The Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts (KVAB) has appointed Johan Schot and Petra Verhoef as Thinkers in a new programme on sustainable technological innovation. The KVAB holds two Thinkers Programmes each year and invites one or two highly regarded scholars (called ‘Thinkers’) to ask them for their input on a specific challenge Flanders is currently facing.

In line with the Vision 2050 of the Flemish government, the new programme strives to respond to the question of whether Flanders is in need of new policies for investments in sustainable technological innovation. The programme firstly addresses the theme in a general manner before zooming in on sustainable agriculture and nutrition in particular.

Petra Verhoef of the Rathenau Instituut who is a nutrition scientist and epidemiologist by training says that “sustainable and healthy food mostly go hand in hand, and that should be the guiding principle for finding innovative solutions.” According to her, there is no doubt that new ways of funding science, technology and innovation are needed to help transform our food system, including the behaviour of consumers. “Having worked in academia and the food industry, I know how big that challenge is”, says Verhoef.

Through two get-togethers at the KVAB in Brussels, Johan Schot and Petra Verhoef are given the opportunity to discuss the topic with various types of stakeholders, including important policy-makers, civil society groups, university professors, industrial managers and representatives from the agricultural and cultural sector. Based on these meetings, the two Thinkers produce a set of recommendations and propositions on addressing the topic. These will be consolidated in a short report aimed at providing the Flemish Government with recommendations and guidance on addressing the challenges described.

Johan Schot of the Utrecht University Centre for Global Challenges states, “the discussions we’ve had so far were very engaging. It is clear that policy-makers in Flanders need to decide whether they want to stretch their current science, technology and innovation policies by focusing more on transformative change in order to address the Sustainable Development Goals.”

A sub-question of the Thinkers Programme is how to assess the societal impacts of new technologies and how assessment mechanisms can be integrated into the very design and implementation of these technologies. Schot adds, “this type of change goes beyond business as usual, just adding impact indicators to funding decisions will not do. Science, technology and innovation policies need to put system change front and centre. A big open question is how to implement such policies. I am looking forward to the symposium for a further exchange of ideas.”

On 23rd of November, the conclusions and recommendations by the two Thinkers will be presented in a closing symposium in the Academy Palace in Brussels for which those interested can register online.

Petra Verhoef concludes, “so far, the Thinkers Programme has brought me into contact with inspirational people. It’s a pleasure to mutually share insights and together find new public investment options for Flanders and possibly the Netherlands as well.”

More information (in Dutch) on the KVAB’s Thinkers Programme on Sustainable Technological Innovation can be read here.

About the Thinkers:

Dr Petra Verhoef is a nutrition scientist and epidemiologist by training and currently works at the Rathenau Instituut in the Hague. She coordinates the research and societal dialogues for the theme “Making perfect lives”, which entails the fields of health, care, agriculture and food production. For more than 35 years, Rathenau Instituut has informed and stimulated public and political debate about the impact of science, innovation and technology on society.

Johan Schot is Professor of Global History and Sustainability Transitions at the Utrecht University Centre for Global Challenges. He is also the founder and director of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC), a global network of scholars, policymakers and funding bodies. TIPC strives to place addressing global challenges at the core of Science, Technology and Innovation policymaking.

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