Future by Lunds nya normala

“Face to face meetings may be on the way out”

Caroline Wendt
September 4, 2020

Merete Daniel Nielsen, Director of Cluster Excellence Denmark has seen how many new good digital habits have emerged from the pandemic – such as platforms that help transform businesses, apps that help us live a fairly normal live despite the virus, and digital platforms that create new collaborations through global matchmaking. Merete Daniel Nielsen also believes that innovation platforms can be a neutral meeting place to find future solutions.

During the spring of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that much of what we previously knew has of course changed. What strategies have been successful to better cope with the crisis and what is important to think about when society is restarted when the crisis is over? Future by Lund has begun an interview series within our network that looks for Future by Lund’s new normal. We aim to draw attention to the expertise that is close to us so that we can jointly prepare for the future. Do you know someone that has knowledge and perspectives that may be of interest for us to share? Please send suggestions for people to interview to caroline.wendt@lund.se or info@futurebylund.se

Emily Wise, PhD at Lund University and action researcher at Future by Lund, has done an interview with Merete Daniel Nielsen, Director of Cluster Excellence Denmark and President of TCI Network. Cluster Excellence Denmark is the national support function for innovation networks and clusters in Denmark. TCI Network  is a leading global network for people and organizations that work in clusters and innovation ecosystems.

What changes and successful strategies do you see in Denmark and internationally in relation to the crisis triggered by covid-19?

- We are in a deep crisis and there is a strong indication that it will be long lasting. The crisis has meant many things for us all – financially, psychologically, and socially. This has led to many new habits and practices, one of them being to work digitally. The crisis has also given us time to reflect on what has worked well in the past but also what can be changed. A broad social debate that has continued for some time in both Denmark and across Europe has been the green transition. There are those that have not been so willing to make a green transition because it provides fewer jobs – but the crisis may give us more time to think about it, so in the long term it may work out.

- We must find a way to live so that we can move on with society. One way is to create groups and platforms for crisis management. A new kind of platform where you can discuss what you can do to save your business. It is innovation in a broad sense, and you get the opportunity to examine your business operations. There are also those that have developed new strategies, such as those that have developed apps for retail branches to sell products. For example, in Denmark a lot of takeaway food is sold, and some have created apps where you do not have to go into the store. An industry has grown around how we can cope with “living the pandemic”. The issue is how we can change our businesses and create a new life in a way that is recognizable and familiar.

What are the benefits of digital solutions?

- Over time we will see which habits will return and which will become permanently changed. The digital habits are here to stay. I believe that face to face meetings may be on the way out. It is super-efficient to meet digitally. I have heard about digital matchmaking meetings where the participants have had a really good experience. Two months ago, I would have thought it was a very bad idea, but now we can see that it can work quite well. There are many digital tools, and many are working better than we thought.

- To showcase the Danish robotics industry, it is not possible like before to exhibit a robot at a trade fair to demonstrate it, but there are many opportunities to show products through digital solutions. To get to know people there is already a lot of data available online. You can make demonstration films and there are apps for people to meet digitally. One example of online matchmaking is Passionate network international https://www.facebook.com/PNI4U/ where young entrepreneurs can meet digitally.

- Many are trying to meet digitally and come up with new solutions. It is developing very quickly both in Denmark and Europe. Many have switched their production and are now collaborating digitally with people they did not know previously. Our collaborative spirit has grown, and people willingly want to help in this situation, such as what we have seen with the production of protective visors. We are good at working together even if it is not in a physical or social way and people genuinely want to help.

Many have shown a higher ambition to do something for the common good instead of their own organization. Should it be required that innovation platforms and other leaders’ step in and coordinate this?

- Absolutely, in this regard platforms have a key role to play together with industry organizations that also take responsibility. Now that there is a crisis affecting the entire world, it is especially important to have mechanisms where people can meet and discuss openly. It is vital to have neutral representatives that can be leaders and understand what can be done. Many of whom have solutions that can help others. The crisis has dealt a big blow to our entire economy but if you look to the past and make comparisons with the Great Depression and Spanish flu, we still have plenty of resources. I am more concerned with Latin America and Africa, how will continents with less opportunities be able to handle this? I have been contemplating Europe’s solutions – are we willing to split and scale up solutions without financial compensation in the next phase of the crisis? There is a unified platform under the auspices of Enterprise Europe Network where many stakeholders can set up solutions in Life Science and many actors across Europe can participate. Another is Care & Industry together against CORONA

What will it be like to travel in the future? And what will become of those who work together in the Greater Copenhagen region?

- I think that it will be a long time before we start to travel again. We can manage with online meetings and will continue to do so. I am skeptical about travelling because the cost to our communities may be extreme, given the danger of spreading the infection again. The only way I can see that we will open again is with a ‘certificate of health’ that can validate when persons are not infected so they are able to leave for travel – but even then it is doubtful. To start travelling again as we know it from before will take a very long time. It may be possible that Sweden and Denmark can implement other rules between the two countries. But clearly, digital meetings will be a ’safer choice’ for an exceedingly long time to come. This means we do not have to buy expensive airline tickets and there is plenty of time that can be saved.

It is often easy for those that already know each other to exchange digital information, but how can we develop new relationships?

-It takes a long time to build trust and we must think about how it can be done digitally – perhaps we can share a coffee digitally? I do not yet know how to work with it, but it is something exciting!

Translation: Ben Dohrmann


More to read