The concept

"Innovation and structural transformation” marks the new innovation policy by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) behind the funding concept for structural transformation at regional level across the whole of Germany.

I. Challenges faced by structural transformation in East and West Germany

Innovative prowess and economic strength in Germany are characterised by significant regional differences, both between the East and West as well as within East and West Germany. Enormous efforts have been undertaken at federal and state level (and within the East German regions since 1990), as well as in the structurally weak and old industrial regions in West Germany to generate new perspective within structural transformation. This subsequently led to creating and securing jobs, the incorporation of innovative young businesses and the strengthening of both science and research in the public sector.

This process must advance so that regional disparities can continue to be minimised. Further impulses are needed in view of the challenges on the horizon in order to safeguard both economic and social cohesion. The challenges faced in increasing regional economic and innovative strength simultaneously overlap with other developments in structurally weak regions, including demographic change and digital transformation.

In order to establish a long-term perspective for dynamic development in structurally weak regions, the German government has decreed the cornerstones of an integrated funding concept. A research and innovation-centric funding policy is a central building block within these cornerstones. It is clear that economic momentum can only be increased when classic investment policy - aimed at eliminating structural deficits - works in tandem with a systematic strengthening of regional innovation potential.

The last 15 years have seen the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) invest almost € 2 billion as part of its "Entrepreneurial Regions" (German: Unternehmen Region) innovation initiative, focussing on the specific promotion of research, development and innovation in East Germany. This funding has made a decisive contribution to ensuring that above-average positive innovation, value creation and employment effects have been rendered in many regions, and in particular in those regions with a university presence, in addition to the professional development programmes on offer across the nation.

We will continue to develop this successful approach in the form of a new programme “WIR! – Transformation through innovation in the region” (German: WIR! – Wandel durch Innovation in der Region)."WIR!" is a pilot programme of a new funding initiative “Innovation and structural transformation”, which we aim to implement across the whole of Germany in the coming years.

II. "WIR! – Transformation through innovation in the region”

Thanks to the new programme "WIR! – Transformation through innovation in the region” the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) aims to re-energise innovation momentum in structurally weak regions. In doing so, our sites are set in particular on those regions that fall beyond the scope of existing innovation centres. And in order to strengthen the existing innovation potential there, we will therefore be expanding our tried and tested funding concept. Promotional efforts will focus on the development of regional innovation concepts. This will involve providing support to confederations that traverse interdisciplinary industry, institutional and administrative thresholds, and which embrace civic commitment. Even those stakeholders with limited innovation experience should be brought into the fold. In addition to technological innovation, the programme is thus also opened up for social and non-technical innovation.

Following the promotion of an intensive strategic phase, up to twelve initiatives per selection round will be supported in the modular implementation of their innovation concepts, in the form of eligible projects. The support addresses individual and collaborative R&D efforts, innovation services and infrastructures, further education and training as well as the support of young businesses. By adopting an open funding approach, topics of particular significance for structurally weak regions can be dealt with comprehensively by way of a systemic approach. Key topics can include, for example, the provision of high-quality medical care in declining areas, energy transition and resource efficiency, the networking of production processes, nutrition and agriculture, structural transition in mining regions, and the appeal of rural regions as places of home and work.

The new programme “WIR!” is due to kick off against a backdrop of the ongoing Solidarity Pact II programme (until 2019) in East Germany; draft project ideas can be submitted up until 31 October 2017.

III. A new funding concept “Innovation and structural transformation” across Germany

In view of the macroeconomic, technological and societal issues of the future, which pose particular challenges for structurally weak regions in East and West Germany alike, a pan-German perspective must be adopted in future regarding the promotion of structural transformation in structurally weak regions.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will therefore channel its efforts into promoting structural transformation in structurally weak regions by adopting specific approaches aimed at strengthening regional innovation potential, which extend beyond the timeframe set for the Solidarity Pact II. In future, this will take the form of a new funding concept entitled “Innovation and structural transformation”. Structurally weak regions in West German federal states will also be included no later than 2020 when the Solidarity Pact II expires.

Initial focus will be on existing regional potential, with a view to generating new momentum, which will permit the development of a range of scientific, economic and societal competencies for innovation-centric structural transformation. Sustainable innovation disciplines boasting unique characteristics and a level of national and international visibility alike shall subsequently be able to be developed and strengthened.

It shall target those regions across the nation, which are characterised as structurally weak in terms of their economic strength and employment markets. The so-called “C development regions” (“C-Fördergebiete”) should serve as a point of orientation here, as part of the joint task of improving regional economic structure (GRW). The initiative will also dedicate its attention to the particular situation faced by East German regions, up until the expiration of the Solidarity Pact II programme at the end of 2019.

The new Germany-wide funding concept established by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has a medium-term time horizon. It will be implemented through a range of new, complimentary funding programmes, and builds on the positive momentum generated by the funding approaches of "Entrepreneurial Regions" (German: Unternehmen Region) as well as the "WIR! – Transformation through innovation in the region” initiative. By adopting a fundamentally open approach to promoting innovation - in terms of topic and technology - the Ministry's initiative of “Innovation and structural transformation” will deliver the necessary impulse for opening up new paths in the regions:

  • We support the expansion of innovative competency at regional universities and research institutes, both in and for those disciplines deemed particularly important for structural transformation at regional level, e.g. by supporting strategically oriented (international) junior groups or regional transfer confederations with SMEs. We strengthen the role played by universities and research institutes as regional drivers of innovation.
  • We promote strategic collaborative work by small and medium-sized enterprises and research institutes in particular, who together shoulder the development of innovations spanning multiple industries and application areas in future-oriented disciplines so that new markets can grow and a contribution is made to transforming the region’s profile. Innovative impulses can therefore stretch far beyond their regional context.
  • By establishing attractive research posts as well as the close interpersonal exchange between universities, research institutes and businesses, e.g. in the form of SME-centric junior groups, we deliver a decisive contribution to developing those desperately needed and highly qualified professionals of tomorrow for the region’s scientific and economic fields.
  • New development horizons require the freedom to allow for both creativity and commitment by many different stakeholders. We create low threshold offers tailored to the joint development and testing of innovative ideas, e.g. in a forum for ideas or innovation laboratories, we support the incorporation of businesses as well as the networking of start-ups in the region. In order to reach those groups in society, which to date have not been the focus of traditional R&D&I policies, we also explicitly incorporate social, organisational and non-technical innovations into our approach.

This allows the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to render a key contribution to the federal government's comprehensive, interregional concept aimed at supporting structurally weak regions. In doing so, the basis for innovation is broadened above all for SMEs, new paths to innovation are carved out and the unyielding phenomenon of increasingly narrower technological specialisation so often described is counteracted. “Innovation and structural transformation” opens up major opportunities for all of Germany.