Project VERA: Scenarios for the European Research Area help to identify goals and work towards objectives

19.10.2015

Global markets, joint action, local solutions and different ways of dealing with crises and challenges: The European Research Area can develop into different directions; the project VERA reveals four possible futures. Under the leadership of the Fraunhofer ISI ten research institutions developed scenarios which show what this research area could look like. These scenarios have been deliberately exaggerated. They intend to offer a basis for discussion and decision support: Depending on which research area is preferred different measures have to be taken even today.

One objective of the European Union is to establish a European Research Area (ERA) where researchers as well as knowledge and technology are free to circulate – either by qualifications or pension rights which are recognized across borders, clearly regulated intellectual property rights and easy access to knowledge, data and research infrastructures. Since the turn of the millennium numerous initiatives for the integration, cooperation and coordination of national and European research activities have been created. In the past five years these have increasingly included innovation activities.

How this research area is to be further developed, for example, whether it is to be “completed“ like the European single market, is still unclear. In the face of radically changing research and innovation activities and global challenges there is also some doubt whether the ERA is well equipped for the future.

The four scenarios which were created in the project VERA (Forward Visions on the European Research Area) show different possible realities in the year 2030. Accompanying analyses show how these scenarios contribute to broad political goals, for example to maintaining and further developing a solid knowledge base, to an innovation-friendly climate or to addressing societal challenges. The project team has developed these scenarios together with different stakeholders.

Dr. Stephanie Daimer, project leader at Fraunhofer ISI, emphasizes, “It was important for us not only to involve dominant stakeholders such as the European Commission and national governments, large companies or research organizations which are organized across the EU but also interest groups which are perhaps not yet so powerful but which are very important and whose relevance will increase. These include universities and research institutes, individual researchers, young researchers, foundations and crowd funding platforms.“

The scenarios:

  1. Under the name “Private knowledge – global markets“ the first scenario shows a research area where the after affects of the economic crisis are still clearly felt. Research here is primarily financed by industry as well as sponsors and foundations, due to restrained finances public research funding is only possible to a limited extent. Consequently political actors – including EU institutions – have little influence on research priorities; instead private actors dominate the research landscape.

  2. In the scenario “Societal challenges – joint action“ impending crises threaten the standard of living in Europe, for example poor energy supply, military conflicts, consequences of climate change or pandemics. In the face of these crises the European states are cooperating closely, for example by effectively fighting tax evasion by introducing tax harmonization measures and thereby restore the situation of public finances in a sustainable manner. The European institutions have become influential key figures for research: Extensive research programs to tackle societal challenges offer numerous career prospects for young researchers – and particularly for female researchers.

  3. Political scandals – particularly in the area of data protection – and the inability of politicians to overcome the financial crisis have resulted in deep mistrust of governments in the scenario “solutions apart – local is beautiful“. Science is considered just one way of acquiring knowledge; there is a very heterogeneous research landscape with a lot of input from the population which focuses on regional solutions. The main task of the European Union is to make available the necessary infrastructures to share knowledge.

  4. The fourth scenario describes “Times of crises- experts at the wheel“. Climatic disasters have resulted in a shift in rethinking towards sustainability. Adapting to climate change has become a dominant topic in politics; science is characterized by collaboration between different disciplines and generations and plays a central role in the development and elaboration of solutions in politics and society. 

The scenarios were also implemented in a film which can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=su6_7ZqLFfI&list=PLcW7ZLQDgAg-f9Y2glon1OUXyf6kNGx-3.

The results of VERA have been already presented at the European Commission and to representatives of all European governments.  More intensive discussions are currently taking place with some governments, more presentations have been planned.

Stephanie Daimer explains, “The scenarios show that the further development of the European Research Area only partially depends on external events. It is more important how politics and society react to crises and what decisions we make today. For example, if we deal with intellectual property rights, research infrastructures or foundation law today we are de facto creating conditions which are key choices for the future. The VERA scenarios show the link between such regulatory, specific questions and different, broad political objectives. They can help to get an idea which research area one is aiming for. They can also trigger processes through which the different actors communicate about a joint vision of the future research area“. 

The project was funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research. Further information on the project VERA (Forward Visions on the European Research Area) can be found at http://www.eravisions.eu/.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.