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Annual conferences in perspective


As mentioned in the introduction on conferences, our initial assessment was that the speciality was missing a periodic meeting place where academic and long-term research developments could be discussed enabling a comparison between different theories, concepts and approaches. This is why we have given so much importance to organising a yearly ‘PRIME week’, the format of which has changed from year to year in order to cope with on-going developments and shifting interests.

* The 2004 Madrid conference was at the same time the final event of the PRIME thematic network which had been instrumental in shaping the long-term objectives of the Network of Excellence, as well as providing a meeting ground for the open elaboration of PRIME projects.

* The 2005 Manchester conference, introduced by the European Commissioner J. Potocnik, focused on issues we considered central for the future of our community (R&I in collective goods, the evolving institutional setting, human resources, the mix of policy instruments, and PRI for developing countries).

* The 2006 Paris conference followed up on that debate, focusing on multilevel governance and on our attempt to initiate a ‘forum for strategic intelligence’ : in both cases preparatory work helped to structure the debate and helped define a collective approach to these issues. It also extensively discussed relations with Asia and Latin America. Two days were dedicated to presenting and discussing the projects that had been selected in 2005, while there was a full day specifically for interaction with stakeholders on regional policies for research and innovation.

* The 2007 Pisa conference, introduced by a keynote speech by Irwin Feller on the science of science policy, reflected the de facto structuring of PRIME research around four central themes : (i) universities, (ii) knowledge circulation, appropriation issues and entrepreneurial activities, (iii) knowledge production dynamics and globalisation, and (iv) the public governance of R&I.

All these conferences took place at the beginning of the year. We deliberately decided to shift the 2008 Aix conference to December 2008. The main reason was that we wanted to debate future issues. We knew from the time of the Gif 2007 strategic seminar that the EC no longer wanted to support Networks of Excellence in social sciences and humanities, while PRIME had been explicitly conceived on a 10-year basis. We therefore decided to focus the conference on two main themes : renewing the research agenda after 5 years of existence by discussing potentially important themes for the community based upon initial ‘statements’ ; and reflecting on our experience in order to prepare for the future (see boxes presenting the agenda of the conference).

Discussions of the statements put forward by their proponents (there had been an open call for such statements) proved both very rich but also quite destabilising. We could clearly see that the conception of regional policies as ‘national policies writ small’ no longer worked and required other framings. It was clear that governments have over invested in supporting start-up firms in the initial phases creating an ecology of such lasting small ventures, but not focusing enough on long-term growth issues (this was further reinforced in the last PRIME dissemination conference). The debate about post-national dynamics highlighted the growing distance between knowledge dynamics and institutional frames, or in the words of Nedeva, between the evolution of epistemic communities and of research spaces. And the debates on indicators clearly showed that we were only at the beginning of a transformation towards positioning indicators, and that such a transformation was in particular central to renew our ways to address such issues as the diversity of universities. All these are clear signs of the need for further research, mostly looking for different paradigms and approaches. The debates on innovation policy capitalised on the on-going handbook under production (see section on dissemination), focusing on a number of difficult issues (e.g. should innovation policy remain autonomous or be embedded into all sectoral policies ? How do we address creative destruction ? How do we integrate learning about the limited effects of some fashionable instruments or questions ?). The discussion also tackled near-to-orphan issues : what should be the policies for service innovation ? What interaction should there be with defence policies ? What about rebalancing supply-based and demand-based innovation policies ? And how to develop the latter ? The session was instrumental in setting the scene for a number of potentially major policy shifts relating to our ability to anticipate such changes. It thus triggered a reflection on what should be done next. Looking back in the past we saw how extensive the efforts had been to set up the research agenda for PRIME (nearly 2 years of activity, thanks to the FP5 thematic network). It was therefore logical that a conference like Aix should be only a first step in a long process, and we need to organise further steps (see section below).

Aix Conference (2008). Statements and issues discussed

Statement 1 : Can we govern science and innovation in regions ? Should we ?
Statement 2 : Should we abandon public policy to foster the creation of university spin-off firms ?
Issue 4 : Cultural industries as a major component of knowledge based societies
Statement 5 : Post-national Dynamics in STI and STI governance, do our perspectives, models and indicators keep pace ?
Statement 6 : The Future of Innovation Policy : Creative Destruction, Neue Kombinationen and White Elephants
Statement 7 : Are our indicators of some use for decision-making ?
Statement 8 : Characterising the diversity of European Universities : pursuing a good but lost cause ?

 

Aix Conference (2008). Reflecting on the PRIME experience and preparing for the future

Issue 3 : Critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of different support mechanisms for SIPS research
Plenary discussion on the Horvat report and the views pushed forward
Final open discussion on the proposal for a global forum on studies of policies for research and innovation (SPRI)

julien

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