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About interests and limitations of top-down approaches : the case of the PRIME ERA dynamics initiative

jeudi 20 janvier 2011, par julien

During these developments another issue arose about the research agenda itself. It contained no direct interrogation about on-going Europeanisation processes and the de facto dynamics of the ERA. The EC reviewers and the members of the Scientific Committee pushed the Executive Committee to update the agenda and to initiate a proactive development on the issue. This gave rise to a position paper on Europeanisation (January 2006). This served as a platform for discussing in a special plenary session at the Paris conference the interest of such an addition and the directions to follow (see Prime website). This drove to a new major activity line within this theme, called ERA dynamics. The discussion in Paris raised interest within the community. An open call for proposals, based upon the conclusions of the Paris conference gave rise to 8 proposals. The review made led to suggest a regrouping in 4 projects for a second round of proposals. The review of the 4 proposals is interesting to consider as such. It is illustrative of the interest but also weaknesses of top-down initiatives (see extract below of the general comments made before the review of the individual proposals). The ExC decided to fund only a first partial phase of the projects with a dual view of addressing limitations to make the projects more robust and of organising an overall consolidation in an articulated project. This was arrived at, and the ExC decided to continue support, still with strong discussions about the time frame of such a development (seen by many well beyond the then already known end of the EC contract). 

ERA dynamics initiative - Extract of the ExC decision – July 2006
The ExC welcomed the enthusiastic response to the ERA Dynamics initiative shown by the researchers involved, and their efforts to respond to earlier ExC comments on the emerging proposals. The ExC is keen to see substantive and original research on ERA Dynamics, an issue at the heart of the interests of the PRIME NoE.
However, in a more top-down initiative such as this, it is perhaps inevitable that the academic quality of the proposals prepared is somewhat less than that of many bottom-up proposals. The rapporteurs for each of the four proposals under consideration and the ExC more generally felt that all four proposals were weak in a number of respects, such as the general failure to engage with relevant previous literature, the identification of hypotheses that both followed from previous research and that were capable of being rigorously investigated and tested, the development of an appropriate conceptual framework, the definition of the phenomena under investigation and of the key variables to be studied, a rationale for the choice of case studies, the overall research design, and so on (see the reports on the individual proposals).


The thrust of the project has thus been to further develop a conceptual framework articulating knowledge and institutional dynamics, to develop a simple but robust set of indicators enabling to characterise knowledge dynamics, and to start organising the policy discussion on such topics, in view of political developments about the ERA (see Lisbon conference, Lisbon high level group, ERA rationales high level group, and the development of a 2020 vision). How can we appreciate developments made ? WP2 below reviews more in detail developments. Still an overall view is important to appreciate the overall achievements of the NoE compared to its initial ambitions. Concept papers have been very useful in raising policy discussions and the PRIME coordinator considers that the inclusion of key aspects into policy framing is a major success of our ‘percolation approach’, which is marked by the take-up of ideas generated by those who directly support policymakers and policymaking activities. Similarly innovative developments have taken place and are still under development about indicators. The time was however too short to complete a full experiment on chemistry and catalysis within it. This is still going-on at the time of writing of this report but with strong expectations to complete it by the end of 2010. It is however interesting to note that there is no funding space for such an activity at European level, where all research on indicators has been stopped and replaced by top-down tenders. Finally, as expected by the ExC, conceptual developments are far more challenging than anticipated in term of grounding the co-evolution of both S&T dynamics, innovation activities and institutional frames. The special issue agreed with Science and Public Policy has thus been delayed for one year now. This is one conceptual ‘challenge’ ahead for the new EU SPRI forum.