The instrument that identifies strategies and priorities for Italy’s research system is the National Research Programme (NRP). The goal is to ensure the coordination of research with other national policies and to align the Country with the strategic vision at European level, while promoting the progressive integration between public and private research. The NRP was drawn up by the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) through broad consultation with the scientific and academic community, the economic forces and the relevant administrations, and is approved by the Interministerial Committee for Economic Programming (CIPE).
The new National Research Programme 2015-2020 from a mere legislative compliance becomes a platform to boost industrial competitiveness and development of the Country through the instruments of knowledge. A lean tool in support of prioritization and coordination, available to all the players involved in research and innovation.
Based on the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Italian research system, six intervention programmes have been defined, each having specific objectives, actions and dedicated resources.
The first objective is the internationalization, coordination and integration of national initiatives with European and global ones. The growing weight of European resources as compared to national resources, and of resources accessible on the basis of competition as compared to ordinary ones, requires a different approach to the national planning activities. For this reason, the NRP organically integrates the national programmes and resources with European resources, in particular the Cohesion Policy and those under the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2014-2020 Horizon 2020, and aligns each NRP Programme to criteria and instruments established at European level, also contributing to preparing actors and results of the Italian research for international competition.
The second objective is to give centre stage to investment in human capital. The NRP strategy focuses primarily on people working in public and private research, with the aim of increasing the number of educated and trained researchers, while creating an environment and opportunities that stimulate the best talents and give them a major role in the production and transfer of knowledge to society as a whole.
The third objective is to provide selective support to research infrastructures. The NRP pays great attention to research infrastructures, a pillar of Italian and international research, especially of fundamental research. The NRP defines and starts for the first time an infrastructure assessment process, aligning it to the criteria and mechanisms of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).
The fourth objective is the public-private collaboration, considered as the driving force of research and innovation. In this context, the National Technology Clusters, set up based on the specialization areas of applied research, are recognized as permanent infrastructures for the dialogue between universities, public research bodies and enterprises and between central and local authorities. The NRP recognizes as a priority the interaction with society through support of social innovation, philanthropic funding of research, and constant and transparent communication and information actions on the role of research.
The fifth objective is Southern Italy. Priority actions are defined to support research and innovation in this area, by creating a synergy between the National Operational Programme, Regional Operational Programmes and ordinary resources.
The sixth objective, actually a prerequisite to all the others, is that of efficiency and quality of expenditure, through the definition and strengthening of evaluation, monitoring, transparency, simplification and administrative reinforcement processes. A seemingly minor issue that has become relevant to ensure that public investments in research and innovation are credible, efficient and timely.
An intervention Programme and specific action lines are provided for each macro-objective.
No priorities have been set among the scientific disciplines of fundamental research, but the NRP 2015-2020 proposes a taxonomy of applied and translational research divided into twelve specialization areas:
- Cultural Heritage;
- Blue Growth;
- Green Chemistry;
- Design, Creativity and Made in Italy;
- Smart Manufacturing;
- Sustainable Mobility;
- Smart, Secure and Inclusive Communities;
- Technologies for Living Environments.
These are the areas where research, especially if carried out jointly by public and private bodies, can produce the best results. The areas, which take into account the industrial weight of their related production sectors, were cross analysed using two types of indicators: those assessing the relevance of Italian research in the various fields in terms of scientific publications, and those assessing the innovative capability associated with patenting activity. The resulting areas combine the strategic choices made at the European level – especially those under the Framework Programme Horizon 2020 –with the policies defined at the national and regional level.
The financial investment of the Ministry of Education, University and Research in the NRP, described in detail in the last chapter, is about €2.5 billion euro over the first three years, which add up to the €8 billion funding that the Ministry of Education, University and Research currently allocates to Universities and Research Institutions every year.
The articulation in programmes and actions and the definition of specialization areas of applied research are intended to provide research policies with consistency, thus avoiding inefficiency due to inaccurate planning; predictability, by providing a time, financial and project frame that is shared by all public stakeholders from the beginning; and selectivity, thus avoiding the dispersion of resources in too many directions, but instead focusing them on the most promising areas, while ensuring the necessary and unavoidable support to basic, free and fundamental research.