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If a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a GIF alert with 12 frames on the evolution of COVID-19?

March 26, 2020 Leave a comment

This blog post on the COVID-19 crisis aims to provide timely evidence-based alerts and sound advice to multiple stakeholders. 

In the last few days, many of us have been locked in our own disbelief for the lack of adequate and timely actions from key actors such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), and many other (inter)governmental organisations. I have been reading BBC News and other mainstream media everyday since the first case was reported. However, it was really surprising to see Italy asking and receiving help from Russia, China and Cuba, while at the same time European media outlets (except Italian) decided to suppress what can only be seen as humanitarian and lifesaving actions, regardless of who is actually behind them.

My frustration for the lack of trustworthy information drove me to make my own analysis of the situation based on freely and publicly available data about the most difficult to manipulate and closest to the reality figures, i.e. number of deaths and the weekly death rate. Thus I am grateful for the almost real time work carried out by people at WHO producing the Situation Reports (as provided by national authorities), as well as the OECD Artificial Intelligence Policy Observatory and an interactive web-based dashboard hosted by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. Of course, it is important to have a panoramic overview of the number of confirmed cases, but the truth is that these figures are definitely not reflecting the reality on the ground for several reasons, including lack of tests, different diagnostic and case confirmation definitions, and the quarantine itself, to name a few. Having said so, knowing the weekly death rate and the number of officially confirmed cases is enough to recognise the situation is not under control (except for China and South Korea, with 0,02 and 0,62 most recent weekly death rate respectively).

The animated GIF image below includes 12 frames showing in 3 minutes the timeline of the the COVID-19 evolution, with highlights from decisions and actions that were often not (or wrongly) taken. The last frame offers some recommendations for civil society, government, business, and research and education actors.

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With all of the above in mind, and following recent reflections I shared in LinkedIn and Twitter, I strongly believed that now more than ever policy analysts, scientists and foresight practitioners should raise their voice and reach out to their networks so as to mobilise a critical mass capable of alerting policymakers about the urgent need to upgrade (sometimes ‘old but still gold’) future-driven recommendations into practical and transformational policy actions and priorities.

In the foresight and innovation research community, some of us are trying to raise awareness with the help of specialised and responsible media in Finland, such as Tekniikka&Talous, and we hope that this kind of blog posts in professional social networking platforms will help us reach out to beyond-the-obvious audiences in business, policy, and other circles. Collective and timely actions can play a key role in taming wild cards such as the unexpected and impactful consequences of the current Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

If you would like to look at the frames in detail and have more time to see the evolution of the pandemic and early (lack of) response, please feel free to use and/or circulate the images below.

 

What if the European Union would have acted upon the results of its own research on wild cards, which foresaw a Coronavirus-like scenario 10 years ago?

March 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Over a decade ago the European Union invested around 1 million Euro to fund the iKnow project as one of the so-called Blue Sky forward-looking activities. The project aimed at interconnecting Knowledge on issues and developments potentially shaking or shaping the future of science, technology and innovation (STI) in Europe and the world.

In the early 2000s there was a general consensus that the identification and analysis of Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE) and their effects on European and global science, technology and innovation (STI) policy often remained out of the policy radar and therefore deserved more attention in foresight and forward-looking activities.

Wild Cards are the kind of issues that can potentially shake our present and future, like the way the current Coronavirus is unfolding. While Weak Signals are ambiguous events, often referred to as seeds of change, providing advance intelligence or hints about potentially important futures, including Wild Cards, challenges and opportunities. Weak Signals lie in the eye of the beholder and are generally influenced by the mental frameworks and subjective interpretations of individuals with limited information about emerging trends, developments or issues in a particular time and context. Their weakness is directly proportional to levels of uncertainty about their interpretations, importance and implications in the short-medium-to-long-term. Thus, Weak Signals are unclear observables warning us about the possibility of future game changing events.

The iKnow project had two interconnected objectives: 1) To develop and pilot conceptual and methodological frameworks to identify and analyse Wild Cards and Weak Signals (WI-WE); and 2) To assess the implications and impact of selected WI-WE on, science, technology and innovation (STI) and key dimensions of the European Research Area (ERA). There are plenty of outcomes resulting from the project, including reports, a pioneering early warning system for the co-creation of strategic intelligence, the first open bank of wild cards and weak signals and more, all publicly available at http://news.iknowfutures.eu/. However, the rest of this blog will address the following question:

What if the European Union would have acted upon the results of its own EU-funded research on wild cards, which foresaw the Coronavirus 10 years ago? 

Back in May 2010, together with some colleagues and health experts from Germany, we organised a workshop  in which we discussed what we then called a Killer Virus, described as a highly infectious and lethal virus (that) appears and spreads out around the world fast due to the high mobility of the world population. The number of casualties is high and rises constantly, leading to massive social problems. The impacts are vast on all areas of life.

The Killer Virus was only one of some 44 wild cards we decided to feature in the iKnow Policy Alerts (2011) report. Interestingly it was the first wild card discussed and fully analysed with surprising wild features, key actors (i.e. early warners, shapers and stakeholders), potential impacts and, most importantly, potential actions for policy, business and research actors. We also provided some weak signals indicating that prospective mutations of such viruses could lead to large numbers of casualties.

An innovative contribution of the iKnow project was the effort devoted to “tame” the wild cards and with the help of weak signals and a systematic methodology to explore implications for science, technology and innovation (STI) policy.

With this in mind, for each of the featured wild cards we emphasised the ‘recommended research‘ that needed to be funded by the European Union. This advise was provided in the form of an imaginary “Call for proposals” following the same style used by the European Commission in its Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. In other words, we clearly specified the 1) Thematic Area (Health); 2) Research Topic (Prevention of pandemics: Awareness reading and surveillance systems); 3) Objective (To increase the probability of virus detection at the earliest possible stage. It is also to prevent behavioural patterns from accelerating the rapid spread of a virus); Expected Impact (To reduce the risk of delays in detecting lethal viruses; To facilitate behavioural interventions to control the effects of a virus; and To help to control and contain the infection within a region or population and before it reaches pandemic scale); and Importance for Europe (Europe is one of the world’s largest traffic junctions and is therefore especially vulnerable to the appearance of a lethal virus. Europeans are highly mobile both for business reasons and tourism. New viruses often originate in tropical regions, which Europeans are increasingly likely to visit).

Unfortunately, we can fast-forward 10 years from the completion of the iKnow project and find ourselves in the current Coronavirus pandemic with no effective awareness raising or surveillance systems in place. This is definitely not the first example of highly relevant research and policy advice that policymakers did not act upon. However, the evident inadvertence or lack of foresight from European and other stakeholders capable of doing the ‘right thing’ at the ‘right time’ shows that it is not sufficient that EC Project Officers congratulate Project Coordinators for the successful completion of their projects! There are cases where follow-up actions are crucial, especially when recommendations can help to build resilience and readiness towards grand societal challenges.

Hopefully this blog will help to create the ‘right momentum’ to mobilise a critical mass capable to reach out to policymakers with the power to introduce a much-needed set of “foresight-driven” mechanisms or instruments that will allow us to act upon very explicit and timely reported ‘Policy Alerts’ that can literally shake our societies in Europe and the rest of the world. While projects like iKnow would certainly deserve some kind of ‘aftercare’ funding to continue generating strategic policy advice, our efforts would only translate into further frustrations if politicians driving us to the future continue to be asleep at the wheel.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this personal blog do not represent the views of my past or current employers. These are my own reflections as a foresight practitioner and a true believer that change can also happen if individual or collective authoritative voices reach out to the right people through impactful channels. Social media can become a powerful instrument to “undust” the results of such a large-scale foresight study combining evidence, expertise, interaction and creativity to support decision makers in policy, business and research circles. Despite these views, I am a strong believer in the wide-ranging benefits of European Commission Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation, thus I remain an active player in many projects, some of which are still ongoing.

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VTTers co-create Action Roadmaps for Good Life

December 13, 2018 Leave a comment
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VTT Good Life Lighthouse in-a-nutshell

VTT supports the co-creation of Action Roadmaps for Good Life

On December 13th VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland organised a workshop to go beyond VTT Lighthouse opportunity pathways and reach a deeper understanding on strategic research pathways and future opportunities for VTT’s Good Life research and innovation agenda.

VTT_Lighthouses address global challenges and highlight opportunities for sustainable growth and development. The VTT ‘Good Life‘ Lighthouse focuses on 3 Opportunity Areas (OAs) where innovations are needed to increase the sustainability of the healthcare system and the resiliency of public infrastructure to ensure that the society can thrive.

  • OA1: Disruption of work: Increased automation driven by digitalisation and artificial intelligence, coupled with the platform economy, promise radical increases in productivity. At the same time, these advancements disrupt work and everyday lives. Coping with the impacts requires the society to adopt new ways of working and to support constant learning. Digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and platforms create opportunities for new business and for making the society more sustainable and companies profitable. Fully capturing the value of disruptive technologies requires an understanding of new and traditional technology and business, as well as the ability to combine them in novel ways. To be among the winners of AI-driven growth requires agility and adaptiveness as well as an understanding of the key enabling technologies.

  • OA2: Citizen-centric care: An overhaul of the healthcare system is needed to maintain access to affordable and high-quality healthcare. Seamless co-operation between the private and public operators with integrated people-centric processes, would significantly improve operational efficiency and the quality of care. Improving population health overall offers the greatest benefits. To achieve this, patients must be encouraged to take a participatory role in caring for their own health. The development of new tools that support a healthy lifestyle and solutions for more personalised, preventive and predictive healthcare are needed. Health-technology products are in high demand across the globe. Turning this opportunity into a business success requires a combination of high-quality R&D in medical sciences, ICT, wearable sensors and diagnostic technologies.

  • OA3: Smart built environment: The increasing digitalisation of the built environment is an opportunity to improve energy efficiency and the comfort of living. Smart components embedded into buildings and infrastructure can both monitor and react to changes in the surroundings. For example, indoor lighting and heating can be modified automatically or on-demand, locally or remotely. Such solutions rely on embedded sensors, connectivity solutions and cloud platforms that enable data to be gathered and analysed in real-time. Coupled with AI this can increase adaptability and efficiency. There is a vast market open for smart solutions that promote sustainability and enable individualised yet efficient service provision. Companies interested in developing innovative digital service concepts need holistic design principles, high-end technological competences and user-centric service design methodology to create truly useful solutions.

The workshop supported the VTT Lighthouse strategy by engaging VTTers from relevant teams and substance nodes in 1) reviewing the above-mentioned Good Life opportunity pathways and 2) co-creating joint Action Roadmaps (see pictures from selected workshop results).

List of Good Life Opportunity Areas (OAs) and Opportunity Pathways (OPs)

  • OA1: Disruption of work
    • OP1: Productivity, competitiveness and wealth by AI
    • OP2: Sharing and platform economy
    • OP3: Agile and learning society
  • OA2: Citizen centric care
    • OP4: Preventive health support
    • OP5: Predictive diagnostics and care
    • OP6: Healthcare process optimisation
  • OA3: Smart built environment
    • OP7: Urban intelligence
    • OP8: Future proof cities
    • OP9: Cognitive built environment

Similar to the October VTT Workshop on ‘Industrial Renewal’, the Good Life workshop brought together some 40 VTT scientists and managers to discuss future research directions and expand their connections to people with common research interests. All in all, the workshop helped to steer VTT strategy work and formulate concrete Action Roadmaps for a sustainable Good Life innovation ecosystem in Finland, Europe and beyond.

 

Europe is a global leader in foresight, science, technology and innovation

November 28, 2018 Leave a comment
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Expert Panel on FUTURE PAST: QUO VADIS INNOVATION – POLICY?
(European Parliament, 28 November 2018)
From left: Frans van der Zee (TNO and JIIP), Rafael Popper (VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland), Robbert Fisher (JIIP), Nicholas Vonortas (George Washington University), Wolfgang Polt (Joaneum Research), Jos Leijten (JIIP), Dirk Pilat (OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation) and Hielke Hijmans (EU law consultant).

JIIP Symposium on Future Past: Quo Vadis Innovation – Policy?

Research and Innovation are driving forces for growth, jobs and well-being. Over the past 10 years research and innovation policy in Europe faced a period of deep financial and economic crisis, slow recovery, the rise of populist anti-globalism and widening disparities between the Member States. In this period Europe’s research and innovation policies, partly because of the crisis, managed to address a number of pressing issues, some successfully and others rather inconsequentially.

10th_eis_website_new-1One of the more recent big issues has been the policy toward open science, open innovation and open to the world. Progress can only be reported with regard to open science. Open innovation and open to the world remained rather empty, not in the least because globalisation and international collaboration are under pressure (e.g. mixed feelings and strategies about collaboration with China, failed trade agreements, Trumpism).

 

In the understanding that excellent research does not automatically lead to wide spread innovation which is also due to the increasing complexity of the innovation processes and systems and to cultural and regulatory issues, new policies and policy instruments are needed.

In the current EU framework programme for reach and innovation (Horizon 2020) and the running up to Horizon Europe we see new approaches taking shape:

  • from programs, to challenges, to missions
  • more room for bottom-up initiatives and for multi-stakeholder initiatives such as PPP’s
  • a slow shift from grants to investment
  • more risk-capital, more start-ups/scale-ups and entrepreneurship
  • from clusters to ecosystems to smart specialisation strategies

These developments give direction to the R&I policies that aim to keep the EU innovative and competitive. But the past 10 years also revealed a number of high complexity policy challenges, mostly relating to the socio-economic framework of the EU:

  • Excellence vs cohesion in view of the widening gap between Member States,
  • The dominance of the platform economy by non-EU companies
  • How flexible should labour and labour markets be?
  • Can the example of GDPR (or some would say, a standard for the rest of the world) inspire further development of an EU driven regulatory environment for innovations?

The JIIP symposium at the 10th European Innovation Summit reviewed the past developments, looked at the current situation and discussed the challenges to be faced in the next 10 years. It provided an open space to share VTT‘s expertise in the use of foresight and horizon scanning to both co-create research and innovation intelligence and co-create action roadmaps to better address a wide range of growth opportunities for industry and society related to VTT_Lighthouses.

EU Top 50 Founders and Tech Festival

The Summit created the opportunity to engage with Europe’s Future Innovation Leaders at the EUTOP50 Founders and Tech Festival in the heart of Europe.

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One of the #EUtop50 winners was Susana Núria Guerrero López from ALDstone who represented a promising UK-based start-up providing ground-breaking circular solutions for the built environment (click here to watch video about ALDstone solutions).

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With Susana Núria Guerrero López (ALDstone) winner at the EUtop50 Festival

A week promoting EU research and innovation impact and foresight

In addition to the Innovation Summit and the EUTOP50 festival, two other major events helped to further position foresight research and innovation into European debates:

  • The European Parliament conference on Impact of EU research and innovation on your daily life, which brought together researchers and politicians to reflect on past and present achievements. There were panels on: Health and wellbeing, Sustainable environment, Putting innovation on the market and Safe and secure society for all.
  • The ESPAS 2018 Conference on Global Trends to 2030: Shaping the Future in a Fast-Changing World, focused on generating fresh insights for the next edition of the ESPAS Global Trends to 2030 Report, which was first published in 2015 under the title: Global Trends to 2030: Can the EU Meet the Challenges Ahead?

 

Of equal importance, and despite the busy agendas, the various events allowed participants to expand their networks and spend quality time with new and “old” friends!

 

 

VTTers Co-create Action Roadmaps for Industrial Renewal

November 23, 2018 1 comment
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VTT Industrial Renewal Lighthouse in-a-nutshell

VTT supports the co-creation of Action Roadmaps for Industrial Renewal

On November 23rd VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland organised an expert workshop to go beyond VTT Lighthouse opportunity pathways and reach a deeper understanding on strategic research pathways and future opportunities for VTT’s Industrial Renewal research and innovation agenda.

 

VTT_Lighthouses address global challenges and highlight opportunities for sustainable growth and development. The VTT ‘Industrial Renewal‘ Lighthouse focuses on the following three opportunity areas where innovations are expected to empower industry:

  • Design for the future: This opportunity area explores how customers and end-users are increasingly interested in personalised solutions adaptable to their changing needs. Sustainable high-value products and services empowered by customers will be the trump cards for future success. Intelligent design systems will help companies optimise products and systems holistically, taking into account such factors as user experience, performance, energy efficiency, environmental impact, maintenance and service, and material usage over the whole life cycle. Companies are looking for advanced digital solutions that enable them to build competitive edge, increase revenue growth and customer loyalty. Companies that lead in user-experience outperform the competition clearly in revenue growth and customer loyalty. Digital solutions enforce the power of the customer by enabling transparency, new ways of interaction and performance optimisation over the whole system life-cycle.

  • Rebirth of production: Advances in automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing are revolutionising production. Mass production becomes nearly independent of labour costs, while small batches and individual customisation become cost-efficient. Decentralised production may become a preferable option for producing highly-customised products near customers.Companies across the globe are looking for ways to holistically optimise supply networks for lower losses, more efficient energy and resource use. But the complexity of real-time optimisation requires cognitive and autonomous solutions with superb quality assurance. Developing competitive manufacturing requires business and ecosystem understanding backed up by deep process, material and manufacturing expertise as well as knowledge of digital technologies.

  • Disruptive businesses: Global flows of data and information have a higher impact on GDP growth than the trade in goods. There are a number of ways to use the value of data to build business, such as data management, analysis and delivery. Meanwhile services are the core of outcome-economy based business, where suppliers contribute directly to operational efficiency and core value-creation processes. Building successful business innovations based on data and services calls for a visionary approach to disruptions and future markets. This requires companies to combine deep domain expertise with a thorough understanding of related digital technologies.

The workshop supported the VTT Lighthouse strategy by engaging VTTers from relevant teams and substance nodes in 1) reviewing the above-mentioned Industrial Renewal opportunity pathways and 2) co-creating joint Action Roadmaps (see pictures from  workshop results).

 

Around 40 VTT scientists and managers had the opportunity to influence future research directions and expand their connections to people with common research interests. All in all, the workshop helped to steer VTT strategy work and formulate concrete Action Roadmaps for a sustainable Industrial Renewal innovation ecosystem in Finland, Europe and beyond.

Highlights from Skills for the Future: Managing Transition (Turin, Italy)

November 22, 2018 Leave a comment

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More than 350 people from 50 countries in Europe and beyond – entrepreneurs, training providers, policy makers, innovators – gathered in Turin, Italy to discuss the skills needed to prepare people for the job market in a rapidly changing world, with a new perspective: the one of transition and developing countries.

Read ETF Press Release

In the context of the 2018 UnConference (Nov 20) and Conference (Nov 21-22) on ‘Skills for the Future: Managing transition’ organised by the European Training Foundation (ETF), the EU Agency in charge of developing training and education in the EU neighbouring countries, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd and Sapar Oy prepared a Working Paper on The Future of Work and Skills that helped to frame some of the messages in the speeches of ETF Director (Cesare Onestini) as well as ETF Head of Operations (Anastasia Fetsi).

The objective of the VTT-Sapar-ETF Working Paper was to analyse the impact of global developments on skills demand in the ETF Partner Countries (PCs) and discuss implications for policy reforms to manage transition of education, vocational education training and life-long learning system of the future. The Paper was related to the provision of international and national expertise to support the ETF by:

  • collecting and analysing information, data and new ideas on the skills demands of the future in ETF Partner Countries, and
  • exploring responses for better managing transformation towards an inclusive future for the benefit of people and societies.

The Working Paper covered the following issues:

  • Key global drivers of change on economies, work, labour markets and skills
  • Impacts of global trends on work and skills in ETF Partner Countries
    • Impacts of global trends on ETF Partner Countries
    • Insights for future development of skills and education systems
  • Type and degree of changes identified in the regions of ETF Partner Countries
  • Strategies and policies to manage work and skills transformation in the ETF PCs

During the ETF events participants focused their discussions around four main topics:

  • Mastering global trends
  • Tackling country-specific challenges
  • Addressing the future of skills, education and training
  • Supporting the transition toward the future

To do so, at the UnConference ad hoc groups were asked to co-create an agenda around 12 topics that were presented by topic leaders and subsequently visualised by a professional artist. Group 11 discussedGlobal Trends‘ and explored possible ways forward to prepare a public report on the topic, as well as potential opportunities to promote a pilot project to better assess and manage identified global trends (see below).

Global trends impacting the future of work and skills

As a result of the Group 11 discussions, VTT and ETF representatives highlighted the importance of working towards a joint publication that will help to promote a more structured policy debate on future prospects of the impacts of the following global trends in ETF Regions (Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership, Mediterranean and Central Asia):

  • Globalisation
  • Demographics changes and ageing
  • Migration, mobility and brain-drain
  • Digitalisation, artificial intelligence and automation
  • Climate change and diminishing natural resources
  • FDIs and offshoring threatened by automation
  • Youth and women unemployment
  • Growing inequality and political instability

Overall, the ETF events addressed challenging questions such as: How do global forces interact with local realities and how does this affect the demand for skills? How should governments, businesses, social partners, civil society, research institutions, communities and education and training providers work together to manage change? What skills policies work in different contexts?

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All in all, the ETF UnConference and Conference were inspiring events demonstrating that the moment is ripe to co-create a shared #vision capable of translating #future #opportunities into an action roadmap assessing and managing the skills for the future, and consequently managing transition towards a more resilient, innovation-friendly and future-proof ‘education ecosystem’ across EU Member States and ETF PCs.

Pan de Bono Diplomacy (PBD) powers up scientific collaboration between Colombia and Finland

November 2, 2018 Leave a comment
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‘Pan de Bono Diplomacy’ in action with
Colombian Ambassador in Finland (H.E. Dr. Betty ESCORCIA BAQUERO) and 
Colombian Consul in Finland (Dr. Jose Camilo SANDOVAL ROJAS)

Longlasting strategic partnerships are built on trust and a common agenda. With this in mind VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and UCC Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia have been co-creating scientific research and innovation collaboration opportunities between Colombia and Finland.

On October 12th and November 2nd VTT successfully piloted a new and rather promising Pan de Bono Diplomacy (PBD) approach while hosting a series of high-level meetings in Finland with representatives from:

At some point during the discussions my lovely, caring and thoughtful Polish wife (Monika Popper) brought a special package – still warm from the oven! – full of homemade Colombian cheese bread (aka Pan de Bono), which is very difficult to find outside of Colombia (It was a big surprise indeed. A real wild card!).

Our original idea was to make the Ambassador and the Consul of Colombia feel at home in VTT-organised meetings but, due to its positive impact in the group dynamics, this innovative “approach” was soon baptised as Pan de Bono Diplomacy (PBD), as it proved to be an excellent trust-building and multi-stakeholder engagement tool 😉

The overall purpose of the PBD meetings is to jointly identify and scope future opportunities for collaborative research, technology development, innovation and education activities in areas such as bioeconomy (e.g. biorefining), circular economy (e.g. waste to energy), strategic foresight and intelligent leadership, among others.

The first two PBD meetings have resulted in over a dozen concrete ideas for future collaboration (including customer projects, shared benefit projects and collaborative projects, among others).

A third, and follow up PBD will take place on Wednesday November 7th at the Embassy of Colombia in Helsinki and will focus on the most advanced project ideas related to circular economy and bioeconomy. This meeting will try to mobilise representatives from Business Finland, SITRA and the Finnish Ministry of Environment in order to discuss about the most suitable instruments to help us transform ideas and opportunities into winning project proposals and action roadmaps. More updates on the outcomes of PBD meetings will be shared in future blog posts, so stay tuned if you would like to learn more…