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Background

Awareness of design in Bulgarian enterprises is among the lowest in Europe – 55% of enterprises do not work with design according to the European Commission's Innobarometer 2016. Furthermore, the slow progress towards building a national design capability has been linked to successive changes in government and lethargic decision-making processes at the highest political levels. This meant that Design for Europe partner, ARC Fund – Applied Research and Communications Fund, the premier Bulgarian innovation policy and research institute, faced many hurdles on their design journey.

Design and the creative industries have been highlighted in the Smart Specialisation Strategy and we need to communicate the added value of design for companies to high level decision-makers.

Nadejda Gantcheva, Project officer, Applied Research and Communications Fund

 “The political situation in Bulgaria has been tumultuous in the past few years with changes in government. This makes influencing innovation programmes and policies challenging in a highly centralised, top-down political process. Nevertheless, design and the creative industries have been highlighted in the Smart Specialisation Strategy and we need to communicate the added value of design for companies to high level decision-makers.” 
Nadejda Gantcheva, Project officer, Applied Research and Communications Fund
 
The Bulgarian government's Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (IS3) already identifies design as a force for competitiveness in the context of a wider understanding of innovation.
 
‘IS3 is based on the concept of a broader understanding of innovation going beyond investment only in research or only in the manufacturing sector; it is also based on building competitiveness through design and creative industries, innovation in the social sector and services, new business models and innovation based on practice.’
Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation in Republic of Bulgaria 2014-2020
 
The strategy also makes provisions for including design within the network of Technology Transfer Offices focused on a variety of economic sectors. However, as yet there are no specific actions or initiatives for implementing the strategic vision for the IS3, and therefore there is an opportunity for ARC Fund to propose design actions. 

How Design for Europe helped

Through Design for Europe we are making the link between design and innovation in the policy realm in Bulgaria for the first time.

Nadejda Gantcheva, Project officer, Applied Research and Communications Fund

“Innovation has been ARC Fund’s focus for the last 25 years, and through Design for Europe we are making the link between design and innovation in the policy realm in Bulgaria for the first time. Policymakers have not had enough access to information on the role of design in innovation policy and for policymaking in general. As such, our focus has been to engage with the National Statistics Institute, the Bulgarian Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion Agency, National Research Fund, Ministry of Education and Culture, business accelerators, the Bulgarian Patent Office and municipalities to overturn their understanding of design as only aesthetics to a strategic part of the innovation process.” 
Nadejda Gantcheva, Project officer, Applied Research and Communications Fund
 
ARC Fund arranged a series of high level meetings with influential bodies in the national innovation ecosystem. The Bulgarian Patent Office (BPO) should be among the most prominent driving forces for policies and measures, focusing not only on industrial design but also stimulating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among young people. ARC Fund have been continuously engaging with the BPO towards this end.

ARC Fund has also engaged with Eleven Accelerator Fund to spread their practice of teaching design thinking principles to companies beyond the formal cohort of start-ups in order for a wider group of Bulgarian companies to benefit. The hope is that this will have a ripple effect by educating future buyers of design services.

 

The main obstacle faced by district municipalities is the lack of flexibility in the legislation and freedom in decision-making and work with local stakeholders. Design is very new for us but something we are discovering with great interest.

Verginiya Stoyanova, Mayor of Sredets District, Sofia Municipality

ARC Fund will be able to demonstrate demand for design expertise to create the rationale for the government to integrate design into innovation calls under EU structural funds.  Municipal and national authorities have pointed out that they are restricted by narrow public policies and legal requirements, which prioritise value for money over good design in public procurement.
 
“The main obstacle faced by district municipalities is the lack of flexibility in the legislation and freedom in decision-making and work with local stakeholders. Design is very new for us but something we are discovering with great interest.”
Verginiya Stoyanova, Mayor of Sredets District, Sofia Municipality
 

Outcomes

  • 823 Design companies in Bulgaria
  • 1656 Designers employed across those 823 companies
  • 2 events held over the past three years

Despite departing from a very different starting point to other Design for Europe partners with well-rooted national design traditions, ARC Fund has successfully embarked on a national campaign of raising awareness among key national institutions. They have worked with the Ministry of Economy, the managing authority of the Operational Programme Innovation and Competitiveness, since the development of Bulgaria’s Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation.
 
“Foremost among our ambitions for design in Bulgaria is to engage with the managing authority of European Structural Funds to integrate design into funding calls.”
Teodora Georgieva, Senior Fellow, Applied Research and Communications Fund
 
ARC Fund is a member of the oversight committee for the entire programming period. So far there have been no calls for project proposal specifically targeting creative industries or design, though companies in these sectors are not precluded from applying for funding. Within the framework of Design for Europe, but also in line with ARC Fund’s commitment to promoting and supporting policy based on sound analysis and concrete data, the team aims to support the Ministry of Economy in developing future calls in line with IS3 priorities that take into consideration the specific needs of companies in the creative industries and, ideally, design businesses.
 
In the discussions to date, it is clear that the lack of data on the design sector and its impact on the economy has been a stumbling block, but ARC Fund has been in talks with the National Statistics Institute to identify specific indicators to determine the impact of design on the economy.
 
“We understand the need for more detailed data about design and are trying to cooperate closely with companies to collect this information.”
Vania Jeleva, Director for R&D, Innovations and Information Society, National Statistics Institute
 
According to the NACE (Statistical Classification of Economic Activities) code 74.10 ‘Specialised design activities’, there are 823 design companies in Bulgaria employing 1,656 people with the majority of companies employing less than 10 people. Statistics such as these are a crucial step on the road to enhancing the national design capability of Bulgaria.

Design for Europe has provided the first forum in Bulgaria for different stakeholders in the national innovation ecosystem to engage in an informative dialogue on design and forge new partnerships.