Over the years, COST actions have become one of the most important tools for research collaboration in Europe.
Thanks to a wide range of networking tools provided by the COST Actions, researchers and innovators have a special space to develop their ideas in any science and technology area by sharing them with like-minded people. And when science and innovation are at the heart of the COST Actions discussions, not all participants necessarily have a purely academic background. On the contrary, actions attract all types of actors, including SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).
A mutual benefit
In the last 50 years, COST has proven to be proof that science, research and innovation know no boundaries and thus enable infinite fields of study. As a bottom-up program, COST has created strategic network platforms, the COST Actions, which can only be described as rich ecosystems in which each participant has a strong voice regardless of their background or area of expertise.
By nature, actions are open to everyone: institutions, international organizations, universities, industry and of course SMEs. COST Actions are also extremely easy to access and very flexible as participants can join an Action after it has already started. It is therefore not surprising that the number of participating SMEs has increased over the years, with 897 SMEs currently involved in the implementation of actions.
SMEs see COST measures as powerful networking tools and are looking for a way to find potential research collaborators and a place to build a strong academically oriented network, an opportunity they would not necessarily find elsewhere. STSMs (Short Term Scientific Missions), for example, give them the opportunity to improve the skills of their employees. By working closely with researchers, SMEs can also learn new methods and ways of working.
On the other hand, as important partners in research projects, SMEs bring new perspectives and data to test research hypotheses and models. And in the case of some COST actions with a successful non-academic integration rate, they offer insights into practice, give validation and feedback on scientific work, redefine the research questions or tighten the agenda for further research.
The involvement of SMEs really creates mutual benefit for all participants and thus shows the richness of the COST measures
RESTORE, pioneering the involvement of SMEs
And the numbers show it! Last year, 77% of the actions involved at least one SME and 25 actions involved 10 or more SMEs. The absolute front runner was “Thinking in the direction of a regenerative economy” (RESTORE Action) with 28 participating SMEs.
By addressing restorative sustainability in new and existing buildings and in interior design across Europe and by changing the status quo of today’s practice through ecology, justice and health, the RESTORE action has certainly attracted many participants from the private sector.
I am a freelance consultant myself. 3 out of 5 heads of the working groups in RESTORE Action come from SMEs. The profiles of these SMEs were typically architects, freelancers, engineering firms, design firms, etc. who were involved in building design every day. They really brought their expertise to the action case studies and helped develop new ideas. “
Carlo Battisti, action chair, RESTORE
RESTORE was also an extremely balanced campaign at the beginning, with 50% of the participants from the private sector and 50% from the academic sector. “The longer the RESTORE campaign lasted, the more scientists and researchers joined,” explains Carlo Battisti. “In the end, 77% were academics, which was great because the connection with SMEs is critical to research. Researchers need feedback from industry to know whether their work is relevant or not.”.“.
But involving SMEs in the process has not always been easy. “Companies have to believe that their input should be immediately applicable, but that’s not always the case,” added Carlo Battisti. “But now, in times of the pandemic, they understand more than ever how important networking is – and COST offers just that! Both researchers and companies have been given many opportunities through the exchange of culture, knowledge and, most importantly, ways of working that differ greatly from one area to another. And if, like us with RESTORE, you want to change a paradigm and create new practices, you have to make the old one obsolete. Research and especially applied research are essential for this“.
The RESTORE campaign ended in April 2021. Within 4 years, 40 countries and more than 160 participants were involved, 10 conferences were held, 8 publications were produced, 5 training schools were organized across Europe and more than 30 STSMs (short-term scientific missions) were organized. Were granted. “We did our best to create a good mix of participants from different areas. It wasn’t easy, but at the end of the four years at COST we know that the material we produce can be used in industry, ”concludes Carlo Battisti.