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On societal challenges and innovation

Bjarne Kirsebom

Chief Adviser European & International Affairs
Ministry of Education & Research

To state that the European - indeed the global -society is facing major challenges is to state the obvious. Nowadays. Only 10 years ago not even climate change was universally accepted as a problem. Since then it has been understood and a number of other developments are also identified as having the character and scope for negative change in our society: the ageing society, migration as a solution as well as a challenge in itself, food and water supply, pandemics, energy, security, and more to come.

What do these examples have in common, apart from magnitude and character? To achieve solutions we need more knowledge. Yes, we need research. Efforts in a scale which matches the scope of the challenges, a scale which is beyond the means of one single state. But research in itself is obviously not enough. The transfer of new (or for that matter old....) knowledge into practical use calls for strategies, plans and actions for implementation. Innovation agendas in two words.

In this perspective, the question for me is not if we need innovation agendas or not. The answer to that one is an unequivocal YES. A more complex one is of course how they should be brought about, definitions of scope, division of responsibilities, etc.

During the Swedish Presidency of the EU the focus was very clearly set on mobilizing European research and innovation to find and implement the solutions to the grand challenges. The Lund declaration, delivered at the Presidency conference New Worlds- New Solutions in July 2009, provided the basis for conclusions in the Competitivness Council in December. It was a very clear starting signal, but indeed the practical results are still to be delivered.

Agreements must be reached on how to define the challenges and how to prioritize among them. Obviously a very close interaction is needed between the European and Member States (MS). A few MS are well under way in defining agendas - obviously the Netherlands - and can give important input to the corresponding tools that must be developed on the European level. In Sweden we are currently defining our most urgent societal challenges. We are at the same time reflecting on how future identification activities should be geared. Stakeholders in the public sector and business sector are actively engaged. We intend to contribute to the further European process.
Ideally, we'll be able to develop priorities and agendas as Chinese boxes: the biggest obviously being the European one, filled with MS boxes of various sizes.

In the implementation of the innovation agendas for societal challenges we'll need a close interaction between research, education and innovation.

To fully use the combined strength of the Knowledge Triangle is another major challenge for Europe. It calls for systemic and continuous interaction both in policies and on the operational level. It certainly calls for public private partnerships.

There is no lack of challenges ahead of us - and they all represent opportunities.

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