PolitiKAS debate: New normality

On the possibilities and perspectives of the innovative society of Serbia and the Netherlands


The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Belgrade Open School and the Eduardo Frei Foundation from the Netherlands prepared a series of debates every Tuesday in October and November, as part of the PolitiKAS debate program: New normality related to dialogue about life in today's changed context.


The second debate on "Innovative Society Today: Opportunities and Perspectives" was held on October 13, 2020 through the ZOOM platform. Dr. Srđan Verbić, assistant professor at FEFA and co-founder of the Social Innovation Observatory (ODI) and Friso Douwstra, deputy mayor of Leeuwarden (Netherlands), a candidate for the European Capital of Innovation 2019, exchanged their knowledge and examples of good practice with the audience. The debate was moderated by Lana Avakumović, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Talas portal.

Significance of open data

Speakers initially referred to what innovation would not be possible without, and that is open data. All data-driven innovations are the dominate type of innovations today. The companies that developed especially during the pandemic and whose stock value jumped were data-driven companies, from food delivery to ZOOM.

However, in order to have open data, we must meet several conditions: there must be a "political decision that it should be transparent, then technical standardization should be performed, everything should be in a machine-readable format, so that the computer can read it and put in another format. Only then such data becomes open data." When we talk about the situation in Serbia, the problem with open databases is that they are relatively "shallow" and do not allow intersections. They do not contain information from which someone can make a business, and that is the key moment. "Innovations exist, and they begin to flourish when the threshold of quality and quantity of information is crossed, where someone has the opportunity to make their business from using publicly available data," said Srđan Verbić. In Serbia, some large global companies use data, e.g. Google transportation, Google maps, but there are few domestic applications that we can use to raise our quality of life. A good example is Car:go, an application similar to Uber for transportation services.

Open databases are recognized as particularly important at the time of pandemic, when companies and individuals, researchers, need to exchange data with each other and work as a team to get a quality vaccine that will be available to everyone as soon as possible," said Friso Douwstra.

How much has the pandemic accelerated innovation?

The Covid-19 virus as a global threat has affected the adaptability of our system and conditioned the rapid adaptation to the new reality and has led to many innovating activities of different businesses. It was pointed out at the debate that Serbia reacted well to the crisis when it comes to the transition to an online space for work, study, shopping and socializing.

"This situation has led to a drastic difference between those who can go online and those who can't. There are so many activities which are impossible to do online, they cannot be automatized. " That is why the "pandemic has shown that those who have an idea how to digitally transform their business, to turn it into something that can be done online, that they have a drastic advantage." Serbia has certainly done a lot in that regard.

However, the conclusion of both speakers is that "neither the Netherlands nor Serbia should rely on Google or any other specific service. This is what we call a real test of digital transformation and digitalization of society. So, the society is digitalized when it works and even when Google does not exist", concluded Srđan Verbić. The goal should be to create alternatives when in case of unforeseen circumstances we are left without leading software and therefore we must not be completely dependent on any service.

What are the innovations that can contribute to greater inclusion in the education system of groups of the population that have not been sufficiently involved so far?

For starters, the biggest challenge is bringing the Internet to every home and providing devices with which students or pupils  can follow online lectures. It is estimated that about 20% of pupils cannot attend online classes. It is also a global problem. "World Bank estimates say that 8-10 million pupils who have now temporarily dropped out of school will never return. Therefore, they will not be re-involved in the educational process and this is especially true for female children aged 13-15. years. We need to work on changing exactly that, "Srđan Verbić pointed out.


An example of good practice - Leeuwarden

In order to create a successful innovation policy, it is necessary to have cooperation between the Government, companies, the education system (University) and researchers. "Four parties must always be involved in public policy-making and must decide where we want to be in 10 years. So began work on the most important thing for the future, and that is water, dairy and nutrition technology in Leeuwarden. There was a dialogue with schools on how children can be involved in this process already in primary schools. The essence of this city is that from the moment you are born, until you get your PhD, you can do everything within our city, "said Friso Douwstra.

In the Netherlands, the education system is structured in such a way that it solves practical problems and leads to innovation. "All projects and tasks are delegated on the basis of education. Those who are at top universities must work at the applied level. They have to propose projects with the right topics which are something that the community needs at the moment." What is specific about the education system of the Netherlands, in relation to Serbia, is the constitutionally prescribed prohibition of the Government's participation in the regulation of education policy, and its participation is possible only on a voluntary basis. This has proven to be very effective when it comes to the quality of education and the number of innovations and patents.

Public Procurement of Innovative Solutions is also a good way to encourage innovation. The idea in public procurement of innovations is that the state and the local community come up with a challenge for which an innovative solution needs to be found. So, we do not need a predetermined innovation, but a solution to the set problem, and the way how to solve it should be left to the researchers." In Serbia, more attention and resources are currently being focused on the research community and the aspiration to enable them to make innovations. What is an additional problem or factor that slows down is the fact that we do not have a market for innovation, more precisely we do not have a stock market for start-ups that have succeeded and that need to go public. Without that next step, there will be no investment in innovations that cannot be sold in a year to some serious company that will further develop them. That's why we have teams that have made innovations, which is essentially more problematic than a small number of innovations."

The following example of the Netherlands should work to stimulate the market in the direction of using domestic innovations that will arise in response to the practical and real need of society to solve a certain problem. Although it is evident that there are a number of challenges on the way to increasing the number of innovations, the conclusion is that "the more and faster we use innovations in everyday life, the more successful we become as a society and as a state."

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Gordana Pilipović

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