The aim of this method is to allow stakeholder input during the ‘Calls for Projects’ process. This would allow stakeholders to propose specific selection criteria and feedback during the overall process. This method could be considered to be part of a wider open consultation framework, adopted by the EU that incorporates stakeholders’ active interaction with the regional or national authorities. As a result, such a consultative process could increase the effectiveness of the resulting RIS3 actions, by making them meet more responsively the regional policy needs and by strengthening stakeholders’ participation in the submission of projects for support. This method aims to facilitate the RIS3 Action Plan implementation, in terms of preparing and assessing Calls for Projects.
In general, the term ‘stakeholder consultation’ refers to the interaction with stakeholders during processes of evaluation or preparation of policy initiatives, as well as implementation of existing interventions. In this case, we choose to focus on stakeholders’ participation throughout the Call for Projects process.
This method offers stakeholders the ability to interact with the Call for Projects, during the preparation stage, proposing evaluation criteria that could be included. Its additional value rises especially in the cases of projects related to highly specialized areas that might require increased scientific or technical knowledge, in order to prepare the selection criteria for the projects. For example, if the Call for Projects addresses a very specific topic such as: “The effect of climate change on Arctic permafrost and its socio-economic impact, with a focus on coastal areas” (http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/portal/desktop/en/opportunities/h2020/topics/bg-11-2017.html), then it would be much easier for regional authorities, which might not have the appropriate knowledge base for this topic, to interact with certain specialized stakeholders for preparing the selection criteria for the projects.
Throughout a consultation strategy design process, there are 4 key stages including: 1) the objective setting; 2) the stakeholders’ definition; 3) the selection of the methods and the tools; and 4) the consultation data management system (EC, 2015). Given the fact that the first stage referring to the objectives’ setting has been already set in the phase of Call preparation, during a previous Phase in the RIS3 strategic planning process, the other three stages should be implemented within this method.
Focusing on stage 3, the most appropriate consultation methods and tools depend on the objectives of the consultation, the identified stakeholders, the nature of the initiative as well as required time and resources. There is a large number of methods that could be used, corresponding to a variety of stakeholder consultation tools. These might include: open public online consultation, open public online consultation – consultation website template, surveys, Eurobarometer surveys, stakeholder conferences / public hearings / events, stakeholder meetings/workshops/seminars, focus groups, interviews, Commission expert groups/similar entities, SME panels, consultations of local/regional authorities (networks of the Committee of the Regions), questionnaires, online discussion fora/interactive online tools.
The purpose of the stakeholder consultation process covers three main domains: i) informing; ii) seeking views; and iii) participation and partnership. The selection of the appropriate consultation tool should be based first on the type of Call, and second on the extent to which regional authorities would like stakeholders’ participation to be embedded within the process of Call preparation. The selected method could be implemented as an online tool to manage and assess RIS3 project proposals. Through this tool those managing the Calls for projects and the stakeholders participating in the process would be able to communicate and interact with each other.
By implementing the Calls-for-Projects consultation method, it will be possible for regions and stakeholders to better communicate with each other regarding what they expect from the RIS3 actions. Promoting a constructive dialogue between them, the Call-for-Projects process could be properly designed in order to properly specify the criteria for project selection, so that they are best fitted to both sides: those that call for projects and those that take part in them. This would positively impact on the effectiveness and ease of implementing RIS3, by facilitating regions to call for projects that best fit their priority setting that has resulted from shared vision and strategy formulation under the RIS3 framework.
For implementing this method, information regarding the priority setting from Phase 4, as well as the shared vision and the strategy formulation, coming from Phase 3, is required. Moreover, information regarding the calls for projects is also needed, in the form of draft texts, so that participating stakeholders can have a solid basis upon which they can share their proposals and thoughts.
All data will be produced by the participants during the consultation process. Additional data that would be useful would include similar actions implemented in other EU regions, and assessments of actions which might inform stakeholders about the impact and challenges of similar actions in other regions. The following section provides a practical example for implementing the Calls consultation method in the field, using stakeholder meeting as the main implementation tool.
A practical example from the Region X
A technical meeting for the finalisation of the 1st call of proposals on innovation, research and development for enterprises, OP of the Region X, 2014-2020, took place in the summer of 2016. In the technical meeting more than 50 representatives from companies, university and research labs, and the public administration were invited. It was organised by the Special Managing Service of the Regional Operational Programme of Region X and concerned the discussion and feedback on the forthcoming call of the ROP «Investment Plans for Research, Innovation and Business Development», Investment Priority 1b.1.1.
Following a welcome by the chair of the Regional Research and Innovation Council and reference to the RIS3 by the Special Managing Service, the technical meeting took place in three sessions:
- Presentation of the main features of the forthcoming call, which was targeted at the chemical and polymer materials industries, and the criteria for the assessment and selection of investment projects.
- Comments by representatives of the DG Regio G5.
- Comments and suggestions on the call by participants in the meeting.
In the first session, a presentation of the forthcoming call was made. The Call was 60 pages of text describing:
- The legislative – regulatory framework for implementation of action
- The identity of action
- Bodies implementation of action
- Eligible activities
- Eligible expenditure – budget operations
- Eligible expenditure
- Budget projects – implementation period
- Financing scheme
- Procedure and receiving funding request
- Documents and information for the assessment of funding applications
- Criteria & process assessment – approval of operations
- Bodies assessment funding applications
- Evaluation process – evaluation criteria
- Appeals process
- Approval of operations
- 11 procedure implementation – monitoring of operations
- Settlement costs of implementation
- Monitoring acts; checks – certificates
- Payment of aid
- Procedure changes
- Completion of operations
- Beneficiaries obligations and review compliance
- Test compliance obligations of beneficiaries
During the second session of the meeting, the comments by representatives of DG Regio focused on the need (1) to make an explicit reference to the RIS3 Action Plan and the RIS3 action to be implemented through this call, (2) to make clear the connection of the call and the EDP workshop on Chemicals and Polymers that was held earlier in the Region X, (3) to specify segments of the chemical, rubber and plastics industries should have priority, (4) to define the precise meaning of “applied research and development”, “experimental development” and “innovation” given the different levels of co-funding in these categories, (5) to assess the contribution of proposals to output indicators and regional innovation performance indicators, (6) limit the funding on building and premises below the foreseen 35%, and (7) use more output and result indicators (four and one only) to assess the impact of the call.
In the third session, the discussion with the participants, mainly those coming from the industry, was detailed and covered most of the meeting. It focused on the following subjects:
- Industries to be supported: The use of NACE codes (20-Manufacture of chemicals and chemical products, and 22-Manufacture of rubber products and plastics) to define enterprises eligible for support was received very well, especially for its clarity. Additionally, it was asked (1) including industries that produce polymer products falling in other than 20 and 22 groups (e.g. 13.9 Manufacture of other textiles), (2) defining whether the group codes refer to industrial permissions or categories of financial activity, and (3) defining the time limit that a company may register additional activity codes (e.g. till the opening of the call / file submission/ 31-12-2014/ other).
On the contrary, the reference to the value chain (justify the contribution of proposals to the value chain of chemicals and polymer materials) was seen as unclear and imprecise. While in Annex 4, detailed information is provided on 3- and 4-digit eligible manufacturing activities, the use of the value chain does not clarify whether a proposed investment project would be eligible. Moreover, it was observed that references to value chains makes the use of NACE groups unnecessary, since a value chain may comprise many industry groups, from agriculture, to utilities, and retail.
- Conditions and intensity of support: The conditions for support, from the state-aid regime point of view were discussed, in particular those concerning non-eligible enterprises, faulting enterprises, bankrupt enterprises, obligation of location premises not headquarters in the Region X, etc.; those concerning the spending period; and the minimum funding support. Also the different rates of funding were discussed per type of research and size of company.
The demarcation lines between “industrial / applied research”, “experimental development” and “innovation” were seen as unclear, especially the justification of new vs. existing knowledge and skills for product development / improvement (innovation). There is a need for very experienced assessors to judge the industrial limits between applied research and experimental development.
The purpose of including feasibility studies in the investment plan was clarified, as studies concerning the valorization / exploitation of the R&D than feasibility studies for the proposed research and innovation. In addition, the meaning of open science criteria was explained, as using them may increase the level of funding.
- Eligible categories of funding and ceiling per category: The table of funding categories and max funding per category was extensively discussed. It was admitted that (1) a minimum ceiling to personnel spending should be defined, e.g. 25% of total cost, which guaranties that the produced research and skills will remain in the beneficiary enterprise; (2) spending for buildings and premises should concern only internal refurbishment related to research and pilot units and co-funding rate should be lower; and (3) spending for subcontracting and purchase of technology should not lead to “buy” rather than “produce” research and innovation.
- Assessment process and criteria: The four stages of assessment were presented. The inclusion in the assessment criteria of (a) orientations from the EDP workshop realised earlier in the Region, and (b) criteria related to innovativeness of proposed investments, contribution to regional innovation performance, and generation of knowledge-intensive employment was discussed.
Assessment criteria related to employment creation are included in Stage B; and might also be part of Stage C, as generation of knowledge-intensive employment. Criteria related to targeting new market opportunities are included in Stage C; might also be related to EDP workshop conclusions. For successful projects, the assessment should be extended at the implementation period, which would enable corrective actions before the end of the project and the period of eligible expenses.
- Required documents for the assessment of funding applications: Fourteen justification documents were requested to be submitted, together with the application form. Clarifications related to these documents was an important part of the meeting,. It was asked that these documents would be simplifed and reduced as much as possible at the submission stage. A more complete justification should then be required at a later stage from those enterprises positively assessed for funding.
Overall, the technical meeting was a fruitful and informative meeting. The need for a second round of EDP, focusing on the calls for investment and support, was fully justified. The Special Managing Service of the ROP invited the participating companies and research labs to send additional material and comments before the finalisation of the call to be expected by September 2016.
Step 1: Selection of stakeholders to be invited
Starting from the stakeholders’ mapping, this part targets to identify the basic categories of stakeholders, based on their level of interest and influence on the specific Call. According to the Better Regulation “Toolbox”, there are six steps/questions for stakeholder identification:
- Who is directly impacted?
- Who is indirectly impacted?
- Who is potentially impacted?
- Whose help is needed to make it work?
- Who thinks they know about the subject?
- Who will show an interest in the subject?
Step 2: Selection of consultation mode
Method: Regarding the consultation method, a choice should be made on whether it is going to be open to the public or targeted. Although open public consultations can foster transparency and accountability, and ensure the broadest public validation and support for an initiative, targeted consultation might better fit the concept of calls for projects, as it allows more focused interactions or dialogue and may tap expertise more efficiently, in particular when dealing with a very specific or technical subject.
Tool: the choice of the appropriate consultation tools should take into consideration some basic principles, including: proportionality, the degree of interactivity needed, accessibility and time restrictions. In practice, a hybrid tool including physical presence and online platforms could be a very good solution for implementing this method.
Step 3: Definition of call assessment criteria under the RIS3 framework
An assessment grid for evaluating the consistency between the proposed Call of projects and the RIS3 framework is presents in the following table. It is important to align the assessment process of submitted projects under the RIS3 framework, as projects tending to illustrate a higher level of RIS3-orientation will be more easily implemented within the RIS3 framework, showing at the same time higher levels of efficiency.
|RIS3 Steps and sections||Assessment of features of the proposed call / action|
|Phase 1 Governance||
|Phase 2 Analysis of context||
|Phase 3 Shared vision/ Strategy formulation||
|Phase 4 Priority setting||
|Phase 5 Policy mix/ Action plan implementation||
|Phase 6 Monitoring and Evaluation||
Step 5: Analysis of stakeholders’ views and reporting to the Call authority
The analysis of the stakeholders’ views should include a series of statistical data, coming from the stakeholders’ input. These data should give an overall picture regarding the attitude of the stakeholders towards the selection criteria of the call. Moreover, additional input including new selection criteria should be seriously taken into account, especially in cases where the call refers to projects requiring a high level of scientific background knowledge.
- European Commission (2015). Better Regulation “Toolbox”. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/smart-regulation/guidelines/docs/br_toolbox_en.pdf