Research and Innovation practice, policy and theory – changing interactions
Final conference of the PRIME network of excellence
Aix en Provence, December 15-18, 2008
The conference in context
PRIME has made of the annual conferences central events in the life of the network. To follow the dynamics of the network, the conference formats have evolved each year. After Madrid (January 2004, start-up event of the NoE), Manchester (January 2005), Paris (February 2006) and Pisa (February 2007), we have chosen once more to propose a new approach and structure to take into account the evolving context of both our community and of the European policy.
2008 is the last year of the 5-year EC project. In our proposal, we took the project as an experimentation of a new policy instrument, networks of excellence, in a specific knowledge production environment, our community – science and innovation policy studies (SIPS). We argued that this was justified by the four main features which characterise our community : being small in overall size at European level (though by far the largest at world level), being at the encounter of 4 main disciplines (political science, economics, sociology and management), being widely geographically disseminated (all countries, and more and more most regions, wishing to have specialised teams), and (as a partial consequence of the former point) being largely user-driven, depending mostly on present day policy issues, priorities and contracts. We argued that this had two major consequences on our ability to produce ‘frontier’ science : (a) having difficulty in developing adequate ‘infrastructures’, and (b) a growing difficulty in anticipating new issues and in nurturing variety.
PRIME was thus an experiment in addressing these issues. We did so in developing three complementary approaches : (i) we have supported two platforms for developing training (and in particular what we have called the European SIPS doctoral path) and for supporting the design of new indicators (with the ENID network and association) ; (ii) we have provided seed-money for first explorations and multi-partner exploratory projects ; and (iii) we have developed a set of smaller activities to nurture exchanges and our ability to shape the ‘strategic research agenda’ of the community. We have done so through targeted ‘review and initiation actions’ and through numerous workshops, seminars or discussion fora. The annual conference has been the most important of those. This is why, at the end of the 5-year experimentation, we have decided to reflect on the experience, while setting it in its wider environment. We have located the event at the end of the year because, as beautifully analysed by science studies, it is both a closure (the end of a time-bounded project) and a new opening, discussing the new challenges we face, and the potential alleys the community should take in order to address them.
The conference focus
The focus of the conference was the changing interactions between
- science, technology and innovation activities (‘practice’)
- public policies to support and enhance these (‘policy’)
- the efforts of those in the science and innovation policy studies (SIPS) community to study research and innovation practice and policy and to mediate between them (‘theory’).
These interactions take place in a fast-evolving environment characterised by e.g. globalisation and spread of ‘free market’ capitalism (with its cycles and crises), rapidly declining importance of manufacturing in the economies of industrialised nations, growing concerns about the environment and sustainability, and an emerging view that the emphasis of innovation now needs to shift from wealth creation to enhanced quality of life. These interactions also deploy in a political context which recognises the critical importance of knowledge (as symbolically demonstrated by the EU objective of a new knowledge-based society) and in spaces below or above the traditional ‘national’ level that we have too often taken for granted while new forms of collective intervention multiply (at geographical as well as at institutional levels). These interactions finally develop in a world where the production of new knowledge is facing rapid shifts, with a multiplication of sources (both geographically and in terms of actors involved in the production process), and with new ‘search regimes’ manifested by such notions as ‘convergence’ or NBIC, and with a growing focus on ‘frontier’, ‘breakthrough’ or ‘transformative’ science.
Not only have science, technology and innovation activities, and science and innovation policies been slow to adjust to these changes, but so have we, the SIPS research community. (For example, many empirical studies of innovation still focus on the manufacturing sector, even though this may now be only 15% of GDP.) The purpose of conference was to analyse this rapidly changing environment, the consequences for the interactions between practice, policy and theory, and what we, the SIPS community, need to do differently over the next 5-10 years.
The organisation of the conference
The conference was organised to discuss these relations, in a pro-active way, reflecting on past shared experiences (including PRIME of course) and proposing new challenges and directions, both in term of long-term strategic research agenda and in term of ‘structural needs’ for the community.
Before presenting the proposed structure, we think it important to say what the conference was not : it was not a forum for presentation of traditional academic papers (there are, and we have organised in 2008, plenty of other opportunities for this) ; it was not just a ‘normal’ PRIME Annual conference (presenting what is going on) nor a post mortem on PRIME (although we, no doubt, will draw some lessons from PRIME) ; and it was not a workshop for planning PRIME II (this would be too late) nor even an occasion for engaging extensively with policy makers (There has been numerous places in 2008 and will be more in 2009).
Sessions has thus discussed issues considered as central in this interplay. In order for the sessions to play their role, we wish to devote most of the time to the discussion. They were introduced by short ( 10-15 minute), provocative ‘statements’ as starting point for extensive discussion and debate. These statements are gathered below.
We have decided to adopt a bottom-up approach to such issues, reflecting the views of active members in PRIME. They cover different facets of policy issues (start-ups, universities), of policy formulation (innovation policy), of policy deployment (at regional and European levels) and of policy implementation (for the SIPS community) and tools (indicators). They also address one sector usually poorly covered (cultural industries). Such a limited number of sessions could not cover all aspects, so that there has been one session devoted to the identification of ‘orphan’ ‘lonesome’ themes which require deepening and/or reconsideration (such as the handling of grand challenges and collective goods, a topic on which PRIME has had difficulty to mobilise).
The third day of the conference was devoted to discussing the future of SIPS through different approaches, one being to levrage the experience of PRIME to discuss about the role of networks of excellence, and another one being the proposal for a new Global Forum, besides the new indicators space that the new ENID association (officially launched during the conference) will propose.