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How citizens can drive the green and digital transitions

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The Connected Europe initiative has shown how much popular support there is for a healthier, greener and more digital society. Ben Wreschner (chief economist, Vodafone) and Dharmendra Kanani (director Asia, peace, security & defence, digital and chief spokesperson, Friends of Europe) explain how citizen engagement will be crucial for the green and digital transitions.

The recently launched Conference on the Future of Europe has taken an innovative approach, as it looks for ways to reform the European Union’s policies and institutions. It offers a digital platform for people to send in ideas and engage in discussions, encouraging insight and debate across the EU.

This digital engagement approach mirrors a joint initiative between Vodafone and Friends of Europe that has been running for the last six months. Connected Europe gathers viewpoints from citizens, industry and policymakers and uses a collaborative approach to generate policy recommendations, with an emphasis on practical solutions to the challenges we face. Citizen perspectives are critical for Connected Europe: their hopes and concerns help guide the discussions.

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As the Conference kicks off, here are some suggestions we can offer on how to foster debate and generate useful ideas for a greener, more digital society.

Leave no one behind

Citizens engaged in the Connected Europe discussions see the benefits of technology. But they reminded us that technology cannot be a solution on its own. We need to make sure that people can access the technology available to them. This means building digital skills from the school to the workplace and beyond so that there are opportunities for lifelong learning. It ensures that no-one is left behind.

Citizens are understandably concerned about digital exclusion, particularly when it comes to the elderly, those with disabilities and people living in remote areas. Ensuring access for all is incredibly important. Governments need to work with businesses to address the digital divide and deliver connectivity to everyone, young or old, urban or rural.

There was also a recognition, sometimes lost in the silos of policymaking, that digital transformation is an enabler of many other important goals. For example, digitalisation can help mitigate climate change and support sustainability, it can help to improve health, strengthen the economy and enhance social justice. It can even strengthen the EU's position in the world, by making the EU more competitive - while defending European democracy.

Make it fair

In our Green Europe focus groups, around 150 European citizens from 16 countries were asked for their views. One of the biggest concerns raised when it comes to the green transition is fairness. There is a major concern that the burden might fall unfairly on consumers, rather than governments and industry.

However, the whole point of digital enablement for a green transition is that it helps achieve sustainability goals without letting the burden fall unfairly on any single group. Both the green and digital transitions are aimed at finding opportunities for everyone so that the changes result in benefits all around.

Digital innovations, such as smart meters and LED streetlights connected to a central management system, can dramatically reduce energy consumption. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors on farms can measure humidity and soil health so that irrigation and fertiliser use are much more efficient. Neither of these innovations results in any one group losing out. They are genuine win-wins for citizens, consumers, industry and governments, as long as we all take our own emissions seriously and tackle them appropriately.

Clarity

The Connected Europe focus groups showed how people sometimes struggle to interpret green credentials. Most people want to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability, but when it comes to day-to-day decisions, it is not always clear what the environment-friendly option is. The lack of EU-wide standards and benchmarks means consumers may struggle to make informed green choices.

One solution would be to create a standardised framework that works in line with the EU’s sustainability principles. It could show not only the environmental impact of a product or service but also its digital credentials. One suggestion already emerging from the Connected Europe discussions is for the EU to use processes already underway to build a ‘Digital Opportunity Assessment’ to sit alongside assessments of green impact.

Another option is the digital product passport mentioned in the EU Ministerial Declaration on a Green and Digital Transformation. Tracking and tracing products and materials would improve consumer empowerment and sustainable choices through information and awareness. For the passports to succeed, a strong pan-European approach is needed alongside digital logistics tools that can track products through the whole supply chain.

Accountability

Closely linked to clarity is accountability. Citizen concerns around fairness, trust and convenience show that we need to prove that we do what we promise to do. But how do we keep ourselves accountable when it comes to digital for green and delivering the twin digital and green transition?

The Connected Europe discussions showed how important it is to work across sectors and develop common standards. One solution could be to use the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which monitors Europe's overall digital performance and tracks Member State progress on digital competitiveness. DESI could be tweaked to include sustainability. Recovery funds allocation and spend could be effectively monitored and policy reforms measured against the DESI. Digital as multiplier can help Member States to deliver on the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) commitment of at least 37% of national plans expenditure going to green projects.

The argument for such accountability is also about showing value for money: there are strong economic benefits to these changes. According to a Deloitte report, EU GDP could rise by 7.2% if recovery packages focus on digital and green investments and all member states reach a score of 90 on the DESI by 2027.

Working together

Connected Europe is a truly collaborative initiative, involving citizens, industry, policymakers and academics. This approach needs to be replicated on a wider scale if we are to successfully navigate the green and digital transitions. Citizen views and industry expertise must be brought together with decision-makers who can support and facilitate the right framework to enable a collaborative partnership to function effectively.

There is clear evidence that with the right framework, policy reforms, and the effective use of EU reconstruction funds, we can do more to invest in the right area. We can build a healthier and more sustainable society, empowering citizens and businesses to seize the potential of the digital transformation. We can build a green, digital and more resilient Europe.

The Connected Europe initiative continues to gather views and input to formulate the recommendations and policy asks that will build a more successful, greener and resilient Europe. A full report will be published later in the year. To get involved or to find out more about Connected Europe, click here.

Digital economy

Digital euro: Commission welcomes the launch of the digital euro project by the ECB

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The Commission welcomes the decision taken by the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) to launch the digital euro project and start its investigation phase. This phase will look at various design options, user requirements and at how financial intermediaries could provide services building on a digital euro. The digital euro, a digital form of central bank money, would offer greater choice to consumers and businesses in situations where physical cash cannot be used. It would support a well-integrated payments sector to respond to new payment needs in Europe.

Taking into account digitalisation, rapid changes in the payments landscape and the emergence of crypto-assets, the digital euro would be a complement to cash, which should remain widely available and useable. It would support a number of policy objectives set out in the Commission's wider digital finance and retail payments strategies including the digitalisation of the European economy, increase the international role of the euro and support the EU's open strategic autonomy. Based on the technical co-operation with the ECB initiated in January, the Commission will continue to work closely with the ECB and the EU institutions throughout the investigation phase in analysing and testing the various design options in view of policy objectives.

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Artificial intelligence

Education: Commission launches expert group to develop ethical guidelines on artificial intelligence and data for educators

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On 8 July, the Commission held the first meeting of the expert group on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data in education and training. The expert group is part of the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027), which will further promote understanding of the use of emerging technologies and raise awareness about the opportunities and risks of using AI and data in education and training. The 25 experts, selected via an open call, are to prepare ethical guidelines on AI and data targeting specifically the education and training sector. Acknowledging the potential and risks of AI technologies and data, the group will tackle challenges related to non-discrimination as well as ethical, security, and privacy concerns.

It will also address the pressing need for educators and students to have a basic understanding of AI and data usage to engage positively, critically, and ethically with this technology. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “Artificial intelligence and learning analytics are game-changing technologies. They are revolutionising the way students learn. At the same time, many educators, parents, and students are understandably worried about who collects, controls, and interprets the data generated about them. This is where our new expert group comes in: their work will be instrumental to prepare practical ethical guidelines for educators, addressing for example biases in decision-making.

"The meeting was an important step towards implementing our Digital Education Action Plan – together we will ensure that AI meets real educational needs and is used safely and ethically by learners and educators across Europe.”

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The meeting was the first of four to take place over the next 12 months. The guidelines, to be presented in September 2022, will be accompanied by a training programme for researchers and students on the ethical aspects of AI, and include a target of 45% of female participation in activities. The group will also make sure that the guidelines take into account the Commission's April 2021 proposal for AI legal framework and new Co-ordinated Plan with member states. Information about the launch and the work programme of the expert group is available online, further information on AI and education is available here.

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Digital economy

New digital resource launched to support health, social care and industry innovation

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Achieving Innovation is a new resource developed by Life Sciences Hub Wales to inform and guide those working across industry, health and social care innovation. It summarises key research, provides critical insights and delivers fresh perspectives from cross-sector thought leaders.

This new digital resource reviews the wealth of knowledge available about innovation in health and social care to equip those who need it with the most relevant and important information. Life Sciences Hub Wales has worked closely with contributors spanning health, industry, academia and social care providing input.

Innovation is perceived by many stakeholders as essential for catalysing system-wide change and making a difference to patients and people. A recent survey commissioned by Life Sciences Hub Wales for Beaufort Research found that 97% of health and social care regarded innovation as being very important, alongside 91% of industry.

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However, barriers can make innovation more difficult, including a lack of common language, resources, and cross-sector engagement. Life Sciences Hub Wales has created the Achieving Innovation resource to help address these challenges, identifying evidence-based solutions and answers to help navigate the innovation ecosystem and futureproof our health and social care systems.

The resource is set to be regularly updated with new material, and launches with a:

Cari-Anne Quinn, CEO of Life Sciences Hub Wales, said: “This new resource can play a key role in helping stakeholders of all backgrounds navigate the health and social care ecosystems in Wales and beyond. Innovators hold the key to large-scale transformation of health, care and wellbeing in Wales and this resource will support them in achieving this.”

Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan, said: “Innovation plays a critical role in supporting our health and social care sectors in Wales to deliver new ideas and technologies in partnership with industry. I welcome Life Sciences Hub Wales new ‘Achieving Innovation’ resource as a key tool for innovators who are working to overcome real challenges and grasp exciting new opportunities. When we established and funded Life Science Hub Wales, innovation was at the heart of its ethos - this ethos has played a key role in our recovery and response to the impact of COVID-19.”

Dr. Chris Subbe, Acute, Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine Consultant at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Senior Clinical Lecturer at Bangor University, said: “I was delighted to contribute to the Achieving Innovation resource by exploring the importance of making innovation an everyday habit.

In this time of exceptional pressures on our ability to provide quality care we need to find ways to develop talent and ideas from wherever they come. This new resource should empower multidisciplinary innovators from industry and healthcare backgrounds with the information, context and language required.”

Darren Hughes, Director of Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “We welcome the new Achieving Innovation resource from Life Sciences Hub Wales, as we have seen the impact of innovation and service transformation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The resource supports a deeper understanding of innovation and complements our multi-agency report prepared by Swansea University, The NHS Wales COVID-19 Innovation and Transformation Study Report, which draws from a vast evidence-base of staff experiences from across NHS Wales, examining why and how they innovated and looking at practical recommendations to further this agenda.

“As we embark on recovery, it’s imperative that we capitalize on opportunity to improve service delivery, efficiency, patient outcomes, staff wellbeing, and encourage a culture of learning and sharing best practice across organisational boundaries.”

The resource comes at an exciting time for innovation in Wales, with the launch of the Intensive Learning Academies earlier in 2021. The first of their kind in the world, these world-leading academies are delivering innovation-focussed taught courses, research and bespoke consultancy services, with Life Sciences Hub Wales supporting relevant partners.

If you would like to explore the Achieving Innovation resource, click here

About Life Sciences Hub Wales

Life Sciences Hub Wales aims to make Wales the place of choice for health, care and wellbeing innovation. We help to advance innovation and create meaningful collaboration between industry, health, social care, government, and research organisations.

We want to help transform both the health and economic wellbeing of the nation:

  • Accelerating the development and adoption of innovative solutions that support the health and social care needs of Wales, and;
  • partnering with industry to advance economic improvement across the life sciences sector and drive business growth and jobs in Wales.

We do this by working closely with health and social care colleagues to understand the challenges and pressures an organization may face. Once identified, we then work with industry to help source and support the development of innovative solutions to respond to these challenges with agility.

Our team provides bespoke advice, signposting and support to accelerate all innovation journeys, whether supporting a clinician with a bright idea or a multinational life sciences organisation.

Life Sciences Hub Wales helps to catalyse system-wide change by convening and orchestrating a cross-sector innovation ecosystem. These connections enable us to create valuable networking and matchmaking opportunities.

To find out more, click here.

About the Achieving Innovation resource

The resource launches with:

  • Eight Insights for Achieving Innovation- article collating key insights and themes from across the resource.
  • Directory summarizing support and organisations available in Wales.
  • A narrative review of innovation evidence and literature.
  • A policy review of the Welsh government’s approach to innovation.
  • Blogs authored by leaders from across health, industry and social care focussing on innovation.
  • Podcasts where thought leaders discuss the challenges and opportunities of innovation.

Survey Reference:

A recent survey commissioned by Life Sciences Hub Wales for Beaufort Research found that 97% of health and social care regarded innovation as being very important, alongside 91% of industry.”

Beaufort Research were commissioned by Life Sciences Hub Wales to conduct an anonymous survey into cross-sector stakeholder perceptions around the organisation and the wider life sciences sector in early 2021. This was undertaken to help inform Life Sciences Hub Wales’ future strategic direction.

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