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Assessing the role of PRIME : results from the Characterisation group

jeudi 20 janvier 2011, par julien

In the monitoring and assessment of PRIME, the Characterisation Group created a novel conceptual framework and constructed a number of indicators to measure changes with regard to the main dimensions of the activities relating to integration and excellence. Important elements of the conceptual framework were published in Science and Public Policy. The framework makes an analytical distinction between ‘integration’ and ‘networking’ or ‘collaboration’, and differentiates between two dimensions, namely cognitive and social integration. NoEs are considered as intermediary organizations in relation to the EU Commission (the principal) and the institutes (the agents) which are the targets of the intervention. The framework further outlined different potential outcomes of the NoE after EU support ranging from an ‘exclusive scientific club’ or ‘scientific association’ to a ‘funding agency’ and a ‘world-renown research organization’.

First, in order to obtain data for its analysis and to provide the information necessary to register change in terms of a number of indicators for ‘integration’ and ‘excellence’, the Characterisation Group conducted surveys of PRIME researchers and PRIME labs at two points (towards the end of 2004 and in 2007). In 2007 a separate brief questionnaire was sent to PhD students who had participated in postgraduate activities of the Training Group (conferences and schools). Second, interviews were carried out with Heads of PRIME labs in 2004 and 2007. Third, management information about funded projects and activities was used to map the collaboration patterns of PRIME researchers. And last, other sources of information such as project reports were used.

In the Year One Report the Characterisation Group reported that according to their findings, the level of cognitive integration of the research area was already relatively advanced and that some initial steps in terms social integration had been made.
The Final Report  registered further developments in terms of integration, especially with regard to cognitive integration both at the laboratory and the individual level and also considerable advance towards social integration with, however, some limitations at the institutional level (see box).
The collaboration networks registered during the first year of PRIME have become much denser and involved most if not all PRIME institutes see evolving graphs below). There is furthermore, a large core of interlinked labs with frequent collaborative ties. At the individual level, the overall density of the network has increased and the elements clustering around different topics have over time become linked.
Besides promoting integration, PRIME has mobilised a number of new participants from smaller and less excellent labs, factors that are in line with its objectives of lowering the threshold for achieving excellence. It has increased the core of internationally renowned researchers (with the caveat that this is based on self-assessment), and has paid attention to reproducing excellence, by nurturing the future generation of senior researchers through its special training initiatives and through involving junior researchers in PRIME-funded projects.

The Characterisation Group’s summary of its finding at the Aix Conference (December 2008)

As expected, PRIME started from a relatively low level of integration (as measured by the density of the network). This holds for the network of labs as well as for the network of individual researchers.
During the lifetime of PRIME and because of the specific crystallising agents that were used the density of the networks increased dramatically which is an indicator for the beginning of integrative processes. Altogether PRIME developed and utilised four different types of crystallising agents : 1) project funding, 2) training programme, 3) indicators, and 4) databases. These succeeded to different degrees. Funding for exploratory research projects, the PhD training programme, in particular, and to a lesser degree, the indicator activities proved to be effective as crystallising agent, at least, during the life- time of PRIME.
Furthermore, the research field appears to have consolidated socially and intellectually as evidenced by the links that have emerged between the thematic clusters, the clear bridging personalities and the increased level of methodological and epistemological exchange and debate that was reported. There is no certainty, however, that these integrative processes will continue after the incentives associated with them have been withdrawn.
Our study shows that while PRIME has already had some integrative effects where the epistemic community is concerned, the effects of the Network on research organisations (labs) are negligible…. The above finding of effects at the level of epistemic communities, but hardly any at the level of research organisations, is interesting given that the NoEs as a policy instrument were designed to bring about an increased level of integration between research organisations. The finding is not surprising given that currently European level instrument can reach the largely ‘national’ research organisations mainly indirectly through epistemic communities (or research spaces). Hence, there might be a delayed ‘chain’ reaction whereby the research organisations are affected only after the processes affecting the epistemic community are well advanced, persistent and sustainable


2004 graph – source Year One Report of the Characterisation Group

2007 graph, source Final Report of the Characterisation Group

The institutional effects which we know take time and indeed were expected to take a decade or more, should not however be underestimated. One of our indirect objectives was to foster the development of national capabilities. We have discussed the limitations encountered by new Member States. This highlights a central issue : such efforts are mostly national and require that there is an initial capacity. Such was not the case in most new Member States. The issue however remains in other countries. PRIME has given visibility to the field and this has helped (complemented by the support of recognised individuals as experts or advisers or evaluators) in a few cases. This is very visible, for instance, in France (with the creation of IFRIS), in Spain with the internal reorganisation of CSIC, or in Portugal with the creation of the NONIUS network (with its first conferences in November 2007 and May 2009). This was not the case in Germany where some even suggest that PRIME may have contributed to weakening its capacity in the area by attracting key German individuals to work in other countries. Nevertheless our field hosts one of the few doctoral schools of excellence (IWT in Bielefeld), while DfG supports an extensive network of scholars (see 2010 Frankfurt conference) and there are ideas about nurturing an IFRIS-type approach to network the Berlin-related capabilities. This suggests that the speciality is at least prominent in policy matters. Beyond these organisational dimensions, one important effect at the level of teams, groups, centres or institutes, is the circulation of staff. There are numerous examples of this, for instance joint positions for Larédo between Paris and Manchester ; the international recruitments one can see in the case of Manchester or Twente drawing upon German and US labs ; or CSIC drawing upon SPRU, or Swedish institutions recruiting young researchers trained in Spain.

Main outputs of the Characterisation group

T. Luukkonen, M. Nedeva, R. Barré, 2006, Integration and excellence : Understanding the dynamics of networks of excellence, Science and Public Policy, vol. 33, n° 4, pp 239–252.

PRIME Year One report, by T. Luukkonen, M. Nedeva, R. Barré, January 2006, 43 pages PRIME and its Dynamics : Final Report, by T. Luukkonen, M. Nedeva, May 2008, 34 pages.

2008 Conference presentations :
* Terttu Luukkonen, Maria Nedeva, “Assessing Research Integration : Testing a Conceptual Framework Using PRIME a san Example”, invited paper at CONNEX-PRIME Conference : How Does Research Integration Work, 17 June, 2008, Brussels.
* Terttu Luukkonen, Maria Nedeva, “Assessment of Integration in the New FP Tools : Example of the NoEs”, paper presented at Conference ‘Knowledge for Growth : European Strategies in the Global Economy’, organised under the French Presidency of the European Union, Toulouse, 7-9 July, 2008
* Terttu Luukkonen, Maria Nedeva, “Mirror, mirror on the Wall”, paper presented at PRIME International Conference 2008, 24-26 September, Mexico City.
* Terttu Luukkonen, Maria Nedeva, Assessing PRIME NoE, presentation at PRIME Annual Conference, Aix-en-Provence, 15-17 December, 2008.

* Terttu Luukkonen, Maria Nedeva, 2010, Towards understanding integration in research and research policy, Research Policy, 39, 674-686


IFRIS gathers some 70 researchers from 9 groups, 6 of which belonging to PRIME. The 2 promoters are from PRIME and PRIME features as a key element in the argumentation. This has in particular driven CNRS and INRA to make of the new institute a central element in their strategy in social sciences. And the new funding agency ANR has delegated IFRIS the responsibility of developing the research agenda of the new science-society programme it wants to launch in 2009.