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Lombardy seeks science and technology experts

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The Lombardy region is looking to boost research and innovation in science and technology. To do so, it has launched a high-level regional forum that will provide input to the Regional Council.

The Lombardy region of Northern Italy has nearly 10 million residents. Its capital, Milan, is known as a fashion center. The region’s economic base, however, is mainly in agriculture, manufacturing, and exports. For several years, the Regional Council, Lombardy’s governing body, has focused attention, laws, and resources on open innovation in science and technology. The drive for innovation is motivated by the region’s desire to maintain its position as a major force in the Italian economy. Activities are based on a quadruple helix model adopted by the Council, with decisions and policies based on input from a network of sources representing the government, academia, business and industry, and the public.

The Regional Council is offering a rare opportunity to science and technology experts. It is launching a Regional Forum on Research and Innovation, and recruiting applicants from around the world. Responsibilities of Forum members will include promoting diverse debate about the role of science and technology in society, and advising the Council on activities and policies that foster innovation to enhance Lombardy’s economy and quality of life.

Research and innovation as a regional priority

Roberto Albonetti, director general for University, Research and Open Innovation in Lombardy, explains that the Forum is part of a regional legislative priority established in 2014. Laws and policies have promoted local development, especially of the micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises that are already a main economic driver in the region. According to Albonetti, the Regional Council has provided resources such as financial and educational support, with the goal of “supporting growth by appealing to our strengths, but also by turning weaknesses into opportunities, for instance by capitalizing on the different forms of creativity, knowledge, and skills within the territory and supporting new, globally competitive value chains for new market opportunities.”

The open innovation initiative in Lombardy is founded in the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3), which include reports on the region’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas of opportunity from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OECD notes Lombardy’s resilience after the 2008 global economic crisis, including a gross domestic product per capita that is 35 percent higher than the European average and relatively low unemployment. OECD recognizes that Lombardy is transitioning from an industrial to a more service-focused and knowledge-based economy. It recommends specific actions, for example in education and entrepreneurship, to maintain the region’s successful position in Italy and the European Union (EU).

The Open Innovation Platform is a model that encourages broad input into innovation projects, promoting discussions among representatives of government, industry, academia, and the public.

Lombardy has a well-developed higher education system with 13 academic institutions, a school for advanced studies, and substantial academic research funding. The region’s government also boasts specific research strengths in health, energy and environment, advanced manufacturing, food, and information and communications technology. These assets form part of the foundation for the development of the local labor market and economy.

RIS3 outlines how interactions among research, industry, and startups can drive the continued growth of Lombardy and its surrounding territory. RIS3 lists specialized areas in which the region has an established presence, and others where it can contribute to emerging sectors. Existing regional strengths include the aerospace and agrifood industries; advanced manufacturing; creative and cultural enterprises such as design, music, and entertainment; sustainable transportation in the automotive and boating industries; and health care, including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and medical device development. RIS3 also extends beyond economics. To support innovative growth, other planks of the strategy include promoting the attractions of Lombardy’s cities and culture. “The Lombardy Region policy goes toward change management: business support schemes are changing, research and innovation is valued, and internationalization is turned into a great opportunity for growth,” says Raffaele Cattaneo, president of the Lombardy Regional Council. Cattaneo made the comments in a statement for the European Committee of the Regions, an EU assembly of local and regional authorities, of which he is a member.

Encouraging stakeholder input

To promote innovation in Lombardy’s established industries, RIS3 employed two relevant tools in the region, the first called “technological clusters,” and the second, the “Open Innovation Platform.” Lombardy created nine technological clusters: in agrifood; aerospace; green chemistry; energy, construction, and environment; smart factories; land and sea mobility; life sciences; smart community technology; and living environment technology. Businesses and research centers within the clusters receive operational and organizational support from the Regional Council for moving discoveries into the international market.

The Open Innovation Platform is a model that encourages broad input into innovation projects, promoting discussions among representatives of government, industry, academia, and the public. Specific discussions, for example, may occur around proposals to the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), which provides EU-level networking support for small and medium-sized enterprises interested in entering the global market.

The regional government seeks input, guidance, and recommendations on policies in a variety of areas, from personalized medicine to cybersecurity.

The Platform includes a public website with opportunities for business people, researchers, and citizens who are the end users of innovation products. Anyone with an interest in the open innovation model can share thoughts on the Platform about RIS3 topics and EEN project proposals. Since the Platform was inaugurated, it has logged nearly 6,800 users in 1,000 discussions and more than 200 proposals for collaborations.

Collaborations among partners from universities, research centers, and small, medium, and large businesses can get project support through a €106 million (US$126 million) fund. Lombardy plans to fund 32 collaborative projects that advance a process or product innovation. Other instruments to encourage collaborations with concrete innovation goals include new research contracts to keep researchers in Italy, and the European School of Oncology’s Umberto Veronesi Memorial Award, given in the name of the school’s founder to honor the work of an internationally recognized life science researcher.

The Lombardy Regional Forum on Research and Innovation

Lombardy is now taking the next step in its innovation strategy—forming an advisory group of experts on the impact that science and technology innovation have on society and the economy. The group of 10 consulting experts will form the Lombardy Regional Forum on Research and Innovation. Members of this independent scientific body will serve for three years and will be compensated with a generous €30,000 (US$35,000) annual stipend.

The stated goal of the Forum is to bring the expertise of top global innovators to Lombardy. The regional government seeks input, guidance, and recommendations on policies in a variety of areas, from personalized medicine to cybersecurity.

In the spirit of Lombardy’s open innovation model, the Forum will feature professionals from diverse areas: responsible research and innovation; science and technology studies; public communication of science; participative and deliberative methods; public engagement; social innovation; social impact and its assessment; sociology of risk; sociology of science; technology assessment and governance; open innovation, science, and data; data ethics; and bioethics.

Director general Albonetti says the functions of the Forum will include “fostering public debate and monitoring changes in public opinion on the societal impact of science and technology, providing the Regional Executive and Regional Council with guidance and information on research investments and innovation programs, and working with regional and international institutions to promote the transfer of research results to economic development.” He emphasizes that responsible, sustainable research and innovation is a priority for Lombardy.

“The first growth factor in a dynamic and competitive system like Lombardy’s is knowledge,” according to Luca Del Gobbo, Lombardy’s regional minister for University, Research and Open Innovation. “The Forum will be an important support for the public debates that will involve representatives of the research and innovation system, but also all the citizens.” 

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