In our initial proposal we constructed an approach towards European integration based upon a distinction between individual and collective excellence, seeing PRIME in terms of helping organised teams, groups, centres or institutes to move up the ladder towards collective excellence. For us the word ‘excellence in research’ is used in connection with maintaining the ability of a field or speciality to permanently renew its concepts and, to achieve this, to nurture what was then called ‘risky’ or ‘heterodox’ research and is often now labelled as ‘frontier science’ (see in particular the 2005 working group on ERC with key members from the PRIME network, and the 2007 NSF review on the dynamics of scientific research, for a review, see Laredo 2010).
Our quite frank evaluation at the time was that the speciality was too short-term oriented, and too dependent on existing paradigms and methods. We linked it to its main three features (see box) and this led us to recognise three lasting structural deficiencies, while seeing also in PRIME the opportunity to foster conceptual diversity. Linked with the instruments required to govern such a collective endeavour, this helped develop our understanding of the somewhat fuzzy concept of integration. We added a complementary goal, namely to accompany national efforts to structure ‘locally’ the speciality, in particular in new Member States.
|A view of our speciality (extract of the PRIME website and initial proposal)
To address the challenges Europe faces, it is necessary to relate them with the three main features of our speciality, Studies of Policies for Research and Innovation Policy (SPRI). Though relatively small in size, it is interdisciplinary, being at the encounter of four main disciplines (Political Science, Economics, Management and Sociology). Second, the vast majority of teams are small (less than 5 academics) and located within wider disciplinary oriented groups. Third, researchers are strongly linked with their main stakeholders, the national or regional governments, which mostly fund them through contract research.
PRIME was thus first and foremost dedicated to addressing the three structural deficiencies identified.
1&2- The structural dispersion observed explained the lasting difficulty in developing doctoral programmes to renew and enlarge capabilities, and in gathering critical mass to renew and enlarge our quantitative base, indicators for science, technology and innovation. They explain the focus on both training and indicators as shown in the two previous sections. Experience had led us to give more and more emphasis to these two dimensions, partly reallocating the means to enable their full deployment.
3- The experience in preparing the NoE proposal (through the FP5 PRIME thematic network) was that the field lacked – and would appreciably benefit from – the existence of a space where lasting challenges and issues are turned into a strategic research agenda. We knew from the two-year preparation of PRIME that this requires, first of all, periodic gatherings (which we organised via the annual conferences of the network), but that, in numerous cases, this requires specific reviews of the state of the art, together with dedicated workshops and repeated exchanges to turn an issue into a specific research agenda and into research projects and collaborations. The latter explain the importance of what we have labelled ‘initiation and review actions’. Satisfying them was at the core of the construction of the NoE and its 5 year project, and is central to on-going developments (see key events linked to the ENID association and the EU SPRI forum – see 2009 Amsterdam conference).
We also recognised that a network of excellence was a unique opportunity to test the ability of the community as a whole to support the emergence of ‘heterodox’ approaches and methods, nurturing ‘frontier science’ on selected enduring challenges. We therefore proposed and obtained permission, unlike a number of other NoEs, to support research activities directly (these constituting 52% of our total allocation). We reflect below on supporting high risk research while dynamics created and the results arrived at are summarise in section 5 of this report.
It was our ambition to help EU members with very fragmented or limited capacity to better structure themselves and to better integrate within the community as a whole. We saw this mostly as an indirect effect of our collective activities, though we clearly considered developing supporting mechanisms to accelerate and deepen such movement in a second round of the NoE. The only activity that was officially inscribed in the contract was a very limited one (2% of total funding anticipated and de facto realised) dealing with the integration of new member states. While reporting on the overall issue below, we explain why was so difficult to achieve this ambition, faced with the absence of any national will to structure such activities.
Finally we see PRIME as also a unique experimentation to develop and test the interest and limitations of a potential new policy instrument. We therefore took very seriously the governance issues associated with it. From the start, we established as an important feature of the governance mechanisms adopted, an independent ‘characterisation group’ to monitor PRIME developments. Both these activities were undertaken as an integral part of our understanding of integration, and as central dimensions with the annual conferences of WP8 on integration in the EC contract.