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RLS-Sciences: A multiregional and multilevel research cooperation framework

Small Satellites to RLS Heads of Government 2016

A model of the pico-satellites was presented to the 7 heads of government of the RLS regions in 2016.

RLS-Sciences is a network supporting multilateral scientific cooperation between 7 regions on 5 continents, in the context of a political regional development forum. It was developed to take advantage of the scientific potential in the regions, to advance science via an organised network of cooperation, and to inform regional policies. The structured collaboration occurs at the intersection of science and government and is based on the principle of mutual trust and the culture of dialogue.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The interface between science and policy is key for addressing global challenges in which all levels of government can play a role. RLS-Sciences is designed to operate at the science-policy nexus at the regional level, bringing the benefits of diverse cultural and scientific perspectives through its multilateral collaboration among scientists, policy makers, and science managers to the seven RLS regions (Bavaria, Georgia, Québec, São Paulo, Shandong, Upper Austria, Western Cape). RLS-Sciences has defined a multilevel governance structure that enables greater cooperation between the political, scientific and administrative levels within RLS. The RLS-Sciences framework consists of three levels of coordinators in each region: Political Coordinators, Scientific Coordinators, and Administrative Coordinators. These coordinators are the first point of contact in their regions for RLS-Sciences, and are partners in the drive to launch multilateral projects and integrated scientific networking activities. Due to this structure, there are opportunities for all the different levels and actors to participate in co-creation processes in order to drive transitions at the regional level and to implement and further develop key technologies. Through the exchange and continuous dialogue within the project groups, between the specific project groups and between the policy level and the scientists involved, a culture of trust is created. In addition, the dialogue between science and politics leads to the fulfilment of the demand for science-based policy.

The existing resources of RLS-Sciences include its scientific network of 140 academic researchers, 60 young researchers, the bilateral relationships between the RLS members, an online research and training infrastructure, and established mechanisms of multilateral cooperation. At the overall coordination level of RLS-Sciences as well as in the four research themes, a principle commitment to science exists and promotion of multilevel cooperation with public sector stakeholders is implemented to foster regional development and international leadership.

RLS-Sciences operates as an embedded scientific network, and one of its aims is to launch and support multilateral research projects with partners from across the RLS regions. The project themes were originally chosen based on the areas with greatest potential for innovation and cooperation, and the shared strengths of the regions. The four core projects are: the RLS-Energy Network, the RLS-Global Aerospace Campus, RLS-Small Satellites and the RLS-Expert Dialogue on Digitalization, including the newly launched Digital Health Initiative. RLS-Sciences is not limited to a single standard model for research collaboration - each research area is modelled in its own appropriate format.

The RLS-Energy Network maps regional renewable resources. It shows their role in their regional energy mix, and analyses scenarios for electricity, heat and fuel production. It offers support and guidance for regional energy transitions. In the RLS-Global Aerospace Campus, experts of today share their insights to train virtually and in-person the aerospace experts of tomorrow based on the most recent research achievements available in the regions. With a smart formation of small satellites for telecommunication and earth observation, the RLS-Small Satellites project is demonstrating technology leadership out of the regions in the new space research. Science, business and public sector representatives from across the regions assess in the Expert Dialogue on Digitalization the potentials and risks of digital technologies. Based on different strategies, the regional governments implement policies to enable and sustain digital transitions in industry, science, academia and public administration. In 2020, the Expert Dialogue on Digitalization group agreed to investigate the topic of Digital Health in exploring the role of AI and its regional applications for slowing and ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts in AI, epidemiology, medical statistics, clinical research, drug development, smart medical devices, ethics, law, and public health as well as representatives of public health authorities from across the regions took part in a preliminary exchange.

The project's future aims are to increase the global visibility of the regional RLS-Sciences model, to interact with other innovators and benefit from exchange on innovation models in the science-policy interface. The team would also like to demonstrate the possibilities of multiregional cooperation across a multitude of topics, while maintaining regional specificity. For the team, expanding does not mean adding new regions, but rather doing more within the current partners and projects.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

RLS-Sciences is unique in its composition of regions and its connection to their governments. RLS was created to offer a dedicated space for the regions to share best practices in regional development and governance. It provides a key way not only to integrate scientific evidence into policy-making, but also to support research and development ecosystems at a subnational level with the benefit of international cooperation, including North-South and South-South exchange between peers. Cooperation increases the quality of science and the regional level is well suited but often overlooked to enable science and innovation alliances via scientific data and analyses, frameworks to share data, and science diplomacy. The multilateral, multilevel governance structure of the different coordinators (scientific, administrative and political) allows the network to quickly, efficiently and with a high scientific level collect and investigate topics within the specific themes.

What is the current status of your innovation?

The RLS-Sciences network continuously aims to work closely with RLS governments and to contribute to policy work and the robustness of R&I ecosystems in the regions. The network met virtually with political, scientific and administrative representatives from all 7 regions for a symposium to provide decision support during and after the COVID-19 pandemic around the RLS-Sciences’ themes. This international exchange between politics and science discussed best practices, challenges, and exit strategies for fighting the pandemic. With the multilateral, cooperative approach to collecting and processing relevant data in the fields of energy transition, aeronautics, space and digitalization in a regional context, the results and benefits were available in a timely way to policy and scientific stakeholders. Based on this, scientific events will be organised for 2021-2022 on the topic of Resilient and Sustainable Regional Recoveries.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The basis for the innovative format for multilateral scientific cooperation and policy support of RLS-Sciences is founded on a multilateral and multi-level structure. Scientific institutions, regional funding and business agencies and representatives of the political and administrative level from all regions work together. Each region contributes in its own way, at its own level, on the basis of its capacities and specificities.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The partners of the network are at the same time both the users and beneficiaries of the results. The RLS-Sciences network provides privileged access to regional best practices as well as diverse and multiple experimentation and testing opportunities for scientific and political stakeholders. The RLS-Sciences’ cooperative approach fosters an active dialogue with the political level in applied areas and generates new policy recommendations out of this dialogue.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Beyond the joint scientific outcomes in the four core projects, the project has generated a policy dialogue with the forum of regional governments, as well as the establishment of a shared research infrastructure that addresses and investigates regional needs. Via the RLS-Sciences network, a new governance that consolidates the RLS forum of governments has been realized. The existing resources include its scientific network of 140 academic researchers, 60 young researchers and established mechanisms of multilateral cooperation.
The following project-specific results were achieved:
- Aerospace: Teaching and training platform in aerospace, over 2000 online participants in the first e-course
- Digitalization: review and monitoring of the regional digital transitions
- Energy: Data collection and analyses on the role of RE in regional energy transitions (Monitoring Report, SWOT analysis, scientific paper)
- Small satellites: Smart formation of 6+ small satellites, joint publications

Challenges and Failures

RLS-Sciences does not have joint funding yet. Therefore, continuity of work remains a perpetual question, and is often based on the willingness of partners to remain engaged and contributing. While the network has not necessarily experienced failures on a structural level because its framework conditions for cooperation anticipate different types of participation based on capacity and resources, there have been times of lower output. To manage this challenge, the network uses its management structure, which includes lead scientists from all areas, plus political representatives and science managers from all regions, to coordinate work. This ensures that the work remains relevant to all regions, while maintaining the core condition of contribution at differing levels. Further, the network has built an open online funding database which curates a collection of existing funding opportunities from all the partner regions as well as international organisations.

Conditions for Success

The connection between RLS-Sciences and the RLS political forum is a key condition for success; without this the unique link between science and policy in a multilateral, international framework at the subnational level would not exist. To support and grow the network, the RLS-Sciences website provides information about the network, R&D themes and associated work, funding opportunities, and recruitment. Its policies are based on mutual contributions at the level of capacity of each region: there is no rule that all regions must contribute the same way. This creates space for regional specificity, establishes a culture of exchange and trust, leads to a diversity of perspectives, enriches the multilateral work and ensures benefits for each region without creating undue burdens. The management structure of 21 coordinators (political, scientific and management) and 28 lead scientists is a key asset for coordinating the network, and ensures that the work remains relevant for all.


To the best of the team's knowledge, so far there is no other innovation like RLS-Sciences. Other scientific alliances exist, but its niche is the multilateral and multiregional (spanning both hemispheres and five continents) subnational level in science cooperation and science diplomacy. RLS-Sciences could be replicated through more projects (as done in 2020 with the Digital Health Initiative), more interaction (between science and policy), and more partners within the network (to expand within existing areas and into new ones). The use of our innovation by other regional alliances in the future could be within these frameworks: increased use of regionally designed and scientifically derived data and analysis for evidence-based policy making, and increased quality of science through international research cooperation between peers.

Lessons Learned

Multilateral science cooperation with an integration between science and policy is feasible at the regional level! Further, sharing and exchange at a multiregional, multilateral level can provide the necessary scale in international science, and can create the right conditions to generate innovations in science that address global challenges. In this sense, regional diversity brings key advantages to cooperation, provided that framework conditions create sufficient space for mutual contributions without restriction or burden. The diversity of cultural and scientific perspectives together creates opportunities to examine systems, challenges, and questions and in new ways, resulting in new ideas and innovations. To share these new ideas and innovations developed specifically for the regional level, it is possible to engage with policy. The interface of science and government at the regional level is a rather empty space that can be effectively inhabited.

Anything Else?

The decision of which R&D themes to focus on within the network was a joint effort between researchers, science managers, and governments. The political level provides feedback on the work in the form of questions about it and its implications for regional governance but does not directly commission specific projects from the network. While this creates a distance between the scientific and political levels of RLS-Sciences, it also ensures scientific freedom for the researchers. While this may seem contrary in an innovation aiming to strengthen the link between science and policy, it also ensures that the R&I ecosystems of the regions benefit from international collaboration and remain innovative based on science-driven efforts.

Supporting Videos

Year: 2020
Level of Government: Regional/State government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

13 September 2021

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