on their current and expected future impact.

Kune-Vain-Tale Lagoon, Albania

  • Primary focus on:  Science Education with efforts on educating local communities on the impact of their anthropocentric interventions in the habitat, as well as on piloting an Ecosystem Service assessment as an evidence-based tool; Public Engagement by fostering a collaborative governance of the lagoon through empowering the RAPA.
  • Current impact of the activities – key achievements and challenges: First ecosystem service assessment implemented for a protected area; 200+ local stakeholders gained knowledge on the climate and anthropocentric challenges faced by the ecosystem they live in; An open knowledge platform designed and managed by RAPA; Improved science communication with local households.
  • Expected future impact of the activities: The new management plan of Kune-Vaini designed based on WBC-RRI.NET results; Furthered collaboration between CSO-s, governance institutions and HEI-s in issues pertaining to environmental/climate resilience; More open, transparent and collaborative governance institutions.

Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, Serbia

  • Primary focus on:  Public Engagement by informing citizens on the benefits of ICT, reducing the digital gap, and enhancing gender equality in the ICT sector; Open Access by improving open access to research results and effective operationalization of the open repository in the University of Novi Sad. 
  • Current impact of the activities – key achievements and challenges: Improved industry-academia cooperation through learning from each other or through joint project proposals; Maintaned and optimized open repository in the University of Novi Sad; Organized IT retraining courses for improving women’s skills;
  • Expected future impact of the activities: RRI association works in full operational capacities; Increased open repository visits,  as well as increased number  of downloads/views of uploaded publications; Training programs will be organized regularly particularly focused on vulnerable groups or unemployed females.

Republic of Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Primary focus on:  Ethics by full implementation of ethics rules and procedures missing; Science Education addressing limited science education activities in secondary schools with lack of diversity; Open Science by tackling the need for improving the open access (tangible and intangible).
  • Current impact of the activities – key achievements and challenges: Upgraded open access repository at University 0f Banja Luka; Explored ethics practices at University 0f Banja Luka  and established CoP on Academic Integrity; Directly impacted changes in grant schemes (embedding RRI keys) for research projects and support to SMEs.
  • Expected future impact of the activities: Engaging private sector into the RRI inspired activities and fostering the university-industry collaboration based on RRI principles; Continued work on promoting open science (events and training activities, upgrading of institutional repositories including the development of e-library service); Continued work on embedding ethics in institutional culture and practices through activities of the University of Banja Luka Academic Integrity Community of Practice.

Skopje Region, North Macedonia

  • Primary focus on: Science Education by overcoming digital skills gap and raising awareness of STEM/STE(A)M; Gender Equality with efforts for bringing women and students from all societal groups closer to STE(A)M activities.
  • Current impact of the activities – key achievements and challenges: Increasing awareness regarding the need for science education and women in STEM, at networking events and engagement with quadruple helix actors  for national/regional strategies development; Workshops, competitions and trainings discussing the benefits of STE(A)M disciplines inclusion in secondary and higher education; Capacity building activities and discussions to bring female students closer to ICT, and highlight the role of educators in raising awareness and motivating female representation in STEM careers.
  • Expected future impact of the activities: Collaboration between quadruple helix actors as a foundation for synergy with broader developmental goals and regional progress; Integration of STE(A)M and gender equality components into the formal educational curriculum; Partner with regional and EU entities for sustained funding. 

Country of Montenegro

  • Primary focus on: Public Engagement by engaging the citizens and the scientific community and by creation of the public engagement plan; Governance by creating of a common RRI and S3 implementation network.
  • Current impact of the activities – key achievements and challenges: Development of a threefold public engagement plan; Raised awareness of the importance of protecting key elements of the ecosystem; The key recommendation for policy development.
  • Expected future impact of the activities: Better touristic valorization; Environmental concept sustainability promotion; Continuing in promotion of the open dialogue; Finding a long-term sustainable solution. 

Opening the skills competition “Responsible Research and Innovation in practice”

Representative from NCDIEL presented an overview of the competition’s framework and outlined the tasks to be completed on both Day 1 and Day 2. Students were organized into four mixed teams, each comprising five members coming from different countries, tasked with solving a case study within a 24-hour timeframe. Throughout the duration of the competition, four mentors, including Dr. Trajce Velkovski from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Skopje, Pece Trajanovski from the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Imeldi Sokoli from Polis University (Co-Plan), and Aleksandar Argilovski from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Skopje, offered guidance and support to the participating teams. The mentors briefly introduced themselves, emphasizing their respective areas of expertise. Then, the topic of the case study that the teams had to work on was presented – Addressing the ethical issues of AI tools, bearing in mind the possibilities and risks that the use of AI carries with itself.  Following this, the students commenced their collaborative work in separate rooms, equipped with the necessary resources.

Workshop for policy paper in relation to regional innovation systems and S3

The workshop was led by Alexandra from the South-East European Research Centre (SEERC). Kejt Dharmi from Co-Plan had a presentation on S3 and the developed policy recommendations. Following the presentation, participants engaged in a discussion and exchanged valuable insights and shared experiences from their respective contexts, fostering a collaborative environment conducive to knowledge-sharing and mutual learning.

The afternoon on Day 1 was dedicated to closed sessions, including working group meetings, an external advisory board meeting, and discussions among consortium members on the sustainability of the project and potential future initiatives.

The second day continued with the public part of the final event.

Integrating WB via RRI principles

This session was led by Elke Dall, where participants were reminded of the ongoing importance of pursuing RRI, even in evolving contexts.

  • Elke Dall emphasized the European Research Area (ERA) Policy Agenda, highlighting specific actions related to Open Access, Gender, and Public Engagement as integral components of RRI. Additionally, the discussion touched upon the revision of the ERA priorities, with reports drafted for Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Notably, Macedonia’s achievements stood out, showcasing a precise action that distinguished it from other countries in the region.
  • Prof. Dr. Miroslav Veskovic from the University of Novi Sad underscored the challenge of data treatment and the need to address social issues alongside technological advancements.
  • Attendees engaged in a lively discussion, offering commentary on the updated ERA actions in light of Elke’s presentation, underscoring the significance of aligning research priorities with societal needs and resource allocation.

Synergy in Action: WBC-RRI.NET Working Groups

  • Andjela Pepic presented WG1 activities and challenges about Gender and Ethics. Some of the highlighted activities are: Discussing Ethics Governance System for RRI in higher education and research performing organisation; Exploring Ethics issues; Mapping and analysis of existing Gender Equality Plans; Gender Equality events; Gender Equality podcasts etc.
  • Desiree Pecarz, presenting the WG2 activities and outputs related to Science Education and Public Engagement. Some of the highlighted activities are: Science to Schools initiative; Citizen Science activities, RRI promotion at regional conferences; Researchers nights; Policy briefs on Public Engagement and Science Education; Engineering Creativity Centre; Raising awareness and upgrading skills for science communication; Mainstreaming Science Education for CSO-s in national open forums etc.
  • Adam Brandstetter-Kunc, presenting WG3 on Open Science and Open Access activities in the region. Some of the highlighted activities are: Overview of Open Science policies and repositories across the WB region; High level round table on the needs of the region in terms of Open Science; Mutual dialogue on future of Open Science in the region; Exchanges on the approaches towards adhering to Plan S with funders from regions; Webinars for social science students covering Open Science etc.

 Transferring lessons learnt from other initiatives to the Western Balkans

  • Dobrivoje Lale Eric, Center for the Promotion of Science (CPN), Serbia – presented the institution’s vital role as a governmental entity operating under the Ministry of Sciences since its establishment in 2010. He outlined CPN’s primary activities, emphasizing its dual function as both a promoter and a funding body. Notably, Dobrivoje highlighted a significant milestone reached in 2023 when CPN initiated the funding of citizen science projects, marking a first for the region. Dobrivoje elaborated on the goals of the Citizen Science program in Serbia, which had been integrated into the Ministry of Science’s Action plan since 2021. He delved into the details of the CS call, revealing that CPN received an impressive 127 proposals from a diverse array of stakeholders, including civil society organizations, local authorities, schools, businesses, libraries, and museums. Additionally, Dobrivoje shared information about upcoming events organized by CPN.
  • Dr. Petar Vrgovic, University of Novi Sad, Serbia – provided insights into an ongoing four-year Horizon project called REINFORCING, currently in its first year of implementation. Dr. Vrgovic elaborated on one of the project’s primary objectives: the launch of a comprehensive platform slated for March 2024. Furthermore, Dr. Vrgovic outlined the project’s cascade funding mechanism, which encompasses both Small Grants (Boosters) and Large Grants (Incubators). Notably, Dr. Vrgovic highlighted the significance of the three Incubator calls scheduled for March 2024, July 2024, and July 2025, emphasizing that these calls are tailored to support actions aimed at implementing R&I initiatives rather than funding research and innovation projects directly.
  • Gabriela Kostovska Bogoeska, Foundation for Management and Industrial Research, North Macedonia – introduced the Policy Answers project, a Horizon Europe initiative spanning 48 months and involving 14 partner organizations, with ZSI serving as the coordinator. The overarching goal of the project is to facilitate policy dialogue within the WB region, focusing on capacity building, formal meetings, monitoring, and mapping activities. Additionally, Gabriela explained the Gender Mainstreaming and Inclusiveness (GM&I) guidelines and the methodology adopted by the project, including the mapping process and upcoming webinars aimed at furthering engagement and inclusivity within the project and organization.
  • Trajce Velkovski, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Skopje, North Macedonia – presented the “GREENOVET – European VET Excellence Platform for Green Innovation” project. This initiative aims to enhance Vocational Education and Training Excellence in Green Innovation across Europe, fostering an innovative, inclusive, and sustainable economy. Through the establishment of Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) in four regions – Styria (Austria), Leiria (Portugal), Vaasa (Finland), and the Skopje Region (North Macedonia) – the project facilitates the interconnection of European VET schools on regional, national, and transnational levels.

Pitching: Skills competition “Responsible Research and Innovation in practice”

The event concluded in a pitching session where student teams showcased their innovative solutions to the case study presented during the skills competition. Each team presented their ideas and strategies, highlighting their unique approaches to addressing the challenges outlined in the case study. Following the presentations, the winning team was announced, selected based on the quality and effectiveness of their solutions as well as the clarity and persuasiveness of their presentations. The winning team was celebrated and awarded for their outstanding achievement, marking the successful conclusion of the competition segment of the event.

Overall, the Final Conference “Sustaining Responsible Research and Innovation in the Western Balkans” successfully achieved its objectives of sharing project outcomes, fostering collaboration, and inspiring continued efforts in promoting RRI in the region. The establishment of the Regional Association and discussions on future initiatives signaled a promising future for responsible research and innovation in the Western Balkans.

Related posts:

We are always here to talk!

Contact us