Updated: Feb 6
by Carol Switzer
We are pleased to announce our handbook – exploring the “Wicked Problem” of unemployment in the Mediterranean region through the Triple Helix Framework – was presented to the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) on 2 December 2020 and is available for download below. The handbook represents a co-creative approach by the authors with actors from academia, education Ministries, intermediary institutions, civil society and industry, and aims to provide a contextual backdrop, with existing policy tools and best practices that can be shared to improve the employability of students and researchers.
The publication, Innovation-Employability Nexus in the Mediterranean, was presented on 2 December 2020 to a round table of representatives from universities and research centres, civil society organisations, and public actors such as OECD, UNESCO and Education Ministries. Throughout the region, numerous initiatives have been implemented to address youth unemployment, yet the problem persists and has the characteristics of a “wicked problem”— it is socially complex, has many inter- dependencies and multiple causes, no single solution, and is perceived differently by different stakeholders, as each has different priorities and their own agenda.
Wicked problems are best approached collaboratively, engaging all stakeholders to tackle the issue from several angles simultaneously. In the case of unemployment, stakeholders include academia, industry and government, as well as society and the environment. Most solutions have focused mainly on the higher education sector and have not managed to reduce unemployment in the region, despite laudable success in improving access to education, especially among women. This underscores the fact that the problem cannot be resolved unless these stakeholders work together in a coordinated and systematic way.
Approaching a Wicked Problem
The Innovation-Employability handbook uses the Triple Helix of Innovation as a guiding framework to lead the inquiry, where academia, industry and government are the three “helices” (understanding that civil society and the environment run through all three and are thus intrinsically included). Traditionally, these three spheres (academia, industry and policymakers) operate separately, and academia was viewed as a support structure for innovation, providing trained graduates, research results and knowledge to industry. The Triple Helix theorises that in a knowledge-based society, boundaries between the different spheres are fading and interaction between the three spheres – around knowledge exchange – flows dynamically in all directions and creates an innovative environment where:
Higher education institutions are the source of new knowledge and technology.
Industry is the centre of production.
Government provides an enabling environment through incentives, platforms, autonomy and flexibility.
By intertwining common interests, values, strategies, investments, and narratives, a connective tissue (the Triple Helix) is created. This interconnected tissue is strengthened by the collective efforts of the stakeholders which combine to be a motor of innovation that can begin to tackle complex problems such as unemployment in the region.
The Triple Helix transition (Source: Ranga and Etzkowitz (2013)
The Triple Helix places academia as a key driver of change ideally suited to “connect the dots” because it is impartial, motivated by curiosity, and operates with a long-term perspective, encouraging exploration and experimentation.
In developing the handbook, the authors reflected on how best to support the collective efforts of academia, industry and policymakers, and through which tools. While maintaining the focus on higher education, each theme was consistently viewed through the optimal lens of the Triple Helix in terms of how academia, industry and policy makers can contribute to strengthening the collaboration. Led by this framework, an extensive literature review was conducted, filtering over 1,350 reports, papers, articles, publications. Due to limited information specific to the Mediterranean region, a targeted approach was adopted to find examples in the region or extract relevant country-level details from regional studies.
In order to map the themes, best practices and new knowledge as linked to the innovation-employability nexus, the authors gathered insights from the different stakeholders, including concrete information about regional and local examples of best practice, tools and resources available. Two semi-structured questionnaires, two consultations with the full steering committee, and numerous bi and tri-lateral meetings were held yielding qualitative and quantitative data from 35 organisations active in the Mediterranean region. Between this primary data and the secondary data from the literature review, a total of 146 initiatives were included in the mapping. After conducting a full review of the mapping, 24 themes emerged, and the initiatives were coded according to these theme areas. Ultimately, 11 themes, and 63 examples of best practice were validated by the steering committee for inclusion in the publication. In addition, a number of initiatives are mentioned throughout the text where relevant. The final publication represents a co-creative approach with contributions from active stakeholders committed to working towards reducing unemployment in the region.
Strengthening the matrix through communication
To encourage readers to “flip through” the handbook so it becomes a readily accessible reference source, various devices were used to visually represent the information, for example, in table format showing potential contributions to the innovation ecosystem.
Potential contributions to the innovation ecosystem by academia, industry, and policymakers
Another example of visually representing the data is the following diagram categorising various activities from Career Services.
Career Services activities in the Triple Helix
There are a great number of initiatives well-suited to contribute to the myriad issues involved in reducing unemployment, however the information about them and the context in which they operate is highly fragmented. With a clear and easily accessed profile, existing initiatives could have a greater impact. Through regional partnerships, effective initiatives could be shared and thus the overall system could gain strength with individual institutions providing regional expertise thus benefitting from economies of scale and building pathways for knowledge exchange.
The demand for people and organisations with ambidexterity – the ability to work across multiple institutional logics and build bridges – is growing. Part of the set of soft-skills, ambidexterity on an institutional level can lead to regional cooperation, expanding the offer to students and staff, which is effectively a reinvestment in capacity development. At an individual level, ambidexterity broadens the skill set. More than collecting specific skills, the ambidextrous person has the capacity to find solutions or connect with other people or organisations that have the skills required. This essentially extends a person’s ability to react quickly and appropriately to rapidly changing demands in the workplace.
There is a pervasive lack of relevant national data (e.g. tracer studies) in the Southern Mediterranean region. Data is collected inconsistently, by a variety of intermediaries for multiple purposes. Different governmental and intergovernmental organisations have different agendas and are faced with stark priorities that impede a systematic approach that can be aligned outside a given country. To take advantage of possibilities posed by regional cooperation, consistent and relevant data must be in place so that evidence-based decisions can be made to make progress on shared goals. This requires high level transparency about what is measured and how so that data can be consolidated, analysed and combined for regional advantage.
Interest on the part of industry and the private sector needs to be stimulated so that they actively participate in partnerships that have long-term advantages for the entire ecosystem. To achieve this, dialogue around the shared vision and common narrative should move towards concrete actions (such as mobility within the organisations, internships for local students, or participation in curricula design).
As an intermediary organisation, UfM is in an optimal position to provide a forum for stakeholders to come together and address their shared visions and goals.
The authors would like to thank the Union for the Mediterranean, its focal points, and the Steering Committee for the Innovation-Employability Nexus for their insights, support and contributions to the handbook. Special thanks go to Giuseppe Provenzano at the UfM for his partnership throughout the process of elaborating this book and his flexibility in adapting the project to go ahead through the global pandemic that characterised the entire research period. Finally, the last word goes to Ingrid Jimenez, to whom we owe our immense gratitude for her talent in interpreting text into impactful graphics, and her tireless efforts and professional approach in creating the illustrations that make this publication accessible.
About the UfM
Launched in 2008, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is an intergovernmental Euro-Mediterranean organisation that brings together the 27 countries of the EU and 15 countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean. The UfM provides a forum to enhance regional cooperation, dialogue and the implementation of concrete projects and initiatives with tangible impact on its citizens, with an emphasis on young people and women as vectors of peace and stability.
As regional challenges call for regional solutions, UfM activities aim to address the main strategic objectives of the region – regional integration, development and stability – by concentrating efforts on two main pillars of action: fostering human development and promoting regional sustainable development. By joining forces with the regional and international community, and particularly with the UN System, the UfM is determined to address global challenges and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Euro-Mediterranean region, through tangible and concrete activities and initiatives.
About the GIZ
As a service provider in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development and international education work, the Gesellschaft for Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is dedicated to shaping a future worth living around the world. GIZ has over 50 years of experience in a wide variety of areas, including economic development and employment promotion, energy and the environment, and peace and security. The diverse expertise of the federal enterprise is in demand around the globe – from the German Government, European Union institutions, the United Nations, the private sector and governments of other countries. GIZ work with businesses, civil society actors and research institutions, fostering successful interaction between development policy and other policy fields and areas of activity. The main commissioning party (as is the case of this UfM project) is the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).