An article written by Klaus von Lepel and Franziska Jerosch – Baltic Science Network; Hamburg Ministry of Science, Research, Equalities and Districts.
The macro regional dimension of science cooperation before BSN
The Baltic Sea Region is one of the most competitive, innovative science macro-regions in the world. It is offering an excellent structure of leading universities and research institutions. When the Baltic Science Network (BSN) started its work, science policy in the macro-region was organised and pursued mainly from a regional, national and European angle. Only fragments of cooperation existed at macro-regional level. This “policy mix” of EU, BSR, regional and national policies and initiatives lead to a complex and partly overlapping system of different institutions, policies, instruments and networks while a clear coordinated, macro-regional dimension was largely missing.
Analysis showed that innovation infrastructures across the BSR were not equally distributed and interconnected, leading to different levels of innovation and research performance across the region. The participation gap between EU-15 and EU-13 countries as well as unequal mobility flows of students and researchers in the region, that showed a significant amount of brain drain from East to West, were identified as key bottlenecks of cooperation. Research consortia from the BSR region were underrepresented in EU funded projects, despite their excellent research results.
In 2016, the first CBSS Science Ministerial in June marked the beginning of efforts to find a common voice for science and research community in the Baltic Sea Region. In The Chair’s Conclusion, Baltic Science: Renewing the Commitment to Science/Research Joint Actions in the Baltic Sea Region member states reaffirmed their support to the Baltic Science Network as an important tool to enhance a macro-regional dimension of science and research policy, from which higher education and research institutions should benefit.
The “Baltic Science Network” (BSN) was established in 2016, as a policy network gathering relevant transnational, national and regional policy actors from all BSR countries under the leadership of the Hamburg Ministry of Science, Research and Equalities. As a multi-level network, BSN gathered key decision makers of science from EU and non-EU countries in the belief that the BSR countries need a common voice of the macro-region to cooperate and join their strengths and abilities for the region to prosper.
Five years of cooperation: what has been achieved?
BSN started its work by scientifically examining the status quo of science cooperation in the region. Up to then data only existed at national and European level but the macro-regional dimension was largely missing. A three step approach of analysis, developing solutions, and implementation was pursued. Through a variety of studies and working papers network partners assessed which obstacles were hindering science cooperation in the BSR. Understanding these barriers allowed the network to design tailor-made solutions to help the whole region to tap into its full scientific potential.
The Baltic Science Network approached the establishment of macro-regional science and research cooperation within three main fields of action:
1) Research and Innovation Excellence: The main goal in this field of action was to identify challenges in R&I cooperation and to develop cooperation strategies for areas of scientific excellence of the region.
2) Mobility in Research and Higher Education: Analysis showed that mobility as well as interpersonal and interinstitutional networks are the key for transnational cooperation. Therefore, BSN designed mobility tools tailor-made for tackling the challenges of the macro region.
3) Widening Participation: Acknowledging the fact that the BSR could only live up to its full potential and prosper when including all countries in the region and hence overcome the participation gap, BSN developed concepts for better incorporating EU13 member states into science and research collaboration.
One of the key achievements was the representation of macro-regional interests at the policy-making level, especially at the EU level. intensive outreach activities of the network during several conferences and high-level meeting attracted participants from the EU Commission, national and regional ministries, representatives of academia as well as other projects, programmes and initiatives fostering the BSR cooperation in science and research.
At policy level BSN drafted a policy paper on the EU framework programme (FP9 / Horizon Europe) and a position paper on tackling widening participation in research and innovation from the BSR perspective. Jointly with the Estonian EU Presidency BSN organised a high-level political conference in Tallinn in 2017 and in Brussels in 2018 were significant outreach at EU level could be achieved. As a result the new Horizon Europe Programme now includes a dedicated programme on Widening Participation that inclusively targets EU-13 countries.
BSN has continuously strengthened its ties with the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) by jointly organising high level meetings. In 2019 the Baltic Science Network Final Conference in Riga was organised in close cooperation with the CBSS High Level Meeting on Science under the Latvian Presidency. The final meeting of the BSN_powerhouse project was organised as joint event of BSN and the CBSS Science Days in 2021. Today BSN is seen as a cornerstone of CBSS Science Research Innovation Agenda (SRIA).
During the five years since its establishment the Baltic Science Network has brought together different actors from the science community in the macro region to discuss science policy in an inclusive way. BSN gathered views from representatives of ministries, universities, research Institutions as well as funding agencies to identify major strengths and bottlenecks of the science and research community and develop strategies to foster research and innovation excellence, mobility of scientists and expanded participation. 
From 2016 to 2021, the network received funding from EU-Interreg for two projects: 
The first BSN Interreg project (2016 – 2019) focussed on analysis, joint strategy development and setting up a platform for science cooperation in the BSR. The successor, the BSN_powerhouse project (2019 – 2021) has gone one step further to implementation. BSN_powerhouse aimed at providing effective transnational support instruments for fostering cooperation of researchers and research infrastructures. To foster cooperation and develop research and innovation excellence in the region two concrete support instruments have been implemented, tested and evaluated: the LaunchPad Connector and the BARI Mobility Programme.
Both Interreg projects focused on three thematic priority areas, namely: Photon and Neutron Science (PNS), Life Sciences (LS) and Welfare State (WS).
Despite the challenges imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic the network has successfully piloted two innovative instruments: the Launch Pad and the BARI Mobility Programme for young researchers. Results, lessons-learned and a refined concept for each of the two instruments are summarised in two Evaluation and Refinement reports.
The LaunchPad:RI_Connectors: for widening participation of research infrastructures (RI) in the field of photon and neutron science. EU13 and Russian small-scale RI were matched with large-scale RI to become dedicated partner facilities. The instrument aimed at overcoming the gap in research and innovation performance among BSN countries.
An international online Symposium „Photon and Neutron Science in the Baltic Sea Region“ was held in October 2020 covering two parts: a conference (26. October) and hackathon (27-29. October). Research institutions, infrastructures and industry participated to share their visions on traditional and ‘novel’ ways of using photons and neutrons as methods. The three days hackathon was an innovative matchmaking experience for most of the participants. Spontaneously formed international teams directly engaged in developing project proposal drafts from scratch. An expert panel reviewed the drafts, provided feedback and recommendations for further development and selected four teams for further tailor-made support and coaching to transform the drafted concepts into concrete proposals for gaining access to research infrastructure or funding. The successful proposals brought together research institutions, infrastructure and private sector organisations from Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Russia and Sweden.
One of these project proposals may serve as an illustration of what has been achieved. The project “Towards a Virtual Human Body built on a broad network of Life Science Expertise and Advanced Research Infrastructure Tools in the Baltic Sea Region” involves universities, large-scale facilities and spin-off companies in Sweden, Germany, Russia and Latvia. It aims at increasing competence and analysis capacity of for instance biological samples through allowing remote access to infrastructures, improving handling of complex and large data sets and utilizing artificial intelligence in life science. The long-term goal is to embark into developing and implementing a fully virtual human body down to the atomic level of proteins for scientific, educational and medical purposes.
As a result and consequence of the pandemic conditions, the LaunchPad turned out to be using more flexible and innovative approaches if compared to the original plan. New innovative approaches were found and tested especially regarding virtual platforms and formats for matchmaking (hackathon), discussion, networking, co-creation and self-organisation for the scientific community. Partners and associates involved in the pilot phase expressed their interest to build on the experiences and transfer the concept to other fields of use.
BARI (Baltic Science Network Mobility Programme for Research Internships): the Research Internship Programme offered doctoral students the possibility to hire master or bachelor students for a research internship. Working jointly on a research project helped foster personal ties between nationalities as well as interest in research and scientific cooperation. Additionally, the PHD students gained valuable leadership skills.
The BARI programme had to be adapted as a response to the Covid panedemia. Most importantly it has been extended to July 2021 to allow for a greater flexibility to respond to Covid-19 related travel restrictions. The BARI administration has offered monthly calls during which PHD candidates and students could submit their project offers and applications respectively. Matching was done on a monthly basis. 60 matches could be confirmed and a monthly stipend guaranteed. Matches cover PHDs and students from 10 BSR countries.
More than 158 applicants, 182 internship offers from 72 universities and research institutions, 12 calls for applications, and 10 participating countries in the Baltic Sea Region, proved that a mobility programme for research internships is highly desirable, in the interest to capitalise on the research capacity present in the Baltic Sea Region. All countries but Iceland and Belarus were represented in the programme. The three top destinations were Germany, Sweden and Poland. The majority of sending organisations were from Germany, Russia and Poland.
The flexible structure of the BARI programme allowed the students and their hosts to take advantage of the limited mobility windows conceded by the pandemic. BARI also offered the opportunity to test out a multi-level funding instrument. While the overall administration was financed by the EU-Interreg funds, scholarships came from participating organisations. The fact that 9 partners and 3 external organisations engaged as sponsors with their own funds, showed high ownership of the institutions involved.
Although, the Powerhouse project has ended in July 2021 the Baltic Science Network will continue.
BSN has engaged in a vision process in early 2021 to elaborate on the BSN Vision 2030. The Vision has been endorsed by all members in June 2021 and defines focus, themes and overall structure for the continuation of the network.
The diversified voice of different members such as ministries, universities, funding agencies and regional organisations, as well as the participation of EU and non-EU members has been identified as one of the key added-values of the network. The range of tasks has diversified during the years. BSN now does not only provide a platform for exchange, policy processes and initiation of joint projects, it also has become a real experience in the wider science community with concrete activities such as the BARI mobility programme and the LaunchPad.
Today, Science and Research is well embedded in key political processes in the region and BSN managed to establish as a key forum for Science and Research cooperation in the BSR. As a flagship of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) under the Policy Area Education, Research and Employability. BSN contributes to the CBSS Science Research Innovation Agenda (SRIA), Action Plan and the CBSS Ministerial Declaration Vilnius II “A Vision for the BSR by 2030”, that stress the importance of close cooperation in education, science, research and innovation in the BSR and encourages the continuation of an informal platform for S&R cooperation.
BSN will explore options on how to further intensify cooperation with major political organisations such as Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) and Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC).
As a bottom-up approach towards a European Research Area (ERA), science cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region today is well advanced and can serve both as model for other European macro-regions and for the integration of non-EU partners into science cooperation within the macro-region.
International cooperation was greatly challenged during the last years. The outbreak of the COVID19-pandemia also affected BSN’s work. But like in other regions, also the Baltic Sea Region cooperation in science and research did not come to a standstill. Meetings and workshops have been shifted to digital formats and individual research visits have taken place whenever possible particularly during the summertime.
The Russian invasion in the Ukraine again changed framework conditions of BSR cooperation dramatically and participation of Russian network members has been suspended.
But although actors are working in a changing environment the value of science and research cooperation in the BSR remains unaffected.
BSN (2021), BSN Vision 2030, Future of science and research cooperation in the BSR, Available at: https://www.baltic-science.org/documentation/
BSN Position Paper (2018), Baltic Science Network Position Paper “Tackling Widening Participation in R&I from the Baltic Sea Region Perspective”, Available at: https://www.baltic-science.org/documentation/
Erikkson, Leif (2019): Joint Programming in a macro-regional setting. Available at https://www.baltic-science.org/bsn-publications/reports-working-papers/
Grahl, Susanne/Raszczyk, Izabela (2019): The Baltic Sea Region – A Science Powerhouse. Available at https://www.baltic-science.org/bsn-publications/reports-working-papers/
Haverinen, Soile et al (2021), Evaluation and Refinement of BARI mobility tool – A report. Available at https://www.baltic-science.org/bsn-publications/reports-working-papers/
Leino, Mari (2019): Baltic Sea Region Needs More Powerful Researcher Mobility. Available at https://www.baltic-science.org/bsn-publications/reports-working-papers/
Musiał, Kazimierz/Schumacher, Tom (2018): Scientific Excellence: Joint Potentials in the Baltic Sea Region – an Explorative Study. Available at https://www.baltic-science.org/bsn-publications/reports-working-papers/
Rozenfelde, Anna (2021), Evaluation Report, LaunchPad:RI_connectors as drivers of transnational research and Innovation excellence. Available at https://www.baltic-science.org/bsn-publications/reports-working-papers/
 Musiał, Kazimierz/Schumacher, Tom (2018): Scientific Excellence: Joint Potentials in the Baltic Sea Region – an Explorative Study.
 Results of the first years of cooperation are summarised at: Grahl, Susanne/Raszczyk, Izabela (2019): The Baltic Sea Region – A Science Powerhouse.
 The EU Interreg Vb Baltic Sea Region Project Baltic Science Network with a total volume of 2.99 Mio EUR was implemented from March 2016 to February 2019. BSN_powerhouse had a total volume of 1.08 Mio and was implemented from August 2019 – July 2021.
 Rozenfelde, Anna (2021), Evaluation Report, LaunchPad:RI_connectors as drivers of transnational research and Innovation excellence; and
Haverinen, Soile et al (2021), Evaluation and Refinement of BARI mobility tool – A report
 Rozenfelde (2021)
 Leino, Mari (2019): Baltic Sea Region needs more powerful researcher mobility.
 Haverinen (2021)
 Erikkson, Leif (2019): Joint Programming in a macro-regional setting.
 BSN (2021), BSN Vision 2030, Future of science and research cooperation in the BSR
 BSN (2021)