Cross-sectional issue knowledge and technology transfer

In order to create lasting viability through FONA, we are supporting the targeted transfer of knowledge, technologies and innovations. Our funding is aimed at providing specialist, guidance and transformation knowledge and at accelerating the transfer of research results into application. This is best achieved if from the very beginning researchers work together with stakeholders in the field and decision-makers.

In FONA we focus on participation. This includes involving stakeholders from the non-academic environment (such as municipalities, companies, NGOs and local citizens) in planning and decision-making processes and them working together with research to develop solutions. Science, politics, economy and civil society benefit equally from these cooperations.

We want to further strengthen transdisciplinary cooperation in FONA. Involving different actors results in a better systemic understanding. The issues of sustain- ability research are complex and, in return, require that transfer activities be geared to specific target groups. We therefore distinguish between three fields of action: political consulting, economic development and transfer, and participation of local authorities and the public.

Setting the right impetus with policy advice

Only if political decisions are based on an informed and evidence-based discourse can the goals of the 2030 Agenda be achieved. We are therefore promoting science-based policy advice through committees that identify new research needs, provide reliable data, expand the knowledge base and thus provide targeted impetus for sustainable development. At the national level, the Science Platform Sustainability 2030 (WPN 2030) and the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) are two of several relevant examples. Both represent independent and open discussion of sustainability issues.

WPN 2030 was initiated in 2017 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research together with the Federal Ministry for the Environment and the Federal Ministry for Development and has since been funded by the scientific community itself. It serves as an interface between politics, society, business and the science and research community, and with its scientific expertise it supports the implementation of the German Sustainable Development Strategy and the global Sustainable Development Goals. The open platform approach brings researchers together with practitioners from civil society, politics and business, thus enabling a transdisciplinary scientific dialogue.

The WBGU is an expert body that has been advising the German Federal Government on environmental issues of global significance since 1992. It is jointly funded by the Federal Ministry of Research and the Federal Ministry for the Environment. Its work consists primarily of preparing expert reports that examine selected priorities in detail, pointing out options for policy action. As an independent advisory body, the interdisciplinary Climate Protection Science Platform supports the Federal Government in the implementation and ongoing development of the long-term German strategy for climate protection. Its task is to monitor the implementation of the Federal Government’s climate package and make proposals for its improvement. Here, too, the Federal Ministry of Research and the Federal Ministry for the Environment are jointly supporting the work of the science platform.

As Germany’s largest research organisation, the Helmholtz Association, which is funded by the Federal Government and the Länder, is committed to research for sustainable development and knowledge transfer. A total of seven Helmholtz Centres are therefore pooling their expertise in the research area Earth and Environment. In what is now the fourth funding period (2021–2027), the research area will build a synthesis and communication platform (SynCom) specifically designed for knowledge synthesis, knowledge dialogue, policy advice and science communication. The research area contributes in this way to providing factually sound and comprehensible reference knowledge to guide social debate and political decisions.

Other policy advisory bodies are dedicated to individual sub-fields of sustainability research. In the BMBF-funded initiative ‘Energy Systems of the Future’, for example, more than 100 experts from science and research are working to ensure that a sustainable, secure and affordable energy supply can succeed. The German academies of science acatech, Leopoldina and Akademienunion have been jointly advising policymakers and civil society since 2013.

At the global level, the United Nations is the most important forum for international exchange and cooperation – especially when it comes to implementing the 2030 Agenda. The importance of independent scientific advice is shown, for instance, in the negotiations on the global climate agreement. Founded in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is probably the best-known advisory body, representing the Federal Government’s most important source of knowledge for climate policy. We support the work of the IPCC through our extensive funding of climate research, the results of which are incorporated into the IPCC Assessment Reports. In addition, through the German IPCC Coordination Office, we join forces with the Federal Ministry for the Environment to support the work of the IPCC. In 2012, following the IPCC model, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was founded to help ensure that scientific findings are quickly incorporated into political action. We support sound advice and the monitoring of international biodiversity policy through the German IPBES Coordination Office, which we set up together with the Federal Ministry for the Environment.

Promoting economic utilisation

Sustainable development and economic success no longer stand in contradiction to each other. Many companies and major investment agencies have recognised this and are participating in targeted research projects to develop and bring to market innovative and sustainable products, technologies and services. Funding for economic development in FONA includes both classical collaborative projects and long-term large-scale projects focusing on implementation on an industrial scale.

FONA’s funding for economic development has grown steadily in recent years. In 2019, it accounted for more than a quarter of the BMBF’s economic development funding. Most of the economic development funding in FONA goes to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But industrial companies also have a firm place in the FONA Strategy, and research on energy system transformation, for example, would be inconceivable without them. They are an important driver of innovation and an important interface for the transfer of research results to industry.

In future, we want to do even more for the economic exploitation of research results. We are continuing the successful promotion of SMEs under the auspices of ‘Innovative SMEs’. This focuses on topics that contribute to solving the grand challenges of our time: raw material efficiency and the circular economy, the bioeconomy, energy efficiency and climate protection, adaptation to climate change, sustainable water management and sustainable land management. To ensure that more research results are transformed into competitive business ideas, we are stepping up our support for start-ups and the establishment of new enterprises. In FONA, we want to focus more strongly on young companies in the future and help to ensure that they do not fail due to a lack of seed capital or overly high start-up risks.

Norms and standards are an important instrument for economic success. They contribute to a more rapid dissemination of innovative and sustainable technologies. Translating research results into norms and standards is supported by legislation that is based on the latest scientific findings and can set global standards. Therefore, in FONA we aim to step up our cooperation with standard-setting actors such as public authorities and industry associations and to develop concepts specific to standardisation, for example in applied water research. In this way we want to support German companies in their efforts to remain or become innovation leaders in global climate and environmental protection.

Involving citizens and municipalities in sustainable development

Municipalities are the places where change towards more sustainability is determined. For FONA, too, municipalities are key actors who put ideas into concrete terms and implement sustainable innovations on the ground. For this reason, we support transdisciplinary cooperation in joint projects among municipalities, the private sector, the science community and civil society.

An important instrument for testing new ideas in municipalities is the creation of experimental and test spaces. This form of science–practice cooperation in which the focus is on mutual learning in a temporally and often spatially limited experimental environment is called a real-world laboratory. New concepts, technologies or business models for sustainable coexistence in cities and municipalities (for example in the areas of mobility, the circular economy or the sharing economy) are thus tested for their effectiveness. FONA research uses real-world laboratories to test how innovations are accepted by citizens and to what extent the legal framework needs to be further developed. And they help project participants to transfer successfully established developments more quickly to other regions.

Sustainable development in municipalities requires cross-sectoral coordination and cooperation. In order to ensure that the work of other federal ministries and other actors is compatible with our work, we are systematically promoting inter-ministerial cooperation and structured dialogue with municipal umbrella organisations as part of the Federal Government’s Innovation Platform City of the Future (IPZ). Including the municipal user perspective will identify challenges faced by municipalities at an early stage so measures can be developed that are geared towards needs and impacts. The promotion of innovation and application in practice thus go hand in hand.

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