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Work program 2024

VARIO advises the Flemish Government and the Flemish Parliament on science, innovation and entrepreneurship policy. At the beginning of 2024, VARIO drew up a work program with topics for the coming working year, mainly topics that the council itself put on the agenda. In the course of the working year, new requests for advice from the Flemish Government or the Flemish Parliament may be added to the work program.

1. Concept note from the Flemish Government: 'Towards an ambitious European Industrial Policy'

On December 20, 2023, VARIO received a request for advice from the Flemish Minister of Economy, Innovation and Agriculture Jo Brouns on the concept note 'Towards an ambitious European Industrial Policy', communicated to the Flemish Government on December 15, 2023: 'This concept note sets out some strategic guidelines for a future-oriented and proactive European industrial policy. It provides a guideline for Flanders during the Belgian presidency of the Council of European Ministers and serves as input for policy debates and recommendations regarding future European industrial policy.' VARIO answered this request for advice in January.

2. Transformative innovation policy

Transformative Innovation Policy is a new generation of innovation policy and involves both transition and mission-driven innovation trajectories. It leads to economic and deep societal systemic change. But what exactly does that mean? How can Transformative Innovation Policy be given concrete shape in Flanders? What kind of policy instruments are required? What are success factors for Transformative Innovation Policy to succeed? These are some of the questions that VARIO attempted to answer in the advisory report. VARIO collaborated with the Dutch AWTI (Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation) for this trajectory. Specifically, VARIO and the AWTI jointly published a country review of Switzerland, Sweden and Austria in 2023. VARIO completed this advisory process in March.

3. ‘The future of Flemish cluster policy – Green Paper’

On 27 March 2024, VARIO received a request for advice from minister Brouns on the green paper 'The future of Flemish cluster policy', more specifically on (1) the four proposed scenarios, and the role that the current spearhead clusters can fulfil in them, and (2) whether or not there are strategically important themes missing from the existing (and in the process of being established) spearhead clusters, which can be given the opportunity to grow into spearhead clusters in new domains via a new call for Innovative Business Networks (IBN). VARIO answered this request for advice in May.

4. Four advisory reports under the umbrella theme 'sustainable economic growth'

Various 2024 advisory trajectories focus on exploring topics that VARIO highlighted as a priority for the new Flemish Government in its memorandum 2024-2029. In the memorandum, VARIO identified four ambitions to maintain and capitalize on Flanders' position as one of the most innovative regions in the world through entrepreneurship. The selected topics for 2024 fit within the fourth ambition 'Work on a sustainable and prosperous innovation economy'.

4.1 Strengthening international ambitious entrepreneurship

Complementary to foreign knowledge-intensive investments, we must continue to focus on ambitious domestically-owned companies that have the potential to grow in the longer term into international ‘flagships’ This advisory process on the importance of International Ambitious Entrepreneurship for a small region like Flanders is in line with Recommendation 5 from Advisory report 28Foreign private investments in R&D and knowledge-intensive production (d.d. June 2022). Flanders itself, unlike innovative benchmark countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden has (too) few large multinational companies of its own. This advisory process also ties in with the pursuit of open strategic autonomy and technological sovereignty. VARIO will continue this follow-up advice to Advisory Report 28 early 2024.

4.2 How to strengthen productivity growth in Flanders, taking different dimensions into account?

In its Memorandum 2024-2029, VARIO emphasizes the importance of boosting our productivity growth in a sustainable and multidimensional way by focusing on innovation as well as entrepreneurship. Productivity growth has been declining in Flanders for two decades, more than in comparable economies. Productivity growth means that the 'input' of our economy (such as labour, capital and environmental elements) results in a greater 'output' (such as gross domestic product) due to higher efficiency. Low productivity growth leads, among other things, to limited wage growth and a delay in the improvement of pensions, health care and welfare. Higher productivity growth allows more financial resources to be generated, making new investments permanently possible, especially in innovation and infrastructure, to realize sustainable transitions. The decreased productivity growth already raises two questions in relation to innovation. Through which policy interventions can new technologies and innovations be deployed to increase efficiency and therefore productivity? And to what extent is the way in which productivity is measured today adapted to a knowledge environment, a context with increasing importance of digitalization, the use of artificial intelligence, circularity and greening, etc.?

4.3 New business forms

New dynamics are at work in our society, in which commercialization and financial profitability on the one hand and social and ecological objectives on the other, i.e. profit and non-profit, have apparently come into conflict with each other. However, in its advisory report 20, VARIO already pointed out that profit and purpose are perfectly compatible. The impact of non-profit on innovation is already the subject of academic studies. In this new advisory process, VARIO wants to investigate whether companies that combine social and ecological objectives with financial profitability can be more and better stimulated and supported by the Flemish Government. In that context, the role of alternative business forms, such as Steward-Ownership, where company ownership is shared with employees and other stakeholders, will be discussed. These types of business forms can, for example, provide more stable and responsible business operations in the long run. It will also be examined whether other and/or new forms of financing are possible and appropriate, such as the use of financial resources from private individuals. This can also be generally interesting for start-ups and scale-ups.

4.4 Win-win cooperation in fast-growing low- and middle-income countries through innovation

There is tremendous dynamism and potential in many low- and middle-income countries. For example, there are great opportunities for economy, innovation and entrepreneurship in fast-growing countries on the continents of Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Given the geographical proximity, Africa in particular comes into focus for Flanders. By concentrating more on cooperation with those fast-growing countries, we can strengthen both their and our own region. In its memorandum, VARIO already cites a number of ways in which this can be done concretely, but the council would like to elaborate further on this in an advisory process. The advisory process also ties into the broader theme of internationalization that is continuously on VARIO's radar: how Flanders can learn lessons from other regions in the world to further improve its own innovation system.

5. Groundbreaking research in Flanders

In early 2023, a paper was published in Nature entitled: “Papers and patents are becoming less disruptive over time”. It showed that between 1950 and 2010, publications (and patents) produced increasingly fewer groundbreaking research that pushed science and technology in new directions: “A marked decline in disruptive science and technology over time”. This was done based on a relatively new indicator, the so-called CD index. The authors themselves explain the trend, among other things, by researchers increasingly focusing on 'smaller pieces of knowledge'. Ancillary, other, potential factors are cited including the characteristics of researchers' careers (e.g., too little opportunity for sabbaticals), science policy and the way scientific research is funded, and the focus on quantity rather than quality (publish-or-perish culture). In its advisory process, VARIO wants to investigate to what extent the same trend in scientific research is present in Flanders, and what potential underlying factors play a role. Based on this, recommendations will be formulated.

6. Joint initiative on 'STEM talent' with European STI councils

VARIO is an active member of the network of European Science, Technology and Innovation Councils. In the fall of 2023, VARIO organized the annual, formal Autumn Meeting with the chairs and director-secretaries of the advisory councils. The theme was the strategic orientation towards EU policy. During the meeting it was agreed that the advisory councils would jointly draw attention to a problem at EU level: How can we make the EU more attractive for 'STEM talent' in terms of the competitiveness of the EU as a whole compared to the rest of the world. VARIO,with its Dutch counterpart, took the initiative to draft and spread an joint statement.

7. Study Tour

VARIO is planning a study tour to the Baltic States in 2024. The purpose of such missions is to draw lessons for Flanders from other innovation systems. What can we take away as inspiration for the Flemish STI policy?

8. Annual colloquium

Each year, VARIO organizes a colloquium linked to one of VARIO’s planned advisory reports.