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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Innovation Nonsense: Horizon 2020

This week’s blog is a follow-up to my comments from two weeks ago when I responded to Neelie Kroes’ farewell speech as Vice President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda.

To begin, for those who are not aware, Horizon 2020 is a European Union research initiative extending over seven years, which constitutes a framework (a Framework Programme) of individual research programmes covering a diverse range of topics. Horizon 2020 is run by the European Commission, and its central theme is innovation – Europe does not have enough of this, so politicians, both elected and unelected (those who run Europe as though we were still living in the 1950s) have decreed that there shall be more innovation, and Horizon 2020 is a response to this. Innovation by decree! A very interesting idea!

Recently I had cause to read the briefing material that is supplied to experts who are invited to undertake evaluation of research proposals. I found something in this material, which I here reproduce (with additional words of explanation in brackets for the benefit of those not familiar with the jargon):

“Calls (for research proposals) are less prescriptive (than in previous Framework Programmes) – they do not outline the expected solution to the problem, nor the approach to be taken to solve it. Call/topic descriptions allow scope for applicants to propose innovative solutions of their own choice.”

The above of course is a very interesting insight into the minds of Brussels bureaucrats, who dared to believe that they knew what research programmes should be doing at the lowest levels. And, based upon over 30 years of experience of working in research and development, including much time over that period spent dealing with the European Commission, I wrote the following:

“Matters of preferred solutions and approaches will instead be imposed by our (European Commission) experts, with the result that all will be as before.”

Innovation in Horizon 2020? What a load of nonsense! Until we get rid of the experts, there will be very little innovation. Innovation by its nature challenges accepted solutions, which is what most experts carry in the minds, and finding enough people who are open enough to do what they find unacceptable according to their beliefs, is an impossible tasks. If we want innovation we need to fundamentally change proposal evaluation procedures. There is a way to do this, but no-one wants to.

What one can say about the European Commission’s evaluation procedure is this: it is an orthodox system, designed by orthodox people, to enable orthodox experts, to make orthodox comments, about what are mostly orthodox research proposals – and in those cases when proposals are not orthodox, which should imply that the orthodox experts do not understand what is before them (otherwise why would it be innovative?), to continue with their orthodoxy, and to strangle the innovation at birth.

What fool would bring their ideas to such a system? Apparently quite a lot of people! This is because their prime motivation for participating is – money. This is also a culture of dependency.

I also hasten to add that industry-driven research is often no better, for industrial people are often highly orthodox and do not know what they should be doing, for too many of them are out-of-touch, or protecting business models that are no longer relevant, or are behaving as though the future will be very similar to the past. If someone in industry did know what to do, why would they be bothering to tell the European Commission, and also, in effect, sharing their information with others in their industry?

I have a very good example of a case that illustrates very well, industry not knowing what it should be doing, while at the same time, telling the European Commission what it thinks the European Commission should be doing to support this nonsense. I will address this example in a blog in the next few weeks, for it well illustrates what is wrong with Europe, and the major components of the problem – industry, academia/research and the European Commission – otherwise known as Europe’s research and innovation system. It is also an example that demonstrates what I call the tyranny of the past.

Horizon 2020 is likely to turn out to be just another story of the emperor’s new clothes, a tale of interference in matters not fully understood by all the parties, and a narrative based on the world as it was in the past. This is how it was when I first became involved with European Commission programmes, this is how it is now, and thus will it always be so.

As I have said many times in my blogs, Europe has become like Prometheus. I even told Barroso this. But he is a technocratic politician who for 10 years occupied an unelected position as President of the European Commission, while at the same time speaking empty words about democratic values. What he really believes is: when people are allowed to choose they choose wrongly. A better title for the President of the European Commission would be Chairman of the Central Committee of the European Union Party, for their vision of Europe is a technocratic one relevant to the past – they are the past!

Goodbye Europe – hello China and India, and others too. It is time to abandon Europe to its well deserved fate.

Next week I will give an example of DG CONNECT’s Horizon 2020 nonsense. I have many more examples, some of which I have already included in past blogs, like for example, Anne Glover, who is probably the biggest nonsense in the European Commission’s history.

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