Interview with Stéphanie Obertin in the

"Minister Stéphanie Obertin Outlines Priorities for Digitalisation, Higher Education & Research"

Interview: The new government was sworn in on 17 November 2023. One month on, what are your top three / main priorities as Luxembourg's Minister for Digitalisation and Minister of Higher Education and Research?

Stéphanie Obertin: As Minister for Digitalisation, I am committed to offering citizens a modern State by continuously developing digital public services. It is essential to make processes more intuitive, fluid and simple. and the MyGuichet mobile application are certainly central elements, but there are others. In fact, we must push the digitalisation of all entities within the State. To achieve our goals, our digitalisation consulting service has a major role to play, so that the entire state apparatus moves forward in a coordinated and coherent manner. This consulting service analyses the digital maturity of an administration, offers solutions as well as an adapted roadmap to put them in place. Another major objective of the Ministry for Digitalisation is to move towards a data-driven public sector. In order to do this, we are responsible for coordinating and setting up a catalog of public sector data. Additionally, we are actively working on a public sector data strategy. By establishing real data governance within the State, we will be able to offer standardised, high-quality data to various stakeholders, such as research institutes, which will develop innovative products and services. Given that I am also Minister for Research and Higher Education, this is a subject I attach great importance to. Given today's major challenges, including climate change and digitalisation, and to transfer innovations into our daily lives, a first major priority for me as Minister for Research and Higher Education is to bring together and strengthen the links between the four players in the Luxembourg ecosystem: society, industry, government and research. A second priority is to develop people's skills and talents via our higher education system. Finally, a third priority for this ministerial portfolio is the development of quality and excellence in research as well as in higher education. How do these ministerial roles compare to / differ from your previous position(s)? In what way(s) do you feel your previous position(s) and experience (notably as a general practitioner) can contribute to / be of use in your new government role(s)?

Stéphanie Obertin: As a doctor, I always listen closely to my patients, examine all the elements presented to me and assessing all potential risks. Then I make decisions based on those facts. The approach that I intend to apply in my new role is very similar. With this in mind, it goes without saying that personalised medicine, an area where the patient is at the centre of attention and which lies at the intersection of digitalisation and biomedical and clinical research, is one of my priorities. What do you see as the (three) biggest challenges currently facing Luxembourg in relation to your portfolios and how do your ministries plan to overcome / address them, particularly in the coming months? How will you measure the success of these initiatives (e.g. metrics)?

Stéphanie Obertin: As I said earlier on, one of our main goals is to achieve a data-driven public sector. Therefore, from a digitalisation perspective, the major challenge of the digital age and the emerging data era will be finding the right balance between harnessing the potential of data and protecting those who own the data. This is essential if we want to ensure that our citizens have the needed digital trust in the government's actions. Data is such an important issue that will bring about such huge changes in our ways of life, that it seems to me to be one of the biggest challenges that the Ministry for Digitalisation will have to face, and by the end of the day, all the public bodies. Another challenge for the Ministry for Digitalisation remains nevertheless that of digital inclusion. The State must ensure that public services will always be accessible to all citizens, even the least digital! And as technology continues to evolve - I'll just cite ChatGPT as an example - we need to make sure we make the most of the opportunities that present themselves, while also taking the most vulnerable members of our society by the hand. The biggest part of society are no Gen Zers, let's not forget that! When it comes to major global challenges such as climate change, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and disruptive change, we can only succeed if research and higher education each make their own contribution. The challenge, then, is to organise these contributions as effectively as possible, and to make the necessary (financial) resources available. An essential tool for this purpose are socio-economic impact studies, such as the one carried out as part of the COVID pandemic, which enable us to measure scientifically the extent to which a mission-based research project has achieved the objectives set, and thus provide valuable pointers for new programmes. What are the (three) biggest opportunities for Luxembourg in relation to your portfolios and how will your ministries leverage these opportunities, particularly in the coming months?

Stéphanie Obertin: As I said earlier on and as stipulated in the coalition agreement, the government "intends to further promote the digitalisation of services and the simplification of administrative procedures, while retaining the possibility of using more traditional and non-digital exchanges”. I would add one aspect: we have to ensure that technology serves society and is used for its benefit. These are the missions that I gave myself as Minister for Digitalisation. And in order to do this, I have at my disposal a whole range of ideas, projects and measures to launch, support and bring to fruition. The limited geographical size of Luxembourg and the limited number of inhabitants is not always an advantage, but it is in the area of technological research and innovation. This is because the country has a certain agility that enables it to react quickly and easily digest disruptive changes. Once again, this enables Luxembourg to take on the position of frontrunner in new areas of technological and scientific activity. By scaling up an innovation to the scale of a country, the Grand Duchy has the ability to become a kind of living laboratory in many promising fields. Last month, you visited LIST and discussed the government's research and innovation strategy - how will the government / your ministry / ministries work together with research bodies to implement change - and what innovations / changes are foreseen for the sector?

Stéphanie Obertin: In order to meet the major challenges in research and innovation, a coordination committee was set up in July 2019, chaired by the Ministry of Research and Higher Education and made up of representatives of the management of the University of Luxembourg, the three public research centres (LIH, LIST, LISER) and the Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR), as a central element of the coordinated governance of all the main players in public research. This committee drew up the national research and innovation strategy, which it is mandated to adapt in line with future developments. In addition, the committee endeavours to take joint measures, for example with a view to the national and international promotion of the brand image of Luxembourg's research ecosystem under the "Research Luxembourg" label and in order to support Luxembourg's efforts in terms of scientific diplomacy. The government will also continue to conclude multi-year agreements with the various public research centres, the University of Luxembourg and the FNR, defining performance indicators that must reflect the mission of the research and innovation strategy. In terms of research projects (current and future), the national research and innovation strategy defines four priority areas of research, which are of particular importance to the country's societal, ecological and economic development. These areas are not seen as distinct and independent of each other, but as mutually influencing, so that the sub-themes that define each area may also have ramifications for other areas. The implementation of the research strategy will therefore place particular emphasis on interdisciplinary projects, which take into account the fact that each of the four main priority research areas will benefit from the results and projects carried out in one or more of the other areas. The four priority research areas selected - Industrial and Service Transformation, Personalised Healthcare, Sustainable and Responsible Development, 21st Century Education - should ensure that, in addition to boosting its GDP, Luxembourg can ensure the continued and sustainable development of the well-being of its population, including in particular health, environmental and educational factors. Moving away from politics, what are some traditions or activities (if any) you (will) enjoy during the end-of-year (Christmas and New Year) holiday period? Any New Year's plans or resolutions you could share with our readers - or another message as 2023 draws to a close?

Stéphanie Obertin: The least we can say is that I was not expecting the way things turned out for me in 2023! Given the great personal challenge that I took on in accepting responsibility for my two ministries, the last weeks of the year will evidently be very studious. I will of course be surrounded by my loved ones and my dearest friends and enjoy some quiet and peaceful time, but my eyes will also be glued to all the files that I want to study in detail before the arrival of the new year! I am not the type to make big resolutions, but from my experience I can tell you this: in life, you have to expect everything, grasp opportunities and never lose focus. This is exactly what I plan to do in 2024!

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