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ERA dynamics initiative

mardi 22 février 2011, par Julie

Origin and development of the initiative

There were 2 lines of activities : structuration at the European level, and thematic focus. Both were driven by our vision of integration, a still fuzzy concept within EU circles. And all this had to be managed…

Two of the structural activities have been very successful – training and indicators (see respective sections) – while it became soon clear that a network of excellence was not an adequate institutional setting to nurture ‘fora of strategic intelligence’ even at the demonstration level. This drove us to reconsider our approach to the interaction with stakeholders (see specific page, section Governance).

We developed a bottom-up competitive approach to the challenges and themes highlighted. We soon recognised that we needed a portfolio of incentives depending upon the status of the issue within the community (review and initiation, exploration, comparative and aggregative research). Such a bottom-up action enables to remain open to new challenges and issues. This was clearly the case about universities (in public sector research). But it also drove to ‘orphan’ themes, not taken up. We have had internally numerous debates about the need to be more pro-active and to foster top-down initiate activities. The EC reviewers also pushed in that direction. The approach has been to really focus such proactive approaches so as to be in a position to support them should they emerge. Two were launched at the same time : on ERA dynamics, and on Human Resources (where all the projects submitted had been rejected). One has been very successful in mobilising teams and in shaping a new coordinated activity (ERA dynamics), while the other has had difficulty in generating anything else than small explorations on methodological issues. In both cases this took time to materialise (more than one year) and the two other proactive developments we wanted to initiate on innovation in collective goods and in services were halted when it became clear mid 2007 (see Gif seminar) that there would not be the time nor the means required to conduct them in a satisfactory way. Thus results obtained cluster around 4 main themes : governance of universities, knowledge production dynamics, circulation and appropriation of knowledge, evolving governance of research and innovation policies. 

The project also developed a clear vision of what integration meant for us, as a final objective of a lasting network of excellence, and about the means to achieve it. The pages on integration account for it and propose our understanding of where we stand today. They held much in common with the views of the Characterisation Group. It was their remit to independently develop a conceptual framework and to monitor achievements. Their approach and results are exposed in the corresponding page.

Our approach to all these activities was for PRIME to be a partner requiring that teams, groups and organisations co-invest in all activities developed. Eligible costs are a poor marker of such an investment when most partners are de facto on marginal costs, being unable to account for the time of their permanent staff. Our own internal estimate based upon effective involvement of researchers in projects and activities (not including time spent in conferences and in the scientific management of the NoE) is that EC money accounts for probably less than 20% of the full cost of activities developed. This drove the management team to monitor partners’ involvement and propose a typology.

Finally PRIME was also an experiment in term of governance. How can a community self-organise ? We give our account of the governance in act, discussing pros and cons of the solutions adopted.

Ambitions of the initiative

The development of this activity has been exposed above (see 3.5.2). The reasons why we have developed it were presented at the Toulouse Conference in a one page document which is reproduced as such below.
The project was based upon initial internal elaborations within PRIME. Bonaccorsi proposed in 2005 his notion of search regimes based upon 3 main attributes : growth, divergence and complementarities (see presentation in nanodistrict project). Laredo (2006) suggested that it was instrumental in looking at policy shifts (both in term of instruments mobilised and institutional changes). Kuhlmann and Edler (2006) proposed to address ERA as a process (Europeanisation) as much as a concept or a vision (of how Europe should be in the future).
The conjunction of these three developments helped shaping the approach proposed to the dynamics of the ERA. This was fully exposed and discussed at the Pisa conference (January 2007, see presentation on Prime website) and written and widely circulated at the Bonn stakeholder conference organised under the auspices of the German presidency (May 2007, ERA dynamics background paper).
The central notion which articulates the three dimensions - knowledge production dynamics, institutional requirements and Europeanisation - are conflated into the notion of configuration. The debates in Pisa and Bonn converged to tell that the long term objective of the activity was to develop ‘simplified models of knowledge configurations’. However the notion of configuration should not attempt to describe the whole present day situations but focus on situations of change. As we are discussing co-evolution of knowledge production and institutions, dynamics should not be limited to pressures intrinsic to knowledge production but should also consider extrinsic pressures (whatever their source : firms globalising their RDI activities, societal pressures driving to new regulations such as REACH or the nano R&D code of conduct, or new politically established challenges as sustainable development). The existence of perceived system failures (such as the ability to develop frontier research) is another source of extrinsic pressures.
To explore on these, the idea was to complement the work done on a new leading science (nanotechnology, see Nanodistrict project, which results were fully embedded into the project) with work on a more established discipline, which, following initiatives taken bottom-up by national operators, seemed faced with, or anticipated, strong pressures for change, chemistry. It had the advantage to couple it with the emergence of new ‘Europeanisation’ mechanisms, the ERA-Nets and European Technology Platforms, which we took as an institutional entry point.

Knowledge dynamics and institutional change in fast changing science ‘sectors’
Session organised by PRIME network at the Conference “knowledge for growth : European Strategies in global economy” (Toulouse – July 7-9, 2008)

- S. Kuhlmann, Articulating knowledge and institutional dynamics in Europe – a account of hypotheses made and activities developed
- A. Bonaccorsi, Characterising ‘knowledge productive configurations’ : the notion of search regimes
- P. van den Besselaer & A. Schoen, Characterising ‘knowledge productive configurations’ : an analysis of search regimes through evolving network properties
- P. Larédo, Knowledge dynamics and agglomeration phenomena : the case of nanotechnology

Overview of the session
Within PRIME a number of researchers have taken as a starting point that if knowledge turns central to the growth of our economies, we need to further delineate knowledge productive situations. We know from the sociology of science that ‘doing science’ differs from one field to another, but up to now no ‘industrial economics’ has emerged that would consider the characteristics which justify that we consider different sectors in knowledge production as we have in manufacturing and should have in services.
If we follow the manufacturing image, we know that non only market structures differ, but also characteristics of actors and forms of regulations (standards and norms, but also direct market regulations such as authorisation to produce or authorisations to put products in the market as in telecommunication or pharmaceutical industries). Different sector characteristics drive thus to different policies and different forms of internationalisation of markets. This has had (and has still) strong implications for ‘industrial’ / ‘economic’ policies which have : (a) at any time to deploy policies in a way to take account of the variety of markets (and productive configurations) ; and (b) periodically to face the emergence of new scientific areas that propose new scientific or technological paradigms and generate radically new approaches and with them new needs for society and users. They entail what is often now labelled as breakthrough, frontier or transformative science, we speak of “new leading sciences’ and we can empirically propose a succession (Laredo 2006). After, physics, IT and biotech, we enter the realm of nanotechnology and already see it both as a sector per se and as a driving force towards a new agglomeration often qualified by the terms NBIC, little bang or convergence. In turn we can observe empirically that previous leading sciences have all driven to very different institutional configurations and required very different policies : large programmes for the physics period, collaborative programmes for the IT times, new policies for IP, start-ups and venture capital for life sciences…
These leading sciences and the conditions they require do not disappear when a new leading science occurs, thus policies become more complex overtime, their portfolio of instruments increases and their policy mix evolves permanently. Not only does this happen at the national level, but since the second world war and CERN, need for handling aspects of it at an intergovernmental level has been recurrent. We have progressively witnessed with the EU the emergence of a new source of policies and a changing balance which is symbolised in the concept of multi-level governance (which has been at least for a while specific to EU research in social sciences). We assume that the ‘move towards the ERA’ entails another shift in the sources and conditions for policy-making in ‘research and innovation’, and requires/will drive to strong shifts of the institutional settings in Europe. Our assumption is that this movement and the nature of transformations will differ depending on the different ‘knowledge productive configurations’.
If we are right, this has strong implications about policy articulations between the EU and member states, which would differ depending on these configurations (from ‘federalised’ to, at least for larger EU member states, ‘decentralised’ at regional or even city level). It also has strong implications on the actors themselves and their ‘ecology’, and on the institutional settings that will enable growth (which require to differ depending upon configurations).

Some elements on the exploration in Chemistry

The starting point is that Chemistry has been out of direct EC focus (no programme) and is mostly managed at national level by agencies (UK, Germany, the Netherlands) or large research organisations (France). The assumption is also of an established production regime based upon classical ‘labs’ (with specialised teams within them) and longstanding one-to-one industrial relations. Why then witness a wide take up of EU instruments with a technology platform (Suschem), 3 ERA-Nets (ERA Chemistry, Acenet and ERA-IB) and one NoE (Idecat) ?
The first source of interrogation was to check whether we could sustain this view of knowledge dynamics using simple indicators. The choice made was to be complementary to Nanodistrict developments and look at network-based indicators. It enabled to show a really stable picture of chemistry with a slow growth and a very endogenous sourcing (in fact the largest of all established disciplines). Catalysis looked as an exception with both twice as large a growth, with a rapid movement complementing the applied by a more academic side, and with distinct internal dynamics between biocatalysis (more and more connected with biotechnology) while other streams of catalysis remained articulated with chemistry as a whole. Further developments (Schoen 2010, dossier 7-2, attached CD) demonstrate that academic and university-industry networks differ widely, the former being more and more entangled, while the latter witnesses a vertical structure, firms being often connected to one lab or one cluster around a ‘star chemist’. These were mostly nationally based connections until the mid 1990s while there seems to be since a growing disconnection with aggregations of firms around a given recognised source of knowledge, independently from country of origin. However all these remain still preliminary results. We were too ambitious to think it could be developed within one year or so. We expect the developments (which are being pursued in the framework of an institutional agreement between two organisations) to be finalised end of 2010, in time for the special issue planned. As such they offer a first background interpretation of rising interests for European-level developments.
Work was then undertaken with two of the ERA-Nets to understand their motivations and the underlying needs for Europeanisation. Clearly the 2 radically differed in their views and activities. ERA Chemistry focused on the circulation of young researchers and the need for more breakthrough science. They wished another setting where careers could be built ‘Europeanly’ (a wording that mirrors internationally) and where the best, whatever their location, could be supported. Such goals have been by and large taken up in the evolving EU landscape with the fifth freedom and with the ERC. Such was not the case for Acenet which was looking for other types of complementarities, discussing ‘strategic research’ (with the need for a shared vision and research agenda), university-industry linkages, the pooling of resources, and the structuration at European level of such relations (via a European platform). Work, once more, is still undergoing about the roles in such developments of national trajectories and institutional settings. But whatever developments, there is already one conclusion : we do not look at the same Europe for Chemistry as a whole (and viewed through the eyes of funding agencies) and Catalysis where there are multi-actor platforms emerging. We do not face either the same knowledge production requirements. Thus two of our assumptions seem to be validated and this gives further flesh to our central assumptions.
It however drives us to be less encompassing when speaking of configurations : co-evolution might happen at a smaller level than broad fields or broad knowledge production regimes. Similarly we anticipated that REACH would represent a strong extrinsic pressure mobilised by actors for justifying the need for new EC engagement. This was not the case and REACH was not assimilated in our interviews to ‘sustainable development’ or green chemistry. Policy drivers might need to be more subtle and “societal pressures” might percolate through long channels that may well partly decouple political expressions of societal challenges and drivers of transformation in corresponding fields of science.

ERA dynamics and interactions with policymakers

Already in 2007 interactions took place with presentations in different academic-policy workshops (Lisbon, Bern, Vienna..) not taking into account the two workshops directly organised by the project (Bonn and Lisbon). In 2008 we organised the above-mentioned session in the Toulouse Presidency Conference. The joint conference with CONNEX on integration was another occasion (2008, see key events). We considered that the next step required to be academic and in 2009 the process for a special issue in Science and Public Policy was started and is still going on at the time of writing of this final report.

We also considered very early on that ‘percolation’ via expert groups might prove far more efficient in familiarising policymakers with the approach (we are not naïve, we consider that take-up requires embedding and transformation, familiarisation has to be considered as a first step giving room to this way of looking at things among others). The focus by members of the project has been in promoting its relevant aspects in the different groups which we have participated to (quite a number of reports account for some of the developments made, in particular the ERA Rationale Report, The LEG report, The report on embedding sustainability into research, the NoE evaluation or the overseeing group on JRI or the recent review of the ERA-Net Plus are examples of these).

Main results

Some publications related to knowledge production dynamics and Europeanization

Bonaccorsi A., 2011, New forms of complementarity in science. Accepted for publication, Minerva
Laredo P., 2009, La recherche européenne et les enjeux des nouvelles sciences dominantes, in Leresche J .P., K. Weber et P. Larédo (eds), L’internationalisation des systèmes de recherche en action, Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes (PPUR), Lausanne, 27-50
Edler J., 2010, Coordinate to collaborate : the governance challenges for European international S&T policy, in : Prange H. (ed.) : International Science and Technology Cooperation in a Globalized World : The External Dimension of the European Research Area, Cheltenham : Edward Elgar.
Bonaccorsi A., Vargas J., 2010, Proliferation dynamics in new sciences. Research Policy, 39, 1034-1050
Edler J., 2009, Transnational Dynamics in STI and STI governance. Towards a better understanding of the emerging marble cake model of governance, Presentation at the WZB Workshop Way beyond the cascade : Reinterpreting national systems of innovation, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin, November.
Edler, J., Larat, F., 2008, Opening the Black Box : Some reflections on the nature and functions of research integration, How does research integration work, Workshop co-organised within the context of CONNEX NoE and PRIME NoE, Brussels, June 16
Bonaccorsi A., 2008, Search regimes and the industrial dynamics of science. Minerva. Vol. 46, 285-315.
Kulhmann S and Larédo P, 2007, Knowledge dynamics and ERA integration, Background document to the policy workshop (Bonn May 30) (click here to download the document)
Bonaccorsi A., 2007, On the poor performance of European science. Institutions vs policies. Science and Public Policy, June, 303-316.
Laredo P., 2006, The transformation of ‘search regimes’ : implications for Government interventions, Issues in Regulation Theory (La Lettre de la Régulation), 56 (December).
Bonaccorsi A., 2005, Search regimes and the industrial dynamics of science, presentation at the PRIME Manchester conference, January 7-8.