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EU Year of Creativity and Innovation 2009

bridges vol. 18, July 2008 / Letter from Brussels

by Sabine Neyer

Thematic years – their aim and their genesis


sabine_neyer_small.jpg
Sabine Neyer

“What exactly is an EU year of a certain topic?” one might ask. This strange animal, the Thematic Year, is not extinct, not even on the endangered species list. In fact, there are quite a few of them around, like the UN Year, the UNESCO Year, the Year of the Council of Europe, and others. They are linked by their common interest and aim: to put a special topic in the social and political spotlight for one year. But still the question is, what do they cost, what do they accomplish, and for what reason do we have a European Year of Creativity and Innovation?

Members of the European Parliament and the Ministers of Education and Higher Education have often stressed the importance of finding a balance between the requirements of the economic world and the broad cultural dimension of education, which more than ever seems to be an area of conflict. As early as 2006 – probably some efforts for a shorter implementation process should be made here – several Education Ministers suggested a “European Year of Education and Culture 2009.” After some moments of reflection, the European Commission came to the conclusion that Creativity should be dealt with in the broader realm of Education. Therefore a European Year of Creativity and Education should be promoted.

The final agreement was to proclaim the “European Year of Creativity and Innovation 2009.” The importance of this change is that the focus was widened from Education only, to Research and Innovation. Therefore, the Year will be under the auspices of the Education ministers, but research and innovation topics will be included.
 

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Creativity and Innovation – Siamese twins in theory

To designate 2009 as the “European Year of Creativity and Innovation,” one has to think properly about a definition. The prevailing opinion is that creativity is the ability of the human brain to bridge gaps between circumstances that are not obviously connected and logically related, by creating new theories using free association between known facts and playful theory-building.

This sounds complicated, but the formula is simple: Young creative researchers also need a creative environment, which means not only an office with equipment and facilities, but also comprehensive senior researchers who provide support for their activities. Support may involve being a mentor for the younger researcher, giving him or her more flexibility in various areas (funding or working hours or working place), or facilitating administrative procedures. Furthermore, the environment should offer opportunities for contacts with researchers from other fields to enable interdisciplinary interactions for “playful theory-building.”

Creativity in general implies that a wide range of knowledge can provide the basis for innovation. Innovation requires successful realization of new ideas coming from a variety of domains, and is also essential in economic fields. However, creativity and innovation are not always well connected. Improvements are needed to bring together the worlds of school and university with private or public organizations. With creativity, people can not only provide innovation-friendly market environments, but also solve unforeseen problems and participate in the development of products and services themselves. Thus, these people can be a huge economic factor.

A fundamental underpinning of creative and innovative capacity is motivation and a sense of initiative. These factors are laid down early in personal development and have to be fostered at a very early stage. Creativity occupies a significant share of the curriculum in early school years and the role of teachers is extremely important. The Austrian Ministry of Science and Research, for example, has created a new research reward called the “Sparkling Science Award” especially designed for schools. The aim of the program is to offer young pupils the opportunity to collaborate with research institutions and become actively engaged. They will be able to gain an understanding of how the world of science and research works, and realize that this world can be inspiring and interesting. This project will help to break down the structural barriers between the worlds of Education and Science.
 
The European Year of Creativity and Innovation – some challenges

A very positive outcome of the Year would be not only to bridge the gap between Education and Research/Innovation, but also to recognize the important role played by creativity in this process. However, two negative possibilities should be mentioned. First, the decision to declare a thematic EU Year requires a Codecision Procedure – this means that the decision is made not only by the Council of Ministers but also by the European Parliament, which leads to very long agreement process. In order to start in time, the decision must be reached this autumn.

Secondly, the European Commission does not appear to have any extra money budgeted for the European Year of Creativity and Innovation. Even if the budget was adequate (at least some funds will remain from an already existing program), a dedicated budget would have helped to give the involved players more credibility and a greater sense of commitment. For the moment, member states, cities, and regions are planning to promote the Year of Creativity and Innovation 2009 drawing mainly on national budgetary support.


 

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The author, Sabine Neyer, is a member of the Austrian Ministry for Science and Research. Since January 2007, she has been the attaché for scientific affairs at the Austrian Representation to the EU in Brussels. {/access}

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