In my current role with the Digital Agenda I think a lot about innovation.
The Internet enables a whole new kind of innovation: using new networks like collaborative platforms, or new techniques like data-mining.
But innovation and research are also what enables the digital revolution in the first place – by helping create the technologies, the devices, the networks, and the business models that underpin the digital revolution.
EU funding supports much of that research and innovation – like for the micro- and nano-electronics chips that sit under the bonnet of so much new innovation; or technologies like photonics and robotics that can help us out in fields from manufacturing to healthcare.
The next generation of EU research support, Horizon 2020, makes it easier to seek funding, easier to bring good ideas to market, and easier for Europe to invest in innovation for the future. And our proposal would offer €80 billion in investment, around one fifth of which for ICT.
But I’ve been thinking about how we can make that support for ICT even more effective: more challenging and disruptive, more coherent, and better able to boost Europe’s competitiveness. And today I unveiled some detailed ideas for how we do that:
- to make research and innovation support more challenging, like by setting aside funds specifically for open, disruptive innovation of the kind that can really challenge and change things; prizes for those who solve major challenges; using public procurement to stimulate innovation (while saving taxpayers’ money); and being more responsive in how we manage, prioritise or halt projects.
- to make it more coherent, we need to break free of subject silos. Think of smart cities, where solutions aren’t just confined to one box, but could solve environmental, transport, social and industrial goals. So I think we should have more “open calls” that aren’t tied down to a single “social challenge”. Plus I want more open innovation, getting feedback and peer review at every stage of the innovation process; and more policy coherence too (like looking at the copyright rules that inhibit powerful techniques like data-mining).
- and so that research and innovation boosts competitiveness, we should get businesses and investors involved more fully and earlier on, to ensure we translate our efforts into real products, services and jobs. And help smaller businesses, too: because they’re the real engine of innovation in our economy.
Research and innovation can power our future; they are the best way to invest in future growth and jobs. We do it better if we work together as the EU – allowing significant economies of scale, given that benefits often spill across borders. And in a changing world, we can do it better still with a transformed approach to ICT research and innovation—starting from now.