Maria Lisa Clodoveo*a, Riccardo Amiranteb, Antonio Uricchioc, Filomena Corbod
University of Bari in collaboration with other Italian and European University established an innovative, intensive training congress on the topic of Olive Oil which seized the opportunity to deliver an engaging program that unlocks untapped creative potential among selected talented young researchers from diverse cultures and multiple disciplines. Overall, this case history contributes toward the body of knowledge examining researchers’ engagement and the delivery of advance creativity and thinking skills within an interdisciplinary learning environment.
This case study demonstrating how can be developed a new format based on a bottom-up approach aimed to overcome the gap between research and innovation, by means facilitation and practice, directly applicable to advancing thinking skills relevant to the enquiry and advancement of creativity.
The workshop design can be adapted to the changing needs and expectations of staff and researchers and can be successfully replicated among other scientific sectors.
Key words: training congress; research skills; soft skills; finding grant opportunities; creative research network.
In this historical moment of great changes concerning the relationships between researchers and the methods of publication, exchange and creation of scientific networks, it may also be right to face the issue of innovation in the organization of scientific meetings (Moirano, Sánchez, & Štěpánek, 2020), workshops, conferences on the science, technology and engineering of foods, with the aim to develop strategies to support the career of young researchers by promoting the development of their professional skills and facilitating the international cooperation and exchange of knowledge among them. It is necessary to develop a new vision of science that accelerates the speed with which new ideas can be proposed, improved and rapidly developed thanks to the creation of a collective intelligence based on the principles of open contamination, transparency, collaboration and efficiency.
We are writing to your newspaper to open a discussion on an experience that has just ended (Bari- Italy 20-22 January 2020), a pilot experiment carried out on the olive oil production chain that has generated a new model of scientific meeting, EVOO Research’s got Talent 2020, that can be exported to other sectors of food science.
“EVOO Research’s Got Talent 2020” (evooresearchgottalent.wordpress.com) is a scientific didactic format that aims to develop the potential of the best researchers in the olive oil sector by enhancing both the technical skills and the soft skills, fundamental in the research teams, and, at the same time, the ability to attract capital for the planning of future common activities, considering science as a common good open to all.
It was conceived as the first international Training Congress dedicated to young and talented expert researchers in the field of olive-oil production with a diversified and multidisciplinary background: arboriculture, food technologies, food chemistry, engineering, traceability, marketing, by-products, packaging, shelf-life, legislation, protection of plants, sensory analysis, sustainability, circular economy and landscape, nutraceutical and health properties and nutrigenomics, capable of building a creative research network of experts in the sector.
Collective brainpower to overcome the crisis of olive oil sector
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
The famous sentence pronounced by Charles F. Brannan, US agriculture minister, summarizes the concept of crossfertilization, a strategy to pursue innovation and generate creativity, an opportunity to innovate one of the most traditional sectors of agri-food production. The olive oil sector, in fact, complains of a crisis that is increasingly affecting the incomes of producers and mills who are faced, on the one hand, with the variability of production threatened by climatic events and plant diseases, on the other, with the market that is unable to reward those who pursue quality paths.
In this scenario, it is often forgotten that true wealth is knowledge, and that knowledge can actually modify the economy of a productive sector if it manages to convey the enabling factors of innovative processes, consisting of relationships, ideas, creativity and by the talents that represent them.
The “ideas exchange” Brannan talks about is the fulcrum of the popular and educational project of the first research talent who wanted to encourage the meeting of the best young minds at an international level who agreed to take part in the selection process.
In fact, only a small number of research young talents (around 30), selected between the different disciplines, participated in the three days of intense training which, with a win-win approach, aimed:
To generate value in the career of each young participant, who has ventured in the presentation of his research activities (selected for originality and positive impact on the sector) and has faced training sessions both on the so-called soft skills and on European planning skills;
To encourage the creation of an international research network capable of promoting a scientific culture geared towards sharing knowledge, which transforms individual experience into collective and creative skills, thus obtaining a result greater than the sum of the parts.
To stimulate the development of innovations, encouraging creativity and the predisposition to novelty and change, breaking the pre-established patterns, changing existing and entrenched paradigms.
The objective of the initiative was to create a “research nursery” (i.e. a recruitment and training structure where technical improvement and enhancement of the abilities of promising young people are carried out) to obtain repercussions on the entire future olive oil system that was to be an integral part of the network, as emerges from the rich partnership that sponsored the initiative and which involved all the actors in the olive oil supply chain.
In fact, the agri-food sector in general, and olive oil in particular, have a characterized knowledge system by great disciplinary complexity that requires being able to govern transdisciplinary exchanges to accelerate the development of innovative solutions and their transfer to the production system.
The comparison with other agro-industrial systems demonstrates the importance of the virtuous circle of innovation-productivity-growth as a long-term system competitiveness tool that guarantees greater resilience to contingent crises.
The value of a research team is given by the talent of its members, the efficiency of managing roles, the ability to establish relationships, including international ones, which together form intellectual capital.
The sum of these skills allows the team to be competitive and productive. The candidacy of the young talented experts in the olive oil sector came from their academic mentors. As occurs in Anglo-Saxon education models, the reference letter written by your teacher is an official document, required to assess the suitability of candidates, which differs from the personal statement because, not being written in own hand, it is an index of reputation and expresses esteem and trust in the candidate’s skills and potential.
The leadership in research provides that the researcher of excellence is on the one hand the best expression of the group of research that sponsors him/her, on the other he/she has to know how to interpret the concept of autonomy, through the competitive path that culminates in the awarding of the “best” in his/her sector of interest.
The format provided for a prize for the young researcher (an effective prize) but also for the research group (a virtual prize) that proposed it, promoting the growth of:
the relational capital (relations with international research groups, producer associations, agricultural unions, consortia, government bodies);
the human capital (the part of intellectual capital that depends on the individual and research team’s knowledge and skills);
the organizational capital (knowing, knowing how to do and knowing how to do together, letting people know, improving scientific and patent production transferable to the productive world).
EVOO Excellence in Research Award
Knowing how to effectively expose the results achieved and the future objectives of each one’s research is an indispensable talent for every young scientist. The art of public speaking develops thinking critical and communicative skills; promotes self-esteem and cultural awareness; get used to knowing how to structure a speech and support one’s arguments, to research and select sources and, last but not least, to win the competition of the first EVOO Research’s Got Talent 2020 congress.
The competition rewarded the 6 best researchers in the various scientific areas with a mechanism that bases the assessment, in the first instance, on the ability to submit the candidature to the Scientific Committee, and subsequently entrusting the evaluation of public performance to the same competing researchers. Being part of the participatory path that led to rewarding the best means living the competition by exercising the ethics and virtues necessary for the scientist. Furthermore, the need to speak and express oneself leads to the development of the ability to find ideas and acquire open-mindedness necessary to accept the position of others, soft skills that form the scientific personality in coherence with training activities that involved the participants.
A path to stimulate creativity
EVOO Research’s Got Talent 2020 aims to create a new generation of scientists for the olive-oil sector based on creativity, talent and merit also through training on essential soft skills in research to release creative energy and transform it into the driving force of the development. The ability to generating new ideas, knowledge, new techniques and innovation has become a discriminating factor in being able to keep up with the times and be competitive. Creativity consists of an alternative way of processing
information, leading to a “jump” and an abrupt change of perspective. Although creativity is considered an innate gift by many, in reality it is possible to train the mind to generate innovative ideas by adopting a series of virtuous behaviours capable of stimulating creativity. Creativity has been included by the World Economic Forum in the list of skills that, from 2020, will become indispensable, on the podium of soft skills together with problem solving (the ability to analyse and solve problems and critical thinking ). The soft skills, in fact, in a research group are today fundamental to guarantee the work team to remain competitive and productive. Young researchers selected for the “Training Congress” participated in specific meetings to develop leadership, improve relational skills and the ability to manage interpersonal relationships, safeguard the ethical values related to the profession, creating a network of young researchers able to exchange knowledge and skills, providing them with a design capacity that facilitates access to financial support for scientific research.
Finding founding: A training for the pursuit of excellence
Talent, the gold coin of antiquity, now translated into the “value of human capital, of the person” requires economic tools to express itself. Thus, alongside the soft skills, a daily section of the conferences have been dedicated to training young participants in the ability to attract international funding, transferring the main skills to participate in the “ERC starting grant” and ” Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions – Individual Fellowships”.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions – Individual Fellowships is a research and innovation staff exchange program and provides a unique opportunity for participants to extend their networks, take advantage of innovative research training opportunities and take advantage of new career. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions support, in fact, researchers of excellence of all nationalities at all stages of the career and encourage the
transnational, intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobility. The latest call has seen nearly 10,000 applications for individual scholarships sent by researchers from all over the world.
The “ERC starting grant” calls are dedicated to researchers of any nationality with 2-7 years of experience since the completion of the PhD, a scientific history that shows great promise and an excellent project proposal. The goal is to help talented researchers who have already produced an excellent one I work under the supervision of a professor, and at the same time they are ready to work independently and show the potential to become research leaders. In the last year, the ERC program has involved universities and research centers from over 40 European countries, for a total of about 300 researchers awarded with an allocation of over 570 million euros.
Not just science: EVOO experiences
Not only science but also fun and entertainment were among the objectives of EVOO Research’s Got Talent 2020. From the welcome drink to the dinners that will close the study days, the young talented researchers selected have been experienced an emotional journey through the use of best quality extra virgin olive oils (the fulcrum of their research activities) as real “food perfumes” capable of changing the gastronomic practice and transforming it into a synaesthetic experience.
The challenges of the olive oil sector
If it is true that science is the only flywheel that can support economic growth, face social challenges, thus promoting the interest of governments, cultivating the new generations of scientists becomes fundamental to create the innovation ecosystem necessary to face the social challenges that will affect the olive oil system in the near future: the effect of climate change, increased demand for healthy and healthy food, the need for new sustainable technologies, the fight against emerging phyto-pathologies.
Without forgetting the fundamental role that extra virgin olive oil can have in the prevention of human diseases and the need to protect the consumer from fraud and to guide policy makers in the formulation of regulatory texts.
“EVOO Research’s Got Talent 2020” worked behind-the-scenes on social media which has proven to be a useful tool for olive oil scientists and stakeholders across the world, aiming to connect people and help them exchange ideas, allowing them to interact with their audience before, during and after the first EVOO RGT event. The informality of behind-the-scenes content marries perfectly with social media’s sense of community by giving the olive oil scientists and stakeholders a peek at what the first EVOO Research’s Got Talent 2020 has really been like.
The official “EVOO Research’s Got Talent 2020” Facebook and Instagram pages are like peek behind the curtain. Instead of showing the olive oil scientists and stakeholders across the world a view of a scientific congress through usual tools (lists of committee, program, book of abstract, etc.), behind-the-scenes content (whether it be photos, videos or both) lets olive oil scientists and stakeholders peak behind the curtain of the conference and see what they wouldn’t see otherwise.
This helps olive oil scientists and stakeholders feel special by giving them the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what is happening during the congress and what makes it innovative and unique.
«Knowledge and the virtues of the scientific orientation live far more in the community than the individual. When we talk of a “scientific community” we are pointing to something critical: that advanced science is a social enterprise, characterized by an intricate division of cognitive labor». (Cit. Atul Gawande)
Giving people the possibility to see who and what’s behind the screen allows them to interact with whom carries out the scientific research and encourages them to keep in touch with scientists interested towards their needs, building trust in science. This process of ‘humanizing’ the scientific world allows people to connect with each other in a deeper way, creating a bond with them, something that a faceless group of scientists might not be able to do. Moreover, showing off science’s human-side can be fun too.
“EVOO Research’s Got Talent 2020” is an innovative scientific format aiming to connect young talent researchers coming from all the world and to create a new generation of scientists able to face the future challenges of the olive oil sector. Social media have changed the way people, as well as scientists and stakeholders, share information. The distinctive characteristics of this event are the following,
It has been limited to the best researchers in the olive oil sector who have been selected through a rigorous and transparent selection process. (https://evooresearchgottalent.wordpress.com/eligibility/)
The competition encouraged the participants to give their best during the presentation of their research activity.
The awarding of the “EVOO Excellence in Research Award” derived from a ranking whose scores were 50% due to the judgment of entry, therefore to the evaluation of the members of the scientific committee, and 50% due to the judgment of the same participants who evaluated the public presentation of each candidate. (https://evooresearchgottalent.wordpress.com/evoo-excellence-in-research-award/)
The congress has been not limited to the presentation of scientific results, but had the ambition to make participants grow through two distinct forms of training: a training on soft-skills that every researcher should possess to excel in research (https://evooresearchgottalent.wordpress.com/soft-skill-experts/); training on European calls that finance the research activities of the best researchers in the world (https://evooresearchgottalent.wordpress.com/643-2/). In fact, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and ERC – individual fellowship calls – are aimed at researchers from all over the world and not only from Europe.
The intensive program and the sharing space and the special moments in which the participants were involved favored the creation of authentic human relationships necessary to establish fruitful professional collaborations, useful to create the next multidisciplinary generation of excellent researchers, specialized in the olive oil sector.
The photographic, video and social media documentation of the whole event had a huge dissemination impact also on the stakeholders who have very high expectations for the world of research and its ability to produce solutions to the challenges facing the olive-oil sector.
Last but not least, even moments of relaxation, such as lunches and dinners, were lived in the spirit of olive oil culture so that the participants’ immersion in the theme was total and unforgettable. (https://evooresearchgottalent.wordpress.com/evoo-experiences/).
The workshop design can be adapted to the changing needs and expectations of staff and researchers and can be successfully replicated among other food scientific sectors.
This research was funded by the following:
The AGER 2 Project, grant n. 2016-0174, AGER Foundation—Olive Tree and Oil: Competitive —Claims of
olive oil to improve the market value of the product;
EU project 820587—OLIVE-SOUND – Ultrasound reactor—The solution for a continuous olive oil extraction process H2020-EU.2.1.—INDUSTRIAL LEADERSHIP—EIC-FTI-2018–2020—Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) —European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 820587.
Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no conflicts of interest.
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Maria Lisa Clodoveo*a, Riccardo Amiranteb, Antonio Uricchioc, Filomena Corbod
a Interdisciplinary Department of Medicine, University of Bari, Piazza Giulio Cesare, 11 – 70124 Bari, Italy
b Department of Mechanics, Mathematics and Management (DMMM), Polytechnic University of Bari, Via Orabona 4, 70100 Bari, Italy
c President of ANVUR – Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of the University and Research Systems, Via Ippolito Nievo, 35 00153 Roma, Italy; Full Professor of Tax Law and Former Rector of University of Bari, Piazza Umberto 1, 70100 Bari, Italy
d Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Bari, Via Orabona, 4, 70100 Bari, Italy