On 28th May, 2019, the TSSG led SpeakNGI.eu project held their final review in Brussels. SpeakNGI.eu, which ran from 1 October, 2017 until 31 March, 2019, was one of the four “Pathfinder” projects, responsible for shaping the vision, strategic planning, stakeholder engagement, and implementation of the European Commissions’ human-centric Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative (http://www.ngi.eu/). SpeakNGI.eu was the project responsible for establishing and implementing an open, dynamic and continuous consultation process for capturing the requirements and needs of the NGI communities, in their respective stakeholder groups, ranging from researchers, industry, both large and small, representatives of civil society, and citizens.
The NGI initiative, launched by the European Commission in the autumn of 2016, aims to do things very differently from the research and development activities of past programmes. The NGI initiative aims to shape the future internet as an interoperable platform ecosystem that embodies the values that Europe holds dear including openness, inclusivity, transparency, privacy, cooperation, and freedom.
Indeed, since the launch, the NGI initiative has progressed rapidly and come a long way in a relatively short period. The European Commission’s Director General of DG CONNECT, Roberto Viola has recently blogged about the importance of the NGI initiative in Europe’s digital landscape. Dr. Viola, who launched the NGI, says the Commission has invested more than €250 million in its digital research and innovation programme up to 2020. Currently, the NGI Open Calls have €75 million funding available for innovators. Moving forward, the Commission has proposed NGI as an intervention area in the successor programme to Horizon 2020, known as Horizon Europe (2021-2027). The NGI will drive a technological revolution and ensure the progressive adoption of advanced concepts and methodologies spanning the domains of Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, interactive technologies and more, while contributing to making the next generation of the internet more human-centric, which will provide significant benefits to society as a whole.
Dr. Viola said, “Given the speed of technology developments, and the need to shape them with European values in mind, the NGI is crucial”. He refers to Europe’s digital industry strengths, including strong regulations and funding that encourages the entrepreneurial ‘try and fail or succeed’ culture that has supported innovative internet development to date.
As repeated many times in the presentations in relation to the ambitious vision of this initiative, the NGI initiative is doing things very differently: it is not Brussels-centric and the funding model for regular open calls through Research and Innovation Actions (RIAs) acting as intermediaries to provide cascade funding to projects is designed to attract those who would not normally get involved in the EU’s research and innovation programme, such as innovative SMEs, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and even individuals should be able to apply.
In his keynote address during the ICT 2018 conference session entitled Next Generation Internet: Beyond the Internet, Pearse O’Donohue, Director of Future Networks at DG CNECT, European Commission, reiterated that “the NGI’s ambitious vision requires the involvement of the best Internet researchers and innovators to address technological opportunities arising from cross-links and advances in research fields ranging from network infrastructures to platforms, and application domains to social innovation”. He stated that “investments in the NGI open calls are giving opportunities for new entrants, who benefit in two important ways: simpler funding mechanisms and the chance to work alongside industry and specialised research institutes to develop and roll out new applications, products and services”.
It is fair to conclude that the success of the NGI initiative, in a relatively short period since the launch, is a direct result of the successful work of the “Pathfinder” projects, acting in unison to build up the NGI initiative from scratch, including the Coordination and Support Actions projects that kicked off in 2017, namely, SpeakNGI.eu (open and dynamic consultation mechanisms), NGI-Move (programme shaping), EU EngineRoom (identifying NGI research topics), and Hub4NGI (outreach and communications).
SpeakNGI.eu, as one of four Coordination and Support Actions of 2017-2019, has actively contributed to enabling these technology and human-centric developments towards Horizon Europe, which will benefit society as a whole, if successful.
The main contributions of SpeakNGI.eu have come from the NGI Consultation Platform and Knowledge Base designed, developed and maintained by the project team since October, 2017. The Consultation Platform has enabled validation of the community generated research and innovation priorities, with production of valuable content, publicly available for post-processing and interpretation via the Knowledge Base.
During the review, a number of areas were highlighted as being successful, particularly in terms of activities and assets that are contributing to highest impact creation, including:
- Establishing the sustainable base for design of and implementation plans for a large-scale research and innovation flagship initiative on the Next-Generation Internet: An Open Internet, essentially by means of the community built around the Consultation Platform. The community generated content on the Consultation Platform and the Knowledge Base collated and curated from the content directly to support the expected impact of building an open, dynamic and growing compendium of valuable knowledge on NGI research and innovation;
- Prototyping and validating new processes for research and innovation, with a clear focus on attracting new leading – edge, innovative and key internet players from the SME, start-ups and entrepreneurs communities to be at the centre of the initiative building process;
- Creation of a framework and platform for mobilising the new players indispensable for agile research and innovation on NGI, including SMEs, start-ups, and entrepreneurs;
- Building an active, visible and agile ecosystem comprising all relevant stakeholders for making the NGI initiative a success. This has been tangibly demonstrated by the establishment and active involvement of the Early Adopters Club, comprising 70+ motivated internet innovators showcasing NGI technologies and proving the “human-at-the-centre” values of NGI;
- Inclusion of the Global Internet Policy Observatory (GIPO) tool and community (http://www.giponet.org) into the NGI This is core to building a niche for NGI on internet policy and civil society, supported also by experts within the project’s European Champions Panel bringing multi-disciplinary perspectives to the overall NGI ecosystem;
- Building an open, dynamic and growing knowledge base of technological trends, initiatives and key players in the areas related to NGI.
The SpeakNGI.eu partners are the TSSG Group of the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Ireland and Trust-IT, based in Italy. The review team from WIT was James Clarke and Paul Malone of the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group. The review team from Trust-IT was Paolo Lombardi and Sara Pittonet.
In wrapping up the project presentations during the final review, the project coordinator, James Clarke, stated, “At the start of the SpeakNGI.eu project at the very first NGI management team meeting in Brussels, the four Pathfinder projects were asked by the Commission to act as one project in unison, which is quite unusual. However, due to the strong teamwork between the four projects that was established at the outset and developed over the following period, the result has been the building of the NGI initiative literally from scratch over the relatively short 18 month time-frame of the project”. “This is an accomplishment that we can certainly feel very proud about”, ended Mr. Clarke.