On February 18, 2014, Cabinet endorsed Malta’s new National Research and Innovation Strategy 2020. This document sets out Malta’s research and innovation strategy for the forthcoming seven year period. Recognising the progress made over the last years and acknowledging that there is still a way to go in achieving the objectives set out in the 2007-2010 R&I Strategic Plan, the ultimate goal of this Strategy remains that of embedding research and innovation at the heart of the Maltese economy to spur knowledge-driven and value-added growth and to sustain improvements in the quality of life.
The Mission of this strategy is to provide an enabling framework for achieving this vision, building on past achievements as well as lessons learnt along the way. This Strategy and its implementation do not, by themselves, provide all the building blocks of a knowledge-based economy but are a crucial step towards this. The achievement of this stated Mission depends on putting in place the necessary ‘building blocks’, identified as the three goals of:
1. A comprehensive R&I support ecosystem – The achievement of this goal would be an important building block towards Malta’s transformation to a knowledge economy as it would facilitate innovative ventures to take shape and flourish. This support ecosystem would be independent of thematic specialisations, thus providing a baseline level of support for all players and embedding flexibility to support any new specialisation areas which emerge over time.
2. Investing in a stronger knowledge base – The achievement of the second goal is to be seen as a longer-term investment, the fruits of which may or may not be reaped within the timeframes of this Strategy. This goal balances the overarching orientation of this Strategy towards close-to-market R&D and innovation by building capacity and excellence in the earlier stages of the R&D process. Given the magnitude of investments required and resource limitations, priority should be focused on identified thematic specialisations.
3. Smart, flexible specialisation – This goal targets the establishment of a knowledge-based economy by prioritising its achievement in a number of thematic areas. It is a very innovation-oriented approach which however does not exclude the involvement of research activities. In addition, the prioritisation of long-term investments in a stronger knowledge base in identified thematic areas serves to embed stronger foundations over the longer term, thus consolidating the knowledge base of these thematic areas.
The Strategy also includes the mechanism for communication management and co-design of implementing measures among different stakeholders, knowledge-based policy design as well as monitoring and review. To this end, the Strategy identifies a set of seven indicators (balanced between input and output indicators) to monitor performance in implementing the Strategy effectively. This Strategy will be complemented by a separate, rolling R&I Action Plan involving all relevant stakeholders to identify, agree and implement measures addressing the Strategy’s principles while ensuring clear ownership and budgetary sources, coherence and value for money.
In June 2014, the Malta Council for Science and Technology launched the National Research and Innovation Strategy 2020, which set out Malta’s strategy for the forthcoming seven-year period. A conscious decision was made to separate the strategic vision from the rolling R&I Action Plan, which aims to implement the action lines identified in the Strategy. Hence, this document will be establishing a suitable policy mix, and the integrating the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. The Action Plan is a living document, and will be regularly updated. It will evolve according to the outcomes of the monitoring and evaluation process.
In 2014 a consultation process was launched to identify which measures already in place or in the pipeline, address the action lines of the strategy. The process involved an initial online exercise where feedback was requested by email, followed by meetings with over 20 entities and ministries. Thereafter a list of measures that could potentially address and implement the strategy was drawn up. The process was carried out 3 times in total from February 2014 to February 2015, to ensure that the latest information was available, that the ministries were properly engaged, and also to give time for the stakeholders to develop their plans further and concretise their measures, timelines and budgets.
As part of the monitoring mechanism being set up to oversee the implementation of the Strategy and roll out of the Action Plan, two groups were set up: the Steering Group and Core Group. The groups started meeting since the inception of the drafting of the Research and Innovation Action Plan. The Core Group meets at Permanent Secretary level and is responsible for deciding on priorities for action as well as timeframes, resources and budgets on the basis of recommendations made by the Steering Group. The Steering Group meets at the level of Heads of Public Entities and Organisations or their high-level delegates.
In the last quarter of 2014, the Steering Group and Core Group started meeting regularly, to begin filtering the measures and identifying those that could stimulate R&I and help achieve the 7 ambitious targets set in Chapter 9 of the Strategy. In parallel, several informal meetings with civil society and the private sector were held, mainly to remain informed about developments in the sectors and keep all stakeholders engaged in the process. MCST received nearly 200 suggestions in total from the ministries and entities, which through the established governance and monitoring system, were narrowed down to 53 initiatives.
In 2015 MCST organised another round of focus groups as part of the ongoing entrepreneurial discovery process which engages academia, business, government and civil society as part of the Smart Specialisation Strategy. These focus groups aimed to identify key stakeholders, the value chain of the projects, and complementarities between measures. The process has enabled further sub-specialisation and the identification of Malta’s niche areas in the European and/or internationalisation arena. Through the assistance of the European Commission’s Policy Support Facility, MCST received recommendations on key performance indicators and guidance on how to set up a monitoring mechanism for the Strategy’s implementation. MCST is presently going through the preparatory phase of setting up the mechanism and will continue working in 2017 on its setting up and implementation. Malta’s R&I Action Plan was approved by the European Commission in 2016.
In line with the drive to build a strong European economy capable of competing in an increasingly globalised work, the Europe 2020 Strategy, launched in 2010, called for the completion of the European Research Area (ERA) through the Innovation Union Flagship Initiative, thus reconfirming Europe’s commitment to the achievement of a unified area where knowledge and information flows freely and where talent is nurtured and knowledge exploited for the benefit of society and the economy.
Subsequently, the February 2014 Competitiveness Conclusions on the 2013 ERA Progress Report called for the Member States to develop an ERA Roadmap at European level by mid-2015 through the European Research & Innovation Area Committee (ERAC) in order to identify and target those top actions which would have the greatest impact and success towards the full realisation and implementation of a fully functioning ERA. Following the adoption of the ERAC Opinion on the European Research Area Roadmap 2015-2020, a further set of Council Conclusions (May 2015) on the Roadmap called on Member States to implement the top action priorities identified in the ERA Roadmap through action plans or strategies by mid-2016. The preparation of National ERA Roadmaps was encouraged and supported by ERAC within the context of Member State ownership, in order to tailor each national roadmap to the realities and priorities of the Member States. Thus while the ERA Roadmap identified EU high level priorities and top actions, it was recognised that national research and innovation systems across Europe have different characteristics and so each Member State can tailor its ERA Roadmap to its own needs.
Malta’s National ERA Roadmap is a complementary document to the National Research and Innovation Strategy and Action Plan 2020. Malta’s R&I Strategy reiterates Malta’s commitment to the achievement of a well-functioning European Research Area, recognising that this represents an opportunity to capitalise on the strength of the single market. Therefore, several of the ERA priorities are already echoed in the National Strategy and have been translated into actions which fit Malta’s contextual framework. Thus, in a sense, Malta’s R&I Strategy already provided a lot of the context for the preparation of Malta’s National ERA Roadmap.
Nonetheless, in 2016, the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST), the body responsible for the drafting of the Strategy, Action Plan and ERA Roadmap, engaged with key stakeholders and the delegates on the ERA-related groups, to ensure a concerted approach to the development of Malta’s ERA Roadmap and to mobilise players towards the forthcoming implementation phase.