The European Commission’s recently adopted – New European Innovation Agenda – sets out a number of key actions to further the development of innovation ecosystems in Europe. As the communication rightly highlights, un-tapping Europe’s innovation potential presents a key hurdle to overcome in the bid to effectively navigate the twin green and digital transitions and to identify effective solutions to the most pressing societal and economic challenges.
Based on a range of core pillars, the initiative takes aim at a number of bottlenecks inherent in the current innovation landscape including: lack of synergies between existing policy and funding instruments, asymmetries between different innovation actors, innovation divides between regions and Member states, and overly-complicated and ineffective financing mechanisms.
While acknowledging the relevance of the issues highlighted in the communication and the basic premise that Europe can do more to unleash its innovative potential, it is regrettable that the problems identified are not matched with a more holistically grounded set of solutions. This is, in part, an issue of conceptualisation.
The conceptualisation of innovation upheld in the communication is largely oriented towards technological development and deployment, with much attention given to deep tech start-ups and their financing. Additional references to diversifying suppliers, markets and businesses, and a significant emphasis on competitiveness, indicates an over-emphasis on innovation as a new market potential to tap but with little reference to solving our social and environmental problems.
As LLLP argued in a recent position paper, Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Societies, innovation is rooted in the co-creation and transfer of knowledge that generates social, economic and environmental benefits by means of novel approaches, ideas or ways of organising. While technological solutions are indeed an important part of this process, it is just as likely for social innovation and social entrepreneurship, or for perspectives from the Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts, to support the unleashing of Europe’s innovative potential. A radical reconceptualisation of what innovation entails is required. One that finally recognises the contribution and value of different stakeholders. Only then can the NEIA begin to achieve what it sets out to do.