Laura Dawson, Strategic Communications and Engagement Manager, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research
As the research community across the UK and across Europe are still uncertain about the impact that Brexit might have on their future interactions and collaborations, last week it fell to Manchester, the current European City of Science, to host the EuroScience Open Forum 2016. The halls of Manchester Central filled with an audience eager to sample the best of European science, and to discuss opportunities and policies for the future, yet at the same time apprehensive about what the outcome of the UK’s EU referendum might mean for a sector in which the UK has been so strong, and for which cross border collaboration is so crucial.
The message from Manchester was unequivocal – the University and the City are proudly European, and remain very much open to partners and friends across the channel and around the world. This came across all week, with the European Commissioner, Carlos Moedas, declaring it ‘the best conference I have ever attended.’ ESOF2016 was upbeat, cosmopolitan and, well, very Mancunian!
The Manchester Institute of Innovation Research has been heavily involved in the organisation of the ESOF programme (with Luke Georghiou an ESOF Champion, Paul Cunningham the Programme Manager, and Lisa Dale-Clough a Science Programme Officer), and we were delighted to take part across a number of sessions, and to take the chance to meet with old and new contacts involved with science and innovation across Europe, and also across the globe. These are, indeed, interesting times for the policy commentators, researchers and practitioners in this area, and this was a great opportunity to catch up with partners and networks.
Sally Randles led sessions, along with Philip Shapira, on Responsible Research and Innovation which provided a chance to remind participants of their obligations to wider society in their work, and to promote good practice. Philip Shapira also took part in several discussions of new technologies such as synthetic biology which served to highlight the opportunities and challenges in developing and exploiting innovative methods and ideas. The structures for supporting innovation were investigated in a session with Lisa Dale-Clough, as were a range of approaches to research, and to the funding of that research involving Luke Georghiou and Maria Nedeva . Both past and future loomed large, with an analysis of how heritage is used to sell scientific potential today, chaired by Kieron Flanagan, alongside an Eu-SPRI debate, chaired by Jakob Edler, on radical ideas for the future of global science policy. And, sitting on the interdisciplinary judging panel at the Falling Walls Manchester Lab, Kieron Flanagan and Andrew James assessed innovative research, business models, projects and ideas from academics, entrepreneurs and professionals to go forward to the final in Berlin
Amid the conference, the Institute also hosted, along with colleagues in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, the annual Fred Jevons Science Policy Lecture. Delivered this year by the former Minister for Universities and Science, Lord Willetts of Havant, the lecture was a timely consideration of the role of science in a national industrial strategy. With the new Prime Minister committed to framing an industrial strategy – to the extent that has even been added to the name of the government department responsible for funding research and supporting business – Lord Willetts reflected on his experience in government of working towards such a strategy, and pinpointed some of the weaknesses of the current research and innovation ecosystem in being able to deliver an effective industrial policy. In the coming months, as the newly constituted department settles down, it will be interesting to see how policy develops to stimulate innovation and industry.
ESOF 2016 highlighted that innovation is crucial to both the UK and the EU – together, apart, and in partnership. We at the Institute will be continuing to investigate policy in this space, be that theory, conception, implementation or practice. We wait to see what the next few years will bring.