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Successful centre-based collaboration between institutions and companies – but more can be achieved

The Centres for Research-based Innovation (SFI) have succeeded at competence building and researcher recruitment in areas of major importance to Norwegian trade and industry, according to a new evaluation.

The companies are very pleased, but the evaluation also states that the SFI scheme should be expanded to promote greater innovation and internationalisation, and that there is still significant unrealised potential for increasing restructuring and digitalisation.

“We have asked for input on how to expand the SFI scheme to meet the needs of a changed industrial landscape,” says John-Arne Røttingen. “R&D cooperation with universities, university colleges and research institutes is becoming more and more important for a business sector undergoing major change. The Centres for Research-based Innovation (SFI) scheme is one of the Research Council’s long-term initiatives in this area. The recent evaluation confirms that the SFI scheme plays a beneficial role in building research capacity and increasing research quality,” says John-Arne Røttingen, Chief Executive of the Research Council of Norway.

38 centres with a budget of NOK 8 billion

In the decade the scheme has existed, 38 centres have been established. The Research Council has allocated a total of NOK 3.3 billion to the centres during this period. The cumulative budget, including funding provided by the companies and research institutions, amounts to nearly NOK 8 billion. In all, some 550 actors, 70% of them companies, have taken part in centre-based activities.

“In the next phase we must build on everything that’s worked well to date and simultaneously develop the scheme further to address changes in the Norwegian business sector and realise the potential that goes along with new technology development,” says Dr Røttingen.

Input requested

The evaluation was conducted by DAMVAD Analytics in collaboration with RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge. The work is based on analysis of quantitative data, interviews, questionnaires, document studies and bibliometrics as well as workshops with participants from companies, research and industry organisations, ministries and the Research Council.

In addition to investigating whether the scheme has achieved the original objectives, the evaluation team was asked to suggest ways of adapting the scheme to changes that have occurred in society, business and research since the scheme was launched.

“The restructuring and change taking place nationally and internationally – as related to digitalisation, for example – call for new forms of collaboration between research institutions and companies and between the private and public sectors,” says Dr Røttingen.

True partnership needed

The evaluation shows that the scheme can contribute widely to innovation, commercialisation and internationalisation. It also points to a need for more and better collaboration between the companies and research institutions.

The map below shows the number of SFI centres and partners in each county and abroad.

One of the recommendations put forth in the evaluation involves the composition of the centres and the need for binding participation from companies in the early idea and application phases. Steps should also be taken to encourage the centres to challenge established business models and create a better foundation for commercialisation.

The evaluation also recommends that the scheme introduces more clearly-defined criteria and incentives for collaboration with international actors in order to promote widespread internationalisation.

Seeking dialogue about the way forward

According to the evaluation team, the SFI scheme should be used more aggressively to bring about industrial breakthroughs and to meet major societal challenges.

“We look forward to constructive external dialogue on these recommendations. It will be important for the process ahead and for the next call for proposals, which is set for the autumn. The SFI scheme must be relevant to a business sector undergoing restructuring while addressing societal challenges and increasing interaction between the private and public sectors. In the next period, the objective is for the scheme to be even more successful at bringing about and supporting transition processes in Norwegian trade and industry,” says John-Arne Røttingen.

Written by:
Karin Totland. Translation: Walter Gibbs/Carol B. Eckmann.
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