Since R&D statistics largely disregard the issue of characterising the allocation channels of public money, ENID members devised a specific methodology based on the collection of data from public budgets and funding agencies, and then their elaboration to provide comparative indicators. At the same time, project participants had to provide systematic and standard descriptions of the funding instruments, because previous work had shown that the lack of this information in a usable form greatly impaired comparative work. This methodological work took almost two years and is presented in detail in the article published in Research Evaluation (Lepori et al, 2007).
This project illustrates the notion of ‘positioning indicators’ that ENID has developed (see Research Evaluation, Lepori et al. 2008).
Positioning indicators aim at providing, through the ad hoc elaboration of existing data, the answer to some very specific and localised questions, such as comparing across countries the portfolio of public funding or measuring the evolution over time of its share of total public funding. Hence the indicators proposed aim at characterising the position and linkages of the different actors in the national innovation systems.
A second relevant feature of these indicators is that they are not meant to provide complete descriptions of the reality on their own, nor are they to be used directly for analytical purposes (for example, through mathematical models), but rather as descriptors to support largely qualitative analysis using more conventional sources in science policy studies. In this case the set of indicators developed clearly highlight the growing importance of project funding in all 6 initial countries examined. The level however varies enormously (from 20% in France to 42% in Norway). There are also differences concerning the channels (that is the relative importance of professional intermediary bodies such as research councils or funding agencies, from nearly zero in Italy to over 60% in Austria), the orientation (more academic in Switzerland, and innovation-oriented in the Netherlands) or the beneficiaries (mostly higher education in Switzerland, mostly the private sector in France).
The fact that the categories for the analysis depend critically on the underlying interpretation of the reality and hence that it is perfectly legitimate to revise them for producing alternative descriptions is an important characteristic of ‘positioning indicators’. This is nicely described in the article of Thèves et al. (2007), where the authors show that the image of a very specific French research system, based on strong public research organisations, weak public universities and direct public funding of private companies, depends largely on the blind acceptance of categories that do not reflect the profound changes in the system during the last two decades. Accordingly, the authors show that considering differently the position of the joint laboratories and the role of CNRS in their funding provides an image of the French system much nearer to the practice of other European countries.
After these initial results, the project was enlarged to cover a wider set of countries. Following the recommendations of the PRIME reviewers a specific search was conducted in new member states that succeeded in attracting 3 new partners beyond Hungary – namely Poland, Estonia and the Czech Republic. This gave rise to a new special section of Science and Public Policy (2009), but, even more importantly, convinced OECD specialists in science, technology and innovation of the potential of such an approach. In 2009, following a proposal by the OECD secretariat , NESTI decided to launch a first round of ‘official statistics’ which has been joined by more than 20 countries.