Talents and the challenges for education: published the new issue of SOMe Magazine

The world of education is evolving very quickly: thanks also to the innovations offered by digital tools, we are experiencing new platforms, new dynamics between trainers and students, a whole new experience in classrooms, both online and physical.

We investigate what we can expect for the future of education in the new issue of SOMe: from the evolution of teaching in undergraduate courses but also in open programs, to its effectiveness, to the need for new skills for trainers, the challenges are presented by Marika Arena, Antonella Moretto, Tommaso Buganza, Mara Soncin and Tommaso Agasisti.

In “Stories” we tell about two research projects aimed respectively at improving the living conditions of people with visual impairments and at monitoring the well-being of young people during sport activities. Finally we share an international networking experience between young European researchers.

To read SOMe #9 click here.

To receive it directly in your inbox, sign up here.

Here are the previous issues:

  • #8 “The challenge of pursuing impact in research”
  • #7 “From data science to data culture: the emergence of analytics-powered managers”
  • #6 “Innovation with a human touch”
  • #5 “Inclusion: shaping a better society for all”
  • #4 “Multidisciplinarity: a new discipline”
  • #3 “New connections in the post-covid era”
  • #2 “Being entrepreneurial in a high-tech world”
  • Special Issue Covid-19 – “Global transformation, ubiquitous responses”
  • # 1 “Sustainability – Beyond good deeds, a good deal?”

Train the trainers

Digital technologies are deeply changing the dynamics of teaching and learning: a re-design of the whole educational experience is needed, requiring trainers to develop both digital and pedagogical new skills.

Tommaso Buganza, Full Professor of Leadership & Innovation, School of Management Politecnico di Milano

 

The pandemic has made us all blackbelts in Teams, Zoom, Webex, etc.
It has catapulted us into a digital world and forced us to develop digital skills quickly, with no opportunity to back out. In some cases this has worked very well (as students are telling us), while in other cases it has not.

We are still not sure if the pandemic is only a memory of the past, but at least we can be sure that many aspects of our lives will never go back to how they were, and training is certainly one of these. These digital skills required much effort on our part and we will now keep them with us.

Perhaps a moment has arrived in which we have the maturity to start asking ourselves how our skillset as educators has changed (and whether it still needs to change).

We can start with a simple consideration on the concept of digital: the equation

digital = online remote

It has shown to be false.

In fact, we must distinguish between the nature and functionalities of the many tools that we have learnt to use. On the one hand, as stated, Zoom, Teams, Webex and so on are tools that allow us to interact remotely. But the pandemic has also brought us tools for interaction which facilitate innovative activities and can also be used easily in the physical classroom.

Think of instant polling software like Socrative, Kahoot! or Poll Everywhere. We can now also extend the interaction to hundreds of students in a few seconds, obtaining an accurate idea of emotions with tag clouds or the extent to which they have understood a concept with multiple responses in real time.

But we can also do more; we can activate interactive dynamics within the classroom. For example, by asking for opinions to be written and then voted on by others in a sort of simple but quick and interesting brainstorming exercise.

Then there are other tools like MIRO, Mural or Jamboard, which make it possible to create a shared space to allow teams of students to interact in a deeper way, operating a virtual artefact in a coordinated and simultaneous manner, also keeping track of what has been done in previous lessons, if necessary, and guiding them with templates and procedural steps that would have once required paper, printing, logistical management, a loss of information, etc.

However, we must recognise that all these tools, and our ability to use them, intersects with a change in the way in which society interacts with the concept of learning. Major digital platforms such as YouTube or Instagram have revolutionised the way in which we interact with knowledge. They have made it quicker, more divided, more interactive and on-demand. Micro-learning, the parcelling of the practical part into small pieces that are easier to digest and the multi-media nature of communication (slides, speaking, film, etc.) are how many of us experience this, both as users and as educators. Above all, the dynamics of training activities have changed. We can no longer consider having long periods of lecture-based knowledge transfer and then long periods of application. The paradigm of the 20-page case study to be read and then discussed has not (yet) disappeared, but in some case it is starting to seem slow and a little dated.

In this scenario it is irrelevant whether the training takes place in person or online through a communication platform; what we need to do is change the logical and experiential flow of our lessons.

But what skills do we need to develop in order for this to happen?
To change what we do in the classroom, how should we change what we do before going into the classroom?

I believe that there are three fundamental things that we always need to learn better.

The first is conceiving (and therefore designing) a lesson as a service to be provided. We must design not only the content (which obviously is and remains the central point), but also how it will be used. Where we want to place a repetition, where we want to have a test, where we want to place a group activity to reinforce a concept. All of this requires planning, and it cannot be improvised once we are already in the classroom. Designing a group activity in 4 steps means designing a specific MIRO board, doing a brainstorming activity means preparing the interactive slide, etc. In many cases we will discover that the scarce resource will be time and we will need to choose what to do and how to do it to maximise the effectiveness of the training. The content is a necessary condition, but it is no longer enough; we need to imagine ourselves as designers of educational processes.

There is obviously a dark side to this approach, when the emphasis is placed on so-called infotainment, and the centrality of the content is overlooked. A meaningful and fulfilling educational experience is a means and not the end. However, we must accept that not paying due attention to the design of the learning process today risks drastically reducing the effectiveness of education.

The second thing that we must learn to do more, and better, is exploring the digital space. New functionalities and details are continuously added to all the tools that we named above. Each one of them enables new interactions or activities. We will never be able to use them unless we are familiar with them; we need to be curious in order to have new ideas. For example, when Miro introduced the possibility of hiding some content and only showing it at the opportune moment it led to ideas on how to structure complex processes with several steps; or when Poll Everywhere added the possibility of voting on other people’s ideas it led to the opening of open spaces for collective brainstorming which would have previously been impossible (or required too much time).

There is also a possible dark side in this case, when we fall in love with the tool and add activities just so we can use it, and not for their real impact on the educational process. In this case, we must also remember that the tool is a means and not an end.

Lastly, personally, I have added and activity that I never used to do. When designing new lessons with digital interactions of varying nature and duration and mixing various tools, I had to start adding a test phase. I used to create the slides, think about how to narrate them and go into the classroom. Now I test all of the tools and interactions as if I were a participant. In fact, our ability to creatively manage the situation in the moment has drastically reduced due to the use of rich but rigid systems. If a link is missing, if the page does not refresh, if I can’t log into Mural… it takes a long time to deal with the problem and the amount of time lost without anything happening drastically reduces the educational experience, at the risk of jeopardising all the work that has been done.

Designing the educational experience, constantly exploring the potential of digital spaces and adding a test phase are new skills and activities that we must add to what we already do. Old activities are not replaced or eliminated. They are simple and also added. Like all jobs, ours is becoming more complicated and requires increasing levels of specialisation. Personally, I do not believe that this was triggered by the pandemic. This change was already underway; the pandemic acted as a catalyst and only made it quicker, giving us less time to react.

Talents and the challenges for education

Teaching and learning innovation will be central in the next few years, enabled also by – though not exclusively – digital technologies. In this evolving scenario, a holistic view on programmes’ learning experience shall be the guiding principle with also great attention paid to learning assessment methods.

 

We discussed it with Marika Arena, Professor of Accounting Finance and Control and Director of the Programme in Management Engineering.

 

The pandemic has been a shock that enabled changes that usually take centuries. What is left of our inheritance?

I think that the biggest heritage is the way the pandemic fostered the diffusion of technological instruments for teaching and learning. Digital technologies already existed before the pandemic, which made their presence pervasive, forcing all of us to use them. Today, we can continue using digital technologies for teaching and learning, taking the best out of these solutions and combining them with face-to-face activities.

On the one hand, digital technologies have facilitated many ordinary activities: they represent a useful support for students involved in international mobility projects, or those who work and cannot attend the lectures regularly. On the other hand, digital technologies provided brand new opportunities.
One interesting example is represented by collaborative classes, where two professors of different universities in different countries design and implement a course together, and the students of the two courses participate to the lectures jointly or collaborate on common activities and projects. This is something really powerful because allows all the students to experience an international environment, even if they are not involved in mobility projects.

 

What is the impact of digital technologies on students’ participation and teaching modes?

Students’ engagement and participation has changed a lot with hybrid teaching (intended as the combination of online and face-to-face teaching). A risk that is inherent to hybrid teaching is the limited participation and engagement of online students compared to those in the classroom, partly because interacting with a student is easier if they are in front of us, partly because online students could be less prone to intervene. In my opinion, this is something that could be detrimental to the learning experience and should be revised in terms of students’ engagement to make sure that they can participate and feel engaged regardless the fruition mode they choose.
This approach is obviously much more difficult since a professor needs to manage two communication channels instead of one.  This is one of the cases in which digital technologies can help us. One simple example is represented by the use of online surveys in class to collect answers and contributions from a large and dispersed audience, or by the use of different collaboration instruments (e.g. online whiteboards).
However, technology is not enough:  in order to obtain engagement and participation, courses need to be at least partially redesigned, often by rethinking the way content is presented, in order to create opportunities for discussion.

 

“Passion in Action”: what is it? Why?

Passion in Action is a “catalogue” of educational activities that students can attend on voluntary basis. These activities aim to support our students to develop transversal, soft and social skills, and to encourage them to nurture their interests, beyond the “standardized” academic offer.

Thanks to Passion in Action, our students can get acquainted with totally new subjects that may be far from their academic path, or they can enrich their knowledge approaching one topic from very different perspectives.

This catalogue of opportunities is dynamic and constantly updated since new courses are proposed on a monthly basis. Hence, it represents a precious resource that allows our students to personalize their path and access a variegated academic offer, with different levels of intensity.

 

What are the future projects for the Management Engineering study course?

Teaching and learning innovation will be central in the next few years. Many professors have already developed innovating initiatives in their own courses, introducing flipped classroom, project-based learning, digital twin, simulations, etc.

However, when it comes to innovating initiatives there are two aspects that in my opinion should be taken into account. First, innovating teaching implies necessarily a reflection on the innovation of the learning assessment methods. Learning assessment is an integral part of a course and its design is strictly connected to the design, organization and administration of the course itself. Second, innovation should be considered and designed also at the Programme level (and not only at course level), with a holistic view of students’ learning experience. This means designing the Programme not only in terms of contents, that obviously are crucial, but also in terms of teaching modes, exposing our students to different approaches and different learning experiences.

 

Digital transformation to foster the effectiveness and efficiency of learning in tertiary education

The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of Higher Education Institutions, with possible implications on their effectiveness and efficiency. The next step is to look beyond the emergency and leverage on the recent experience.

 

Mara Soncin, Assistant Professor of Business Economics and Organization, School of Management Politecnico di Milano

Tommaso Agasisti, Full Professor of Data Analysis for Public Management, School of Management Politecnico di Milano

 

The digital transformation that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have been undertaking over the last years has been strongly accelerated by the Covid-19 emergency., The key breakthrough for the near future is to understand how to shape the future of education by exiting the emergency mindset and leveraging the aforesaid acceleration. The turmoil on the digital transformation of HEIs is twofold. One the one hand, the digital turn can support the effectiveness of the educational system and its ability to support student’s academic success. On the other hand, digital technologies affect the input-output structure, with a possible impact on the efficiency of HEIs.

Regarding effectiveness, students will highly benefit from digitally supported learning, which allows a higher personalisation of the learning process and a higher level of flexibility in learning activities, whereas the amount of data coming from digital sources enables a profound investigation on how learning happens. The dimension of performance on which the greatest amount of evidence is available is that of student achievement, which can be evaluated as the grade obtained by a student in an exam in a certain discipline or in a test specifically designed to assess the competences gained through the online tool (i.e., experimental design). Evidence on this is mixed; however, it generally shows the higher effectiveness of a blended model comprising both in-presence and distance learning experiences compared to both the remote only and face-to-face only education delivery modes. Traditional and digital models can therefore be combined to foster the effectiveness of learning.

Furthermore, the digital transformation of higher education is expected to grow even faster in the next future as it allows broader accessibility and hence allows to meet a growing demand for tertiary education, as well as to improve efficiency and sustainability by generating new financial resources. HEIs are increasingly investing in digital tools that substitute or complement traditional education, pursuing objectives that range from driving student recruitment to innovating pedagogy and supplementing on-campus traditional education. Indeed, the digital transformation provides HEIs brand new teaching possibilities and a higher scalability (i.e., a potentially very high number of students can enrol in the same virtual environment), partially bending the economics of education and the cost structure of institutions.
The compound effect on HEIs is potentially disruptive and is affecting both the structure of the inbound inputs and outputs generated by institutions. Still, the introduction of digital tools requires high initial economic investments (especially in technological equipment) and entails additional costs for teaching assistants and extra support to students and faculty in order to ensure the quality of the learning experience in a digital context. In turn, this increases education delivery costs, and therefore, the cost-effectiveness ratio may not necessarily be in favour of the digital mode.

Based on all these considerations, HEIs should progress strategically towards the digital transformation of learning, which is first of all an organisational transformation of the faculty, and only secondly is a technological matter. In turn, the way in which the strategy is implemented will affect the resulting gain in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.
The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation, and now it is up to HEIs to boost the consequent effectiveness and efficiency gains.

 

Open programs evolutions: what should stay and what should go

The last few years were a real moment of change for the role of education, and the world of open programs was not excluded: the challenge now relates to understanding which of the phenomena recently witnessed are supposed to become permanent and which are likely to go away.

Antonella Moretto, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Open Programs at Polimi Graduate School of Management

The last few years were a real moment of change for the role of education, and the world of open programs was not excluded. Just a brief definition: with the term open programs, I mean master programs available on the market and targeting the B2C world. As master programs, they could cover from 1 to 2 years, in case they are respectively full time or part time.

Over the last years, in the education on open programs, we saw three hot topics circulating.

During the first lockdown, the only discussion topic was online learning and how to make it as effective as face-to-face learning was.

Between the first and the second lockdown, the new issue became hybrid learning and the need to simultaneously manage people in presence and people online. The purpose was to give to anyone the possibility to attend classes the way they preferred, while always worrying about how people online could feel isolated and feel that they were getting a learning experience not effective and not valuable.

Finally, over the last months, when it became once again possible to go back to face-to-face classes, the key point of discussion became how to bring the students back on campus, as they apparently were not finding a reason for doing this anymore. This is a shared problem among different schools internationally.

The scenario has changed a lot of times in a pretty short period, and this is a fact. The purpose of this short paper is not to discuss what is the most effective teaching method. The key takeaway point is that, whether we want it or not, the world of open programs has changed, and now we are struggling to understand which of the phenomena recently witnessed are supposed to become permanent and which are likely to go away.

I present here, without any purpose of completeness, my personal list of four key points that I believe are supposed to remain central in the following months.

Digital is no more the byword for evil

Before the pandemic, when we already offered some online programs, a typical question was “could you reassure me that in the diploma it is not mentioned that this was an online program?”. During the first wave of the pandemic, a typical question was “could you reassure me that the graduate school is planning to come back to face-to-face classes or otherwise could you refund me?”. Now… There simply are no questions like these anymore.

Digital became accepted as a powerful learning tool and people simply expect to have the support of digital to expand their opportunities.

The old-fashioned dichotomy “either online or in presence” simply lost all sense. Now, for open programs, it really doesn’t looks like a matter of how you deliver education, but rather of how you are planning to do so.

A new why for a new world

Now that digital is accepted, it is also very clear that there are wonderful online resources available to learn something new, always up-to-date and very often free of charge. Does this mean that attending a master has lost all its sense? The answer is (hopefully) no, but we must be ready to offer something more than contents, and something more than support to placement.

Attending a master is a “once in a lifetime experience” and should be managed as such. For a junior, it could mean living an experience which is more relevant than ever; for an executive, attending a master could be not a matter of career anymore, but rather a matter of personal satisfaction.

Experience is more critical than content

As written before, for months the “riff” was the desire to come back on campus; when this was possible, the apparently incomprehensible consequence was that the classes remained empty. Someone connected this to a stronger laziness of people, and maybe this is also part of the story. Anyhow, people are lazy when they do not care about something, when something is not providing them real value. Students have understood that they can also learn from home and that this is more than enough to get contents. This means that we need to focus more on the experience, on our capability to offer something more, to offer something memorable in which students are the protagonists and not simply the spectators. Someone says that education should be a blending of content, network, and fun; we devoted a lot of time to content, we exploited our resources for network, it is now time to introduce also the component of fun.

One-to-one caring and the role of pastoral activities

Since students find themselves everyday more in a liquid environment, without a real distinction between online and offline, if we want to provide a value for education, there is a growing need to pay attention to one-to-one activities and pastoral caring. Students want to feel as people, to be supported in designing their own experience, in identifying what it matters more for them. In this field, although new technologies could provide a lot of support, the human touch becomes more relevant than ever.

“The challenge of pursuing impact in research”: now online the new issue of SOMeMagazine

SOMe Issue #8 has been released.

In this issue we discuss the impact of research and the challenge of defining and measuring it.
Stefano Magistretti and Federico Caniato explain how our School is engaged in building an “impact culture” to be encouraged and sustained over time, also using an assessment framework to evaluate the impact of the our research.

To report some impact cases, Enrico Cagno, Giulia Felice and Lucia Tajoli tell the fundamental role of academic research in supporting the green transition in emerging countries, while Diletta Di Marco shows how citizens can contribute in evaluating the social impact of scientific research, choosing whether or not to support a project. Finally Angelo Cavallo talks about the new space-based technologies that bring opportunities for innovation and sustainability and imply new business models.

In our “Stories” we feature the impact of Covid-19 on the life of working women and some projects promoting sustainability in fashion and corporate behaviors.

 

 

To read SOMe’s #8 click here.

To receive it directly in your inbox, please sign up here.

Previous issues of SOMe:

  • # 1 “Sustainability – Beyond good deeds, a good deal?”
  • Special Issue Covid-19 – “Global transformation, ubiquitous responses
  • #2 “Being entrepreneurial in a high-tech world”
  • #3 “New connections in the post-covid era”
  • #4 “Multidisciplinarity: a new discipline”
  • #5 “Inclusion: shaping a better society for all”
  • #6 “Innovation with a human touch”
  • #7 “From data science to data culture: the emergence of analytics-powered managers”

The challenge of pursuing impact in research

Conversation with:
Federico Caniato, Full Professor of Supply Chain & Procurement Management at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano
Stefano Magistretti, Assistant Professor of Agile Innovation at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

 

Universities are increasingly engaged in demonstrating the impact of their research. What is the impact of research? 

The impact of research is crucial not only for the Politecnico di Milano, but for the entire Italian university system, and more in general for universities worldwide. It is not easy to define what research impact is. We can say that the impact of research encompasses all the results, implications, and consequences resulting from scientific research activities aimed at generating knowledge, but they are also expected to provide concrete benefits. In our school, we have defined research impact in three progressive levels of maturity: dissemination, adoption, and benefits. Dissemination is the spread of the results and findings among the relevant stakeholders, adoption is the use of the research results by the stakeholders, and benefits are the consequences of this adoption.

Why is impact so important for research?

Research is often accused of being self-referential, i.e. ‘speaking’ only to members of the academic community without providing a significant contribution to society at large. Instead, research can have a much broader and more significant impact than expected. Therefore, it is crucial to illustrate such impacts to a broader audience, requiring researchers to learn to assess and share the value of their work with multiple stakeholders.

What is the approach to impact assessment in the School of Management?

In 2017, we started a journey in the School of Management to develop a culture of research impact assessment. This journey saw a reflection on the assessment framework, the development of a method, and the collection and analysis of the research impact assessments. We started by combing the literature for impact assessments, interviewing experts, and interacting with our international advisory board to define our framework. The framework comprises the three levels of maturity (i.e. dissemination, adoption, and benefits) and five stakeholder domains (i.e. institutions, enterprises, students and faculty, citizens, and the academic community). The second step was the adoption of the framework. This initially began in 2019 with a set of 16 pilot projects, which then extended to a more extensive set of projects (42 in 2020; 43 in 2021).

The conventional idea of ‘impact’ makes sense in a linear model: changes or discoveries in science and research are expected to cause changes in society, but impact assessment frameworks are usually far more complex, can you tell us why?

The research impact assessment is more complex because the impact is not linear. Some elements impact one stakeholder, causing indirect effects on other stakeholders. For example, research results adopted by public institutions may benefit citizens, or the results disseminated to students may be adopted later, when the students are professionals within companies. Thus, the impact network is intertwined. Seeing the link among the domains and level of maturity, and how an initiative might influence other areas of impact requires a framework that tries to bring everything together. Let’s take an example. If you publish an academic paper, there is diffusion within the academic community, but if you share it in class, there is also an impact on students; if you use it in corporate education, that novel piece of research can become the seed for a potential company project. So from a single action — dissemination of research among the academic community — you might have an impact over multiple stakeholders on different levels.

How much of this impact analysis must be made ex ante, while planning the activity, and how much ex post?

The impact assessment is a helpful tool in every moment of a research project. We saw colleagues adopting it when writing proposals for an EU project or internal research initiative. This is because the impact is both ex-ante and ex-post. The most important thing is to envision potential impact ex-ante, which helps to set the expectations and objective of the project. Ex-post assessment instead aims to measure the results obtained in terms of impact, monitor the results of the planned activities, and demonstrate the actual achievements. Thus, there is not just a single moment for impact analysis; it is always a good to measure it before, during, and after the research initiative.

Is the impact ‘native’ or built over time? Do we need our PhD candidates to be ‘natural-born impacters’ or is it an orientation that can be encouraged and sustained over time?

The impact culture is not native. It is something that PhD candidates and researchers in general should be trained in. Indeed, some impacts are easy to design and achieve, but impacts of a higher level are more challenging and require careful consideration, so it is important to build impact over time. Indeed, it is difficult to gain everything with a single new research programme. As for PhD candidates, it is probably something that we should share with them and encourage them to reflect on. This is something we started at the last AiIG (Associazione Italiana Ingegneria Gestionali) Summer School held by the Politecnico di Bari in September 2021, where we shared the framework with more than 50 Italian PhD candidates and asked them to apply it to their PhD research. The PhD candidates were positively surprised about the unexpected outcomes of this assessment exercise. Disseminating the culture of research impact assessment is something we need to do at every level.

 

 

Transition to green technologies in emerging countries: how research can help in directing resources

Selecting the geographical areas and green technologies for successful funding of sustainable economic growth is a difficult task particularly in emerging countries. Academic research is fundamental in providing tools to support public and private institutions in this task.

 

Enrico Cagno, Full Professor in Industrial Systems Engineering at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano
Giulia Felice, Associate Professor in Economics at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano
Lucia Tajoli, Full Professor in Economics at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

Recently, the COVID crisis brought to the public eye the extent to which research is in many ways fundamental for the survival of the community. This was extremely evident for disciplines with a direct and recognized impact on human lives and development. Still, the direct and indirect impact of academic research in many other areas and disciplines might be considerable for the well-being of people and the evolution of societies along many dimensions.

An important case, particularly relevant in the current economic phase, is the role of academic research in providing analyses and methodologies that can support private and public institutions in appropriately conveying and using resources in countries, regions, sectors to foster an equitable and sustainable economic growth.

A pertinent example regards the resources to support the transition of countries to green technologies. Climate finance has a fundamental role in tackling climate change and in promoting environmentally sustainable growth in transition and developing economies. A precondition to succeed is the ability to select those countries where the support to green investment does not crowd out private investment, but instead opens room for its expansion, in line with the existing market potential. Several banks and institutions operate with this aim and, as is well known, a large part of the funding in the Next Generation EU is devoted to the European Green deal. The Glasgow Cop26 Summit has once again simultaneously highlighted the unavoidable global dimension of the green transition and the asymmetric position of developing and mature economies due to their different stage of development.

An important issue in maintaining the different approaches of developing and mature economies towards green technologies is that in many cases it is not easy to support green transition in developing countries because of a lack of adequate information on the access and opportunities provided by the technologies. Funding could be misallocated, that is to say, it could be conveyed where it crows out private investment, or where there is no potential for the investment in the new technology to diffuse after initial support. This is where research becomes useful. Methodologies and tools can be developed supporting institutions in the selection of areas and technologies for successful funding.

In this context and to this aim, research at SOM can contribute to developing a conceptual framework and providing methodologies to obtain an overall evaluation of the readiness of countries, regions or sectors to adopt green technologies, ranking countries or areas in terms of their exposure to these technologies. In a recent project developed for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the ultimate aim was to capture the extent to which targeted countries could benefit from funding green technologies, in particular those developing and emerging countries for which data on the diffusion of green technologies are scarce or not available. The creation and use of a technology by a country or a firm is the pre-requisite for its diffusion and eventually adoption. Therefore, in order to benefit from the promotion of green investment, the target country should already have an adequate level and mix of use and production of the green technology. This mix depends on the overall economic situation and level of development of the country, as indicated, for instance, by income per capita, installed production capacity, and the level of technology in closed products. There is no specific universally accepted definition or measurement of the diffusion of a technology. International trade of products embodying a specific technology reveals the presence of that technology in the trading countries. Therefore, trade is often used in the economic literature to track technology diffusion. The advantages of using trade data and advanced methodologies to elaborate them are that they are reliable and available for the majority of countries at a very refined product category level and for a long time span.

Following this approach, researchers at SOM used official and public trade data of “green goods” (as defined by the World Trade Organization and the OECD) covering all countries to assess potential diffusion and adoption of “green” technologies, by building a set of indicators to gauge market maturity and production capacity of a country for a given product. Based on these indicators, a sequence of steps was developed to identify the opportunity for successful actions. The methodology was then discussed and improved throughout the implementation of the project with the EBRD experts that were going to use it, and then validated with the country’s experts on the actual diffusion of the products analysed in terms of demand and production capacity.

The EBRD will use the methodology described above as a tool to select the potential targets of the funding, that is to say, the couple country-technology. The methodology is easily replicable on publicly available data and therefore suitable for orienting the institution in its choices. The EBRD is owned by about seventy countries from five continents, as well as the European Union and the European Investment Bank. This implies that its activities impact a large population, of firms, which will be financially supported by EBRD to adopt/produce green technologies, and of citizens who will benefit through sustainable growth and higher quality of life thanks to the firms’ adoption of green technologies.

The project could potentially affect several Sustainable and Development Goals (Health and Well Being, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action) to the extent that should support the diffusion of green technologies and goods in developing and emerging countries.

 

Space Economy: towards a new frontier for innovation and sustainability

Space and digital technologies combined represent a powerful force enabling cross-sector innovation towards making our world more sustainable. However, technological opportunities are mere fertile ground, which to yield fruit needs managerial and enterprising strategies for the strategic renewal of established organisations and for the creation and growth of innovative startups

 

Angelo Cavallo, Assistant Professor in Strategy & Entrepreneurship at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

Space Economy is a phenomenon at the frontier of innovation and sustainability which materialises in the combination of spatial and digital technologies for developing business opportunities that give many businesses, in different sectors, the possibility to increase their competitiveness on a global scale through innovation on all levels – from product/service, to processes, right down the overall business model.

The economic value generated by the combined use of space and digital technologies was estimated at about 371 billion dollars in 2021 (Satellite Industry Association). However, the value of the Space Economy goes beyond market estimates and stands out for the opportunity to innovate in many fields and at the same time help make our planet more sustainable through the integration of terrestrial and satellite data, at the foundation of new space-based services. Using high resolution global maps of land coverage, climatologists can develop climate models and understand how the climate is evolving on the earth’s surface. Multispectral images and radar, combined with machine learning and deep learning techniques, means it is possible today to create predictive deforestation models. Timely and constant monitoring of forests is essential to the implementation of conservation policies. Another field of application for satellite data is the monitoring of pollution.  A now well-known case regards the monitoring of pollution levels during the lockdown period resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, a large number of these analyses are conducted using data from terrestrial sensors, spread right throughout Europe. Satellite technologies are complementary and useful in areas where there are no terrestrial sensors.

An increasing number of academics include the combination of digital–space technologies among the drivers that can help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a tool adopted globally to steer economic and social activities towards the attainment of sustainability goals.
For example, space-based services contribute to the SDG 7 “Affordable and Clean Energy” which sets out to guarantee access to energy for a much vaster pool of users and can be promoted through the remote monitoring systems of plants in places where weather conditions and other natural phenomena can cause major damage to infrastructure and where maintenance can be difficult.

The development of a space economy market and of space-based solutions depends however on the structuring and exploration of new business models, retracing the entire value chain, from which services can be developed for those who create new infrastructures right down to the end-users of those services, making their operations more efficient and/or create new products. Innovating traditional business models and moving towards a platformization, servitization and open innovation model is fundamental to make sure new space-based services have a large-scale economic, environmental and social impact.

Citizens know better?

A team of scientists asked citizens to evaluate social impact and select which research to support. Here’s what they found.

 

Diletta Di Marco, PhD Student in Management Engineering – Innovation and Public Policy 

Science strives to improve the conditions of humanity and nature. But it is not always clear how to identify the research that serves the most pressing needs. For a long time, the direction of science has been chosen by professional scientists alone, through peer reviews, but new initiatives of participated democracy are trying to second the desire of citizens to take an active role in important decisions about science. For example, a Danish local government has asked citizens to choose which medical research projects should be funded by voting online.[1] Also, the Canadian Fathom Fund has chosen to top up funding to scientists that display their project on crowdfunding platforms and collect at least 25% of their budgeted costs online.[2] 

In a world facing unprecedented social, environmental, and economic challenges, the main idea of these initiatives is to involve those most affected by the problems and their consequences – the citizens themselves.

While scientists, research organizations, and research funders are experimenting new ways of actively collaborating with citizens, one concern is that what constitutes a high social impact is problematic and subjective. Moreover, the mechanisms used to actively engage citizens in the agenda-setting process can create biases or grant undue influence to wealthy or powerful groups.

For all these reasons, assessing the impact of research is an exciting area for professional scientists, funding agencies and policymakers, who are keen to identify new criteria for judging the sustainability and value of research, in addition to traditional ones which are more centred around prerequisites like age, gender, previous experiences in research, and previous project experience in the same area of research.

In an attempt to investigate this important but under-explored area, a research team of our School of Management has studied how the public evaluates social impact and choses to grant or deny support to scientific research. The team consists of Chiara Franzoni and Diletta Di Marco from Politecnico di Milano, in collaboration with Henry Sauermann from ESMT Berlin.

The team selected four real research proposals that were actively raising funds on the platform Experiment.com. The projects were in very different domains, ranging from environmental studies on the diffusion of otters in Florida, to social studies on sexual orientation and pay-gaps, to curing Alzheimer’s disease, and Covid-19. They recruited more than 2,300 citizens on Amazon Mechanical Turk and asked for their assessment of one of the four projects in terms of the three criteria normally used in research evaluations: i) social impact, ii) scientific merit, and iii) team qualifications.
They then asked the citizens whether or not they had a direct interest or experience in the problem that the research was trying to solve (e.g. a family member affected by Alzheimer’s disease when evaluating a project studying a cure for Alzheimer’s), and finally elicited the citizens’ opinions on whether or not the project should be funded. They did so under two different voting mechanisms: i) as a simple free-of-charge recommendation to fund or not to fund the project (costless vote) and ii) as a small direct donation to the project (costly vote), which the evaluators could do by choosing not to cash in a $1 bonus given by the team. At the end of the day, the team then devoted the donated bonuses to real research projects.
They later analysed the responses with statistical and econometric modelling and with qualitative coding of the textual responses.

Their analyses showed three key results:

  1. Firstly, citizens placed a strong emphasis on social impact. They were more likely to support a project if they assessed social impact to be high, even if they assessed scientific merit or team qualifications to be low. A complementary analysis of opinions provided in the form of open-ended responses corroborated this view. Citizens tended to focus on the perceived importance of the problem (e.g. size of the affected population, problem severity) and paid less attention to the project’s ability to solve the problem.
  2. Secondly, the voting system adopted substantially affected the composition of those who voted. Costly voting shifted the crowd’s composition towards people with higher levels of education and income. This suggests that mechanisms that impose even a small personal cost trade off the intended benefits of inclusion and representativeness when involving citizens.
  3. Thirdly, citizens who had a personal interest in the problem addressed by the project were more likely to vote in favour of the project, irrespective of using a costless or costly voting mechanism. However, they did not seem to overestimate the project’s social impact expectations. This suggests that crowdsourcing may give more power to interest groups and members of the public with personal interests in the research. At the same time, even citizens with a personal interest in the project seemed to be able to provide unbiased assessments of social impact if asked to do so independently from expressing their support for the project itself.

The findings of this broad research project contribute to advancing the academic debate in different areas, like the management of online communities (by shedding light on the link between voting mechanisms and self-selection and the literature that compares crowd and expert contributions with science funding).
More importantly, they have an immediate practical use for policy makers, funding agencies and interest groups that strive to promote participated democracy.

Considering that traditional research grant mechanisms and review mechanisms focus on things that could go wrong and pay too little attention to potential gains, these results suggest that citizens’ evaluations of social impact are not necessarily “better“, but they may provide a different and potentially complementary perspective.

 

[1] https://www.sdu.dk/da/forskning/forskningsformidling/citizenscience/afviklede+cs-projekter/et+sundere+syddanmark Accessed November 15, 2021.

[2] https://fathom.fund/ Accessed November 15, 2021.