The Middle East Research and Innovation Dialogue – MERID project – is a coordination and support action funded by the EU framework programme for research and innovation (R&I) Horizon 2020 (H2020 – INT-INCO-2014 – INT-02-2014). The project, which builds on previous international cooperation experiences in R&I with Mediterranean and Middle East Partner Countries, proposes a comprehensive action to intensify and encourage R&I cooperation between the EU and the Middle East region, directly involving partners from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. MERID is an example of science diplomacy in practice: its ultimate goal is to employ R&I as channels for intercultural dialogue, understanding and reconciliation. The project is the first attempt to systematise support to the policy dialogue and involvement of research communities of Iran and Iraq in the H2020 programme, as well as an initiative that seeks to give continuity to collaboration frameworks already established between the EU and Middle East countries. It focuses on enhancing direct cooperation among researchers and on laying or consolidating preconditions, in the region, fostering joint research projects and initiatives with the EU, establishing optimal framework conditions for international cooperation and increasing coordination between policies and programmes. These objectives will be achieved through series of different on-line and in-person activities, among which are meetings of researchers, brokerage events, info-days, training and coaching, webinars and other relevant tools.
The project presents a set of interrelated objectives, on two complementary levels.
MERID intends to promote a comprehensive STI policy dialogue framework, where strategic instances of research from the EU and the target countries can be discussed. MERID should be seen as an agenda setting and a common methodology approach to current bottlenecks. MERID is expected to:
The overall approach is to build on a deep understanding of specific needs in the region, therefore focussing on interventions that are appropriate to the maturity of each country and research system relations with the EU. Several previous projects have worked at capacity building, focussing on establishing the NCP systems, on delivering training to representatives of intermediary organisations or fostering direct partnerships within projects. The result is that today’s issues to be addressed vary from basic information about the H2020 programme to matching competences and skills between the Middle East and the EU or aligning research agendas at political level. The work-plan of the MERID project and the calibration of its specific tasks reflect such differences, proposing intervention on different layers. In countries with poor or non-existing EU-cooperation facilities, stress is put on capacity building for intermediaries’ organisations (the ones whose mission is to deliver services to the research community). In countries with consolidated systems, stress is more on networking, coaching and direct services to the local research constituency.
The project intends to build upon the experience carried out in countries of the region, with comparable framework conditions, that have already participated in the previous framework programmes, and therefore are at a relatively advanced stage of research cooperation with Europe, like Egypt and Jordan. Attention is paid to calibrating in the most appropriate way the intervention logic of the project, adapting actions to the specific needs of the target countries and their research constituencies. The enhancement of international cooperation requires a holistic approach which has to encompass a broad range of interventions, such as: formulation of national research priorities and their alignment with the EU or other international cooperation partners; formulation of positions or managing processes related to the mobility of researchers, or to the empowerment of research organisations to take initiatives in cooperation with other countries’ research bodies; managing and adaptation of national funding programmes, in order to allow participation from and to other or international programmes; organisation of efficient mechanisms for the scientific constituencies to provide input to policy making; finding resources efficient ways of encouraging innovation and societal and economic impact deriving from research undertakings.
The MERID project has high potential to deliver long-lasting impact and structuring effects on cooperation between the EU and the Middle East region. In particular, it focuses on enhancing direct cooperation among researchers and on laying or consolidating preconditions, in the region, to foster joint research projects and initiatives with the EU. The project will take into due account the differences of cooperation maturity in the target countries, as also stressed in Section 1.3. The consortium has chosen to act in parallel on two essential components of EU-Middle East cooperation, as also reflected in the work-plan. On the one hand, efforts will be done in WP2-3 to identify and act upon issues that deserve a policy dialogue framework in view of structuring a bi-regional and multi-lateral process likely to favour either bilateral or multilateral cooperation agreements or frameworks. On the other hand, substantial resources will be devoted to more operational activities, including the involvement of EU and Middle East researchers in brokerage events with the idea to promote cooperation on concrete research and innovation projects, particularly projects funded by H2020. Regarding H2020, substantial impact on increasing participation of middle-east countries, particularly those showing limited or absent cooperation in the programme so far, is enhanced through ad hoc capacity building and coaching accompanied by info-days, dedicated WEB based info-desk and brokerage. Different levels or dimensions of impact are summarised in the table below.