Interview with Enrique Playán the WATER JPI coordinator on the first implementation plan

Enrique Venecia Which activities are ongoing or will be undertaken in the following months to implement the Water JPI?
The Water JPI is about to produce its first Implementation Plan. This document will contain a calendar of activities for the coming years. The thematic focus of the activities will be derived from the second release of our Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda, due by June 30th. Some of the activities in our Implementation Plan are already on-going or agreed upon. This is the case of the three first calls for proposals for collaborative projects of the Water JPI. Our first call was the Pilot Call, counting on a budget of 9 M€. This call focused on the topic of “Emerging water contaminants – anthropogenic pollutants and pathogens”. A total of 106 proposals were received for this call, which is currently in the last steps of proposal evaluation and selection. The second call will be published early in 2015, and will count on a budget of 20 M€. The topic of this call is still to be defined, but it will evolve from: “Developing technological solutions and services for water distribution and measurement, waste water treatment and reuse, desalination, floods and droughts, etc.” The third call for proposals will be published early in 2016, counting on an even higher mobilization of resources, and covering topics in the general area of “improving water use efficiency and reducing soil and water pollution for a sustainable agriculture”. A number of other activities will be performed in the coming years, including exploratory workshops, networking of existing projects and actions in mobility and infrastructures.

How will these activities contribute to strengthen the European joint programming on water research and innovation?
The envisaged activities are the fruit of a joint effort to harmonize our national research and innovation programmes, to identify and jointly implement best practices in programme management, to attain higher efficiency in the funding of research and innovation activities, and to underline the importance of water research and innovation at the national and European scales. At the Water JPI we respond to the societal challenge of “Achieving Sustainable Water Systems for a Sustainable Economy in Europe and Abroad”. Joint Programming is a strategy to tackle this grand challenge by intensifying and optimizing research and innovation in Europe in cooperation with key players outside Europe. Water JPI activities are strengthening cooperation habits in the funding agencies and fostering dialogue about the coordination of national efforts.

Are these implementation activities within the Water JPI able to affect the European policies for water research and innovation and support the implementation of the water directives?
Joint Programming Initiatives have a strong political side, focusing on the development of agreed paths for the  harmonization of national research and innovation policies. The Water JPI, like the rest of JPIs, has started by emphasizing the development of joint activities. The harmonization of national and, where relevant, regional programmes is a mid-term objective which will lead to European policy coherence at national level, to well-established cooperation paths and, particularly, to optimum efficiency of research and innovation investments. In these days of downsized public budgets, efficiency is the key word to continue producing scientific and technological breakthroughs. The Water JPI funds progress in scientific knowledge, innovation in companies, and also policy support. We believe that supporting European and national water policies is a critical part of our JPI, and that this activity will provide significant progress towards our grand challenge. The Water Framework Directive, all related directives and the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources are being targeted by our calls and other implementation activities.

What is your opinion about the creation of a “knowledge hub” for water research and innovation?
The Water JPI is determined to coordinate research and innovation efforts in key scientific and technological areas. As a consequence, we are currently discussing the creation of “knowledge hubs”, where the thematic research efforts performed by JPI partners are coordinated. Knowledge Hubs have been used in intergovernmental organizations and other JPIs to network and align research and innovation projects funded at national level. These knowledge hubs gather the key European actors on specific topics, discuss objectives, share results, plan for future consortia and optimize the use of public funds. Avoiding duplication of efforts and fighting fragmentation in research are key targets of the Joint Programming activities. Knowledge hubs can be extremely cost-effective when it comes to fostering progress in the knowledge value chain.

How do you think to ease and boost training and mobility for researchers and public-private participation in the Horizon 2020 programme?
These are two important and partly different issues. Mobility is a key activity to promote effective networking among researchers and innovators. Part of our mobility targets can be accomplished through calls for proposals. In fact, the Pilot Call explicitly requested proposers to implement project-scale mobility activities. Knowledge hubs can equally implement targeted mobility to facilitate the establishment of permanent communication channels between research and innovation actors. Finally, specific mobility activities can be planned in the Water JPI. In this sense, Horizon 2020 makes great mobility tools available to Water JPI partners through the Marie Skłodowska Curie programme. At the Water JPI we are currently planning to seize these opportunities.
Horizon 2020 is our key European programme for research and innovation. In the aftermath of this devastating economic crisis, Horizon 2020 is committed to promote growth and jobs for ailing European societies. The Water JPI has been cooperating with Horizon 2020 since its conception, and we will continue to do so through a number of activities: 1) identifying hot research and innovation topics for implementation through Horizon 2020; 2) facilitating the creation of Academia-Industry Horizon 2020 consortia through our activities (projects, knowledge hubs, mobility…); and 3) interacting with the European Innovation Partnership on Water, which is inspiring the execution of water related activities in Horizon 2020.

The JPI partners are concentrating their efforts in producing an updated version of the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA). How will this SRIA help to align the national and regional programmes on water research and innovation?
Our SRIA materializes the will of nineteen European countries to develop joint activities to attain a series of objectives serving a Grand Challenge. The activities performed at the service of the SRIA are developing cooperation habits which will eventually lead to the alignment of national research programmes in water. In some countries, this may even lead to the creation of specific programmes on water, or to the strengthening of the water profile of existing programmes. Joint Programming Initiatives are learning by doing, and are on their way to find cooperation and alignment principles and tools leading to optimum return of societal investments in research and innovation. The SRIA paves the way for an era of institutional cooperation, efficiency and challenge-oriented research and innovation in water. The group of research and innovation managers constituting the Water JPI is determined to deliver increased water security, safety and services to the European society by developing and adopting Joint Programming procedures.