Americans call for federal investments in R&D while EU activates innovation in more countries
Feb. 20, 2023 – For most of American history, support for federal involvement in much of anything has waxed and waned depending on political movements, economic stability, and other social currents. But the successful R&D response to the COVID-19 pandemic created powerful support for federal investments in research and development (R&D). What incredible advances can we make with aligned goals, funding, and know-how?
Most Americans—no matter their party affiliation—agree that federal R&D funding is a good investment, according to a January 2023 survey commissioned by Research!America. Whether it’s health care R&D or research to address other complex issues, three out of four Americans supported federal involvement in R&D because it creates job opportunities, and 80% say that basic research that expands the boundaries of current knowledge should be funded by the federal government.
Americans are also interested in the nation’s standing in global R&D. Over half of the survey respondents said they believe the United States will be the world leader in science and technology by 2030, and 91% view global S&T leadership as a priority. Expanding innovation to address global challenges while creating well-paying jobs is a course of action the vast majority is ready to support.
EU activates innovation agenda
Meanwhile, the European Commission is working to rev up its R&D engine as well by enabling local, cooperative “dialogues” in some countries about ways to innovate regionally. These are “bottom-up channels of cooperation” between countries and the European Commission to talk about EU-centric avenues to fund and carry out research together.
The enhanced dialogues allow EU members to bypass other engagement processes to get country-specific support to launch a joint EU research and innovation agenda on strategic, nascent research areas designated by the participating country. The idea is to get people talking about research and innovation opportunities in Europe to raise awareness among countries like Latvia, Croatia, and Greece, and to get moving on investments in places that might not be leveraging programs like the European Research Area (ERA), Horizon Europe Missions, and the New European Innovation agenda. The European Commission also wants the chance to offer input and guidance through these national dialogues.
Cross-sector R&D as an economic engine
The European Commission engagement mirrors recent U.S. efforts to spur R&D development in new regions through a consortia model that engages business, academia, and nonprofits to work together. These programs are still taking shape; the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs program is seeking public input on the design, structure, and evaluation of the developing program (see the announcement and add your voice here by March 16) and the NSF TIP Regional Innovation Engines program is evaluating its first round of proposals. The common thread is the aim to kindle new economic ecosystems, anchored in collaborative R&D, and to develop a strong STEM workforce. These programs are intentionally designed to jump-start regional economic engines in places where innovation has lagged. A new McKinsey Institute report notes the wide variation in productivity gains based on location. R&D investment and concerted action today could increase productivity and the standard of living in these communities that have been left behind.
Why it matters
American support of federal investment in R&D and the EU’s new initiatives to strengthen member countries’ R&D capacity are dual strategies to achieve the same goals. Most university and industry leaders see collaboration for foundational and use-inspired research –within and across borders—as a way to advance shared goals rather than a competition (proprietary research is another story). But at the highest levels, when countries invest in innovation to lead globally, it’s a win for future innovation with downstream benefits for society. That’s something we can all support.
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