Attracting foreign scientists to Oeiras; making science part of the daily life of people and entities in the municipality; promoting greater interconnection between research institutions and the business ecosystem of the municipality. These are some of the Oeiras City Council’s objectives, with the creation of the “Oeiras Science and Technology Strategy 2020-2025”. Pedro Patacho, Municipal Councillor, in charge of Education and the Agenda for Science and Innovation, explains in an interview what this strategy consists of and what initiatives the Municipality is developing to transform Oeiras into the Capital of Science and Innovation.
Oeiras hopes to become the Capital of Science and Innovation. How will this goal come true?
We have a strategic agenda for science and technology and innovation, which is a natural consequence of us being, in many indicators, the most important municipality in the country.
For example, in Oeiras we have approximately 25,000 companies established here, which generate more than 25 billion euros of turnover annually. And while the national average for university graduates is around 19%, in Oeiras we have had over 30% for quite some time. We have a highly qualified population who live or work here.
The result of this could only be the creation of a concerted, uniting strategy, which would capitalise on all this in a strong dialogue with civil society, businesses, universities and institutions in our territory.
What will need to be done to make Oeiras the Capital of Science and Innovation?
There are three very important aspects. First, science, technology and innovation need to be present in schools, in public spaces, at cultural events. The second aspect has to do with the need to create conditions so that work in the area of innovation and value creation from scientific knowledge that is produced here creates conditions for this innovation to flourish and to assert itself, in order for it to develop with greater speed and with greater impact on wealth creation. A third factor, and also a very important one, is that all this is done in order to project the municipality internationally as an attractive and relevant space.
Where did the idea for creating the Oeiras Science and Technology strategy come from?
We have looked at several cities in the world that have made similar journeys over the past 25 to 30 years. What they have in common is the fact that they are places with a large number of universities, science and technology based companies, and that they have capitalised on this model in order to assert themselves, based on a territorial strategy rooted in science, technology and innovation.
We have seen several examples of cities and regions that have created this movement. For example, in Flanders, Belgium, a very well-known entity that is the VIP, which about 25 years ago started a movement – very similar to the one Oeiras is doing – driven by local government and local public entities. They were here with us, with the Gulbenkian Institute of Science, with the António Xavier Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology (ITQB), with various other institutions, and they shared with us how their process in Flanders had gone, what difficulties they encountered and what recommendations they could give us.
The Oeiras Science and Technology strategy is a five-year plan. When it comes to 2025, what results would you like to have achieved by implementing this strategy?
What we would most like to see, by 2025, would be our schools full of opportunities to teach science “hands on” with “inquiry-based learning”, with teachers fully involved in these dynamics. I would like to see science in classrooms, in playgrounds, with multiple opportunities for students to dream, imagine, be creative, dare to pursue careers in science, engineering, technology and innovation and want to discover the world.
At the City Council events, I would like to see an immense dissemination of science communication opportunities for all citizens, for people to understand how science is embedded in our lives, in what we eat, what we wear, the decisions we make, the technology we use.
I would also like to see more universities in our county and I would like to see more links between the universities and our territory around us; I would like to see more research centres wanting to be based in this network.
There is still a preconceived idea that science and the work done by researchers belong to a different reality, which is unattainable for ordinary people. How can science be brought closer to civil society?
It is very curious that you say this, because the main base programme that embodies the first pillar of action of our agenda for science is called, precisely, “Open Science to Oeiras”.
This programme stems from the observation that there is still very much this stereotypical idea that science is a distant thing, made by people a little out of touch with the world, who are very intelligent and can do some extraordinary things. It’s actually nothing like that. There is, by the way, a movement in the education sector at international level to demystify this idea. But this is not only important for the education sector, but also in society and in people’s lives. Because scientists are people like everyone else, they have lives like everyone else. They don’t live in isolation, because they work as a team most of the time and the scientific enterprise is actually a human enterprise and is within anyone’s reach. It is necessary to bring scientific institutions closer to citizens, bring scientists closer to people, create relationship opportunities and demystify this idea, making people – especially younger people – enthusiastic about science, and understanding how science can respond in a wonderfully creative and practical way to everyday things. One of the main objectives of the “Open Science to Oeiras” programme is to break this barrier and show that science is inside us, outside us, beyond us and that it is accessible to everyone. All you need is one thing: curiosity.
You talked about the “Open Science to Oeiras” programme. Can you mention some more initiatives that are part of the Science and Technology Strategy?
Regarding the programme “Open Science to Oeiras”, I can mention the International Science Festival, FICA. We propose to hold a science festival that is at the level of what is best done in the world and that can be a reference in science festivals. We want it to be a well-known festival, that is very dynamic and of high-quality. We want FICA to call together the entire national scientific system: from the Foundation for Science and Technology, the Ministry of Science, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Education and all relevant companies that develop science and development activities. We want to come together in a festival aimed at the whole Portuguese scientific ecosystem, from the point of view of science communication and dissemination of innovation. I have no doubt that the Oeiras Science Festival, which will take place at the beginning of April 2021, will be a landmark event in our country and will be added to Portugal’s scientific activity calendar. I am very happy that this event is being organised by a local authority, which reaffirms the decisive role that municipalities and local authorities can play in this type of dynamic. Local authority in Portugal has reached a level that goes beyond the performance of its usual duties and this festival will also contribute to this idea.
Regarding Innovation, I would mention, for example, a project that we are doing with some institutions – such as the IGC and the ITQB – but which is going to be extended to other entities, and that is the development of a knowledge and technology transfer office. This office is called InoValley. Another source of funding for proofs of concept is also associated with this programme.
On internationalisation, I could also highlight the partnership that we are establishing with the European Research Council, which awards research grants every year to Europe’s best scientists in various areas of expertise. Not all projects that are submitted and that are well-received get funding. To these projects that are below the funding level, but have a very good rating, our suggestion is this: come to Oeiras, apply for our grants, because we can provide funding.
With this programme, we are projecting our Municipality internationally as an interesting territory, ideal for coming to do research in our institutions, with grants guaranteed, not by the European Research Council, but by the strategic science agenda of the Municipality of Oeiras. Still within the matter of internationalisation we now have a sabbatical programme, which will allow researchers from all over the world to have short stays here in Oeiras, working in our institutions, in our institutes and with the teams that are here.
And how did the Startup Research programme come about?
It is a programme that resulted from the partnership between ITQB and Nova Business School. This is a postgraduate course, specifically for scientists working in the field of fundamental science, whose aim is to help them identify economic value in the outcome of their research and support them in developing a business idea. It is a very successful programme: we are guaranteeing about 15 grants annually, for a programme that has about 21/22 scientists involved in each edition, and the Municipality of Oeiras is the main “sponsor”.
What are, in your opinion, the competitive advantages of Oeiras for this strategy to work and for Oeiras to assert itself as the capital of innovation? What sets the municipality of Oeiras apart?
The Valley is a territory of 45 square kilometres. It is small, controlled, prepared to receive investment, to receive institutions, quality housing and world-class educational projects, and this generates the best conditions for this strategy to have a good outcome. In Oeiras we have companies, universities and research institutes. We have Taguspark. We have the Lagoas Parque, Quinta da Fonte and Arquiparque business parks, but there are projects to create other new parks, which will be qualitatively very different. These new parks will mix companies, housing units, cultural facilities and sports facilities together in the same space, and as such they will be hubs of life and dynamism, full of activity and not just places to work.
There will also be new traffic distribution roads that will improve mobility in the municipality. We will have new public transport routes – for example, the light rail line – that will cross part of the municipality from Algés to Linda-a-Velha and Miraflores, then going back down to Algés. SATUO will finally start up and be a clean and sustainable means of mobility for all people moving between one end of the county and the other. The networks of pedocycle lanes are moving forward quickly and will swarm the municipality in the coming years. The housing programmes that are being developed here are no longer just social housing. They are also for the middle class who need access to quality housing, in quality urban spaces, at controlled prices, which they can afford and which enable them to have a comfortable life.
We are also making huge investments in the educational network, in schools, in a 30 million euro programme which aims to have all new schools ready by 2025. There are 46 schools that we have in our public network, which brings together 20,000 students and 1900 teachers. All this generates an atmosphere of trust, of integrity, which I believe is attractive if properly communicated to those who are interested.
Did the Oeiras Science and Technology 2025 strategy involve an investment? How much will be invested?
The Oeiras Municipality assumes responsibility for taking the first step in leveraging this investment, and the Mayor or Oeiras has promised to devote 1% of the municipal budget to the annual financing of this strategy. One per cent may be very relative, but today’s annual budget in Oeiras is around 220 million euros, which means that we are talking about a figure of over 2 million euros.
The goal is that as this strategic agenda for science develops, it will become less dependent on the availability of 1% of the municipal budget and increasingly dependent on other competitive funding. To this end, we are dealing with the entity that will be the manager of this strategic agenda for science. It will be made up of many private institutions, some public institutions – including the council itself – but it will be an independent entity, guided by world-class scientific activity, which will be responsible for managing this strategic agenda. Our expectation is that, as we approach 2025, this entity will become, from a financial point of view, progressively independent from the City Council itself.
The “Oeiras Science and Technology 2020-2025 Strategy” in a minute
Launched at the end of 2019, the “Oeiras Science and Technology 2020-2025 Strategy” has the mission of affirming the municipality as an international science and innovation centre, taking advantage of the fact that Oeiras is in a particularly strong position to bridge the gap between research and the market. To this end, an agenda of initiatives and programmes based on three pillars was created: Education and Society; Innovation and Internationalisation. “The Municipality of Oeiras has unique conditions at a national and international level, which position the territory as a benchmark ecosystem in the areas of science and innovation. A large number of scientific-technological companies are based here, as well as several world-class universities and scientific institutes”, said the Mayor of Oeiras, Isaltino Morais, during the presentation ceremony for the strategy.