Peter Alderliesten on finding a balance in open innovation systems

The signing of the innovation contracts early April is not only a milestone on the road to new Dutch innovation policy; it is also an important turning point in the history of ECN. An era has come in which, more than ever, trade and industry can steer applied R&D, as conducted by ECN and others, and in which new types of collaboration will emerge. In my opinion, this is the right way to go about accelerating innovation. I expect that future cabinets will also pursue this path.

In the past months, various top sectors have elaborated the organisational details and content of their plans for top consortia for knowledge and innovation that will be responsible for implementing the innovation contracts. The Top Sector Energy, under the leadership of Michiel Boersma, has put in great effort. Innovation contracts have been realised in the fields of solar energy, offshore wind energy, bio-energy, gas, industrial energy efficiency, smart grids and energy saving in buildings. ECN is strongly involved in the first five areas.

Our motto is: demand-driven collaboration on main themes across the entire chain, from fundamental, applied research to sellable product. This requires all parties involved, i.e. trade and industry, universities, knowledge institutes and government, to take their responsibility. After all, they need to strike a good balance between all stages of the innovation pathway: discovery, applied research, development, pilot, market introduction and commercialisation. This balance should guarantee maximum benefits for society, but in my view also to all participants. This can only be realised if all parties in the chain are able to play a good, sufficient and fitting role and understand and respect each other’s contributions.

I have learnt from experience that striking a balance in a system of open innovation is not an easy thing to accomplish. You are dealing with many parties who each focus on their own, legitimate objectives with regard to finance, knowledge property, planning, et cetera. A good understanding of these aspects, each other's principles and joint discussions are preconditions to the success of the overall objective. That takes time, patience, mutual trust and good insight in the added value of each of the parties.

ECN has much to offer in this difficult, yet exciting and inspiring process: ideas, technical expertise, infrastructure, project and consortium organisation, et cetera. Of course, we still have much to learn. And that is alright. Let’s do it together.

Peter Alderliesten is Programme Development Manager Energy Efficiency at ECN