"The main problem is that research organisations and companies in the New Member Countries (NMCs) and Associated Candidate Countries (ACCs) don't know how European Union research projects work", explained EPIST co-ordinator Ira Vater of European Business Associates in Italy. "They don't know where to obtain information about research programmes, they don't know how to go about forming a consortium", Ira Vater continued. "And even if a company or research institute in an NMC or ACC comes up with the idea, they very rarely become co-ordinators of the project because they lack the experience of managing these kinds of research initiatives."
EPIST, which ended in September 2006 after 18 months of work, focused on helping researchers in ten Eastern European and Mediterranean countries - which joined the Union in 2004 - and three candidate countries - Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey - navigate the European Union's IST programme in the fields of e-health and e-inclusion.
The EPIST team developed a database and partner search tool - that is available for free on the internet - to help researchers "get their foot in the door" of European Union-funded research, regardless of their location in Europe. The team also held a series of workshops in new member states and accession countries to train research organisations and companies to build consortia and obtain European financing for projects. Meanwhile, international brokerage events brought researchers from different countries together to share ideas and build partnerships.
"More than 400 organisations from both new and old member states have added themselves to our database, while we have 690 subscribers to our quarterly newsletter", Ira Vater explained. She said that the EPIST team has been particularly surprised by the interest the project elicited not just in the NMCs and ACCs but also in the European Union's fifteen established member countries.
"Though we concentrated on making ourselves and the benefits of our services known in the new member states and candidate countries, we also found that a lot of organisations from older member states wanted to participate", she stated. "This is particularly important in order to bridge the research gaps that exist in Europe."
In-depth surveys of the status of e-health and e-inclusion activities in the NMCs and ACCs, which included reviews of national research programmes and sources of funding, gave the project team a clear idea of the needs of researchers in different states. The surveys have also revealed the potential for greater cross-border collaboration.
"Some of the NMCs are very advanced in their development and implementation of e-health and e-inclusion technologies", Ira Vater explained. "But researchers are not accustomed to the European system of research programmes."
The 16 workshops the EPIST team held in 2005 and 2006 provided researchers from NMCs and ACCs with crucial knowledge about the IST research programme. Representatives of around 25 research organisations and companies participated in each event. Three brokerage meetings meanwhile brought together researchers and organisations from both old and new members.
The project concentrated on the fields of e-health and e-inclusion because they are becoming increasingly important areas of European research, according to Ira Vater. They will continue to be so for the foreseeable future as Europe's population ages, requiring new technologies to maintain or improve health care standards and to ensure the elderly and disabled are not excluded from society.
"It is about helping everybody benefit from the information society", Ira Vater explained. She noted that the EPIST team's approach to fomenting collaboration among organisations across Europe could be applied to other fields of research as well.
The project ended in September 2006. However Ira Vater stated that the consortium plans to continue its work and maintain the web site and database, as well as continuing to publish newsletters for the foreseeable future. They are also planning to launch a follow-up project that could lead to the research database and partner-search solutions being deployed commercially.
For more information you can contact Ira Vater, EBA European Business Associates Srl, Via Gregorio VII, 186, I-00165 Rome, Italy, Tel: +39-06-9761-6717, Fax: +39-06-3937-7588, or visit the EPIST project web site.
This article has been reprinted from the IST Results web site.