AAL Forum 2021 Blog


Sonia Martinez Arca – Keynote Speaker

Sonia Martinez Arca will be attending the AAL Forum 2017 as a keynote speaker in plenary one and will be bringing with her years of experience working in the Galician Health Ministry, Spain, as a regional innovation expert. We talk with Sonia about how public administration can foster the development and the implementation of innovative solutions using public procurement of innovation in regional healthcare systems. 

Having had an extensive research career, PhD, and profession as a pharmacist, Sonia moved away from ‘bench’ science into work that was more applied to the real world. Spanning almost 10 years, Sonia has a lot of expertise in the field of science innovation and management that she was able to bring to the regional healthcare system in Galicia.

“My expertise in regional innovation stems from having conducted a lot of research myself and I have learnt how to use this knowledge to understand the real challenges that society faces and what services they want. I have worked on many cases that are related to the matters of the ageing population, especially in Galicia where 23 per cent of the population is over 65 years old – 5 per cent higher than the average in Spain – and I always try to bring together, in a holistic way, all relevant actors such as companies, researchers, stakeholders, end-users and patients to solve the problem of an ageing population by working collectively, as in the case of public procurement of innovation.

“Public procurement of innovation is a very powerful instrument to promote both the innovation in private sector companies and also that emerging in the public administration.”

This model of public procurement that Sonia is working on opens the door to successful innovation in the field of active and healthy living. End-users and those working in the healthcare services express their needs when a new problem arises – and this can be anything to do with helping support carers or providing an ageing person a healthier and more independent life. Instead of choosing a product already on the market, this problem is launched as a challenge back to the market, to companies, to organisations, to individuals – ‘we have this problem, can you develop a new technology to solve it?’

“This is an open and transparent process so any company or research group can propose an idea. The best idea is not just picked for its economic benefits as is usually the case in public procurement, but it is also chosen for its innovative standing and collaboration of technologies. Public administrations then fund the development of this new innovative solution while the winners get funded to develop a technology that will already belong to a company, a company that will ensure the developers have a first buyer – one of the biggest hurdles new solutions are faced with – and the public authority will act as reference to future clients of this new technology that really works,” explains Sonia.

As well as analysing the benefits public procurement of innovation holds for SMEs and the public administration, and the potential it has to create more end-user friendly and successful products, Sonia also believes in promoting a real open innovation culture in the healthcare system.

“For me, the concept of open innovation arises from the fact that no matter how big your organisation is or how much talent it has, there is still so much talent that sits outside of these organisations, and we should really be harnessing this. We need to find a way to open innovation up to the rest of the world, to the smaller organisations that benefit from connections to hospitals, universities, and all knowledge-generating entities, to share ideas. Whether these innovative solutions come from officials, nurses or professionals we have to build the channels to facilitate participation of all the people who form part of our healthcare system.”

By understanding what moderates these channels, processes to implement technologies for the ageing population can become more holistic and benefit from a higher success rate. However, this cohesion amongst different actors is often one of the more restrictive barriers to innovation.

 “End-user perception, believe it or not, is not one of our barriers. Patients and users usually receive new technology very well. One of our most stringent barriers is communication. There is the need for improved communication and coordination amongst different administrators – local, regional, national, European – and they need to be more supportive.There will always be risks with new technologies, and administrators need to understand this and continue to support the projects.

“Away from this we also need to change how the healthcare system works. Their main challenge now is the increasing ageing population, and not hospital bed numbers. More of the older generation want to live at home and the healthcare system needs to be able to change how it works to be able to carefully monitor these new patients, and I believe the promotion of new technology through public procurement of innovation could solve this.”

Speaking at the AAL Forum for the first time, and bringing with her a wealth of expertise from the healthcare perspective, we asked Sonia what her thoughts were on the AAL Programme and what she hoped to be getting out of the forum.

“One of the best things about the AAL Programme, to me, is that it is very much focused on the real challenges that ageing brings to our society. It channels new technological solutions very well and is extremely aware of the difficulties that the healthcare system has when trying to adopt these solutions. For this, I am excited to see what new technologies have been developed, how they have been adopted, and what the end users will think about them.

“Also, with regards to public procurement of innovation, the discussions at the forum will help us better understand new trends in challenges, scenarios and developments, and help us to define new topics for future public procurement of innovation processes. With so many different countries attending it will be useful to see how other regional healthcare services are coping and what they are doing, and learn from this ourselves.”

Sonia’s presentation at the forum on public procurement of innovation is guaranteed to offer insight into the adoption of age-appropriate tech-solutions, such as those developed by AAL Programme, by public authorities and administrations. As the ageing-population grows rapidly, so do the methods that foster and implement the development of innovative solutions, and with so many smart ideas sitting outside the main stream of active and assisted living we need to ask how as a society do we go about creating a more productive and open innovation culture for the benefit of our ageing population.

Don’t miss out, be sure to book your place at this year’s Forum.