The objective of this Green Paper is to identify the factors - positive or negative - on which innovation in Europe depends, and to formulate proposals for measures which will allow the innovation capacity of the Union to be increased. The purpose of the Green paper is to stimulate a wide-ranging debate on this theme among the various actors in private and public organisations in the regions and the Member States. This debate will make it possible to check the accuracy of the diagnosis and to specify the priorities and the proposed actions.
The Green Paper points out that research, development and the use of new technologies - the technological factor - are key elements in innovation, but they are not the only ones. Incorporating them means "an organisational effort by adapting its methods of production, management and distribution." This can equally apply in an educational context and in particular where new technologies are being introduced to learning systems. The technology may only go part of the way to changing the process.
Organisational and managerial issues also have to be addressed before an educational innovation can said to be successful. A number of European and nationally-supported projects are starting to address some of these issues. The Acorn Home-School Links Project supported by the UK "Superhighways for Education" Initiative is one such project.
Supported by Acorn, Online Media and a number of other companies including Cambridge Cable, SJ Research, ATM Ltd., ICL and SIR, this project is based in eight schools and a number of homes in the Cambridge area. It is looking at the use of on-demand educational programming and distance integrated learning systems for homework and revision. But it will also explore the attitudinal, pedagogic and management implications of superhighways for teachers. Inflicting a change on these processes is also part of the innovation process.
The Green Paper also states that human resources are the essential factor and initial and on-going training play a fundamental role in providing the basic skills required and in constantly adapting them. If a "culture of innovation" can be created amongst the education and training community surely this will permeate down to their students and trainees? This is a key challenge for policy makers - particularly when the population of trainers and educators is an ageing population. One of the speakers at the recent Lifelong Learning Conference in Italy even suggested that half the current teachers would not be suitable to providing the new forms of individualised learning which is now called for and is possible with new technologies.
It is good to see that the EC Telematics for Education and Training Sector has a number of projects which address this issue, in particular the "T3 - Telematics for Teacher Training and TRENDS - TRaining Educators through Networks and Distributed Systems (see page six)
Even if these projects really do reach their targets, re-training really needs to be on a very large scale involving tens or even hundreds of thousands of teachers. Many of Europes IT companies chose to sponsor the Lifelong Learning for the Information Society conference in Genoa and there were a number of visionary presentations about where European education should be going. Lets hope these companies start "practising what they preach" and start to make a real commitment to changing approaches to learning by working with teacher training institutions.
A useful multiplier effect could be helping to develop a "culture of innovation" amongst teachers through developing skills for lifelong learning with the utilisation of the latest technologies. The classroom and teaching styles are still one of the few areas which are similar to those of 100 years ago. As the Green paper points out it is the fabric of economic and social activities in a region, or even as a whole, which makes up the "innovation systems". Education and training systems within a particular region are a critical component of these innovation systems.
The 1994 White Paper "Growth, Competitiveness, Employment. The Challenges and Ways Forward into the 21st Century" highlighted one of the greatest weaknesses of Europe as being the comparatively limited capacity to convert scientific breakthroughs and technological achievements into industrial and commercial successes. This is also true concerning the development of telematic-based learning services. Very few of the activities under the third framework programme - Telematics for Flexible and Distance Learning became scaleable and sustainable success stories.
The Green Paper also considers that greater attention must be paid to dissemination, transfer and industrial application of research results and to bringing up to date the traditional distinction between basic research, pre-competitive research and applied research which, in the past, has not always allowed European industry to benefit from all the research efforts made. This is another critical issue which has to be addressed by the European Commission. The delays in getting a project accepted for partial EC funding and the starting of that project can often result in the competitive advantage of a new innovation being lost. And the tight linear planning imposed on EC funded projects can also be at odds with the flexibility needed for the exploratory research and development nature of the projects. This has been highlighted by the speed of technological developments in telecommunications and information technology in a purely commercial environment.
The Green Paper points out that "since the life-cycle of products and services is becoming ever shorter, and generations of technologies are succeeding each other at an ever faster rate, firms are often under pressure to innovate as fast as possible. The time of entry into the market and the moment of introducing a new product onto it are becoming crucial factors in competition." Therefore the mechanisms for funding projects by the European Commission need to be streamlined, otherwise what were innovative ideas when first proposed for funding assistance rapidly become outdated by the time they become a product or service.
This is a warning to all those involved in EC funded projects. They should seriously consider whether they will still have competitive advantage by waiting for EC funds to help them along.
"Introduction to Innovation and Technology Transfer" by Ian Cooke and Paul Mayes. Published in 1996 by Artech House who can be contacted via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Euro-Innovations-Manager" is a training course for Personnel involved in innovation development and technology transfer. Further details from BioResearch Ireland Tel +353 2 8370177.
"Good Practice in Managing Transnational Technology Transfer Networks" consists of two booklets and a CD-ROM. It was produced under the EC Sprint Programme and brings together ten years of experience of Sprint activities which focused on developing tools for technology transfer. To obtain further details contact: DGXIII/D Technical Assistance Unit Fax +352 46 55 50.