Accueil > Results > The dynamics of public sector research > General presentation

General presentation

vendredi 21 janvier 2011, par julien

The latter had already given rise to a number of works focused on ‘labs’ in the wake of the new developments in STS (to say it simply Latourian vs Mertonian sociology of science). This explains probably why the theme was so successful in the preparation phases (under PRIME TN) with workshops that attracted over 80 participants. This gave rise to what can be considered as an exhaustive agenda and a number of initial gathering of complementary competences to address the themes identified. The following box presents the 5 lines of activity identified while we show that the NoE has enabled a wide coverage of the theme, well beyond what we expected, and fulfilled its objectives of generating new approaches and methods that are already widely taken up (at the time of writing of this report).

Dynamics of public sector research : 5 lines of activity
- The microstructure of public research : linking individual productivity, organisational factors and strategies of laboratories.
- Building the conditions for monitoring the evolution of University activities : toward an observatory of European Universities
- Changing boundaries between public and private : spin-off firms, IPR, the emergence of scientific districts
- Building the ERA from the bottom : European labour markets for PhDs, post-doctoral students and young scientists and mobility pattern in the scientific career.
- Governing change in PSR : funding structures, intermediary entities, management practices


Working on bottom-up based calls worked very well. It was interesting to see that the first theme that had just given rise to significant work, conferences and publications was de facto integrated in the second one on university dynamics. There an ‘exploratory research’ (AQUAMETH) looked at the possibility of using non parametric robust efficiency measures which have the advantage of enabling to switch between input and output factors (e.g. PhDs are both an output of training and an input into research activities) and to be flexible in the way to use the efficiency frontier. This is an outstanding case of success while the Scientific Committee took it as our most risky bet ! We moved step by step from 3 to 6, then 9 and 15 countries including non European. The results are both academic (one book and multiple articles and conference presentations) and policy-oriented, with debates about the approach in official indicator instances (Eurostat and OECD), with take-up into reports of High Level Expert Groups (ERA Rationales in particular) and with the responsibility given to the consortium of developing the full databases and indicator sets at the European level (EUMIDA project).

This linked to the fifth line on public sector governance. A small initial project (SUN) turned into a large comparative and aggregative one (gathering 7 countries) on the governance of universities (with a major book on the topic). The book locates university steering ‘between stories of management on one side and histories of public sector regulations on the other’. The two stories are the two dominating narratives that organise most of the academic work on the topic : the new Public Management and the Network Governance paradigms. Comparative results corroborate the idea that universities have witnessed an organisational turn over the last 30 years, through a set of transformed managerial approaches, ‘steering at a distance’ (new allocation models, indicators, assessment quality auditing and ranking) being central. However, what appears at first sight as a striking convergence between European countries covers a great variety of implementation processes. The path followed in most if not all countries, has been reformist, that is in continuity with local political and administrative orders. The major conclusion of this European comparison is that this transformation process (still on-going) might lead to various forms of articulation between universities and civil and political society and that these still remain to study complementary to the empirical analysis of university differentiation.

Deepening the work within public sector, drove to focus on knowledge production, circulation and appropriation (line 3). Three alleys had been for some time at the forefront of policy and academic preoccupations : Intellectual Property Rights, New Technology Based Firms (as they were then called) and Clusters (following Porter’s 1998 seminal work). The strategic agenda had focused on specific issues within these that were poorly addressed and required further deepening : the handling of collective issues in IPR (with in particular the issue raised later by Nelson, 2004, on scientific commons) ; the dynamics of university spin-off firms and the turn of venture capital into an industry to make the phenomenon lasting and significant in the overall growth of developed countries ; and agglomeration phenomena no longer considered only at manufacturing production level (Marshallian districts) but at the level of knowledge production. These 3 issues were strongly linked with ‘new rationales for public intervention’ and thus PRIME members proposed projects that were at the encounter of both dimensions – studying the phenomenon as such first to look at policy implications next, and progressively looking at the interconnected dynamics of knowledge production and policy actions. The 3 projects have evolved differently, one remaining at its initial round (CIPR) with time needed for its results to percolate within the academic sphere (papers being only published in 2010), another one bearing fruits quite early and giving rise then to complementary dynamics (Nanodistrict) and the last two ones (Rebaspinoff and Venture Fun) having successive rounds of results and progressively becoming entangled in a set of new projects taken over in different FP7 EC projects.

We had at the beginning of the NoE high hopes about the fourth line on capacity building and on the careers of doctoral holders in particular. This has proven far more difficult than anticipated. After having rejected a number of projects, the Scientific Committee told the ExC to follow another track, pushing for project-building workshops. Two of these in Aix and in Madrid helped identifying as critical issues, databases and methods used. These drove to exploratory work on electronic CV and databases (see EURO CV), but this also helped in putting the issue on the agenda, attracting PhD students and fostering new approaches (see for instance results of an approach based on event history in Research Policy, Lee et al., 2010).

Finally beyond university, issues were raised on PSR funding structures and on the role of intermediary organisations (line 5). The former was very successful (see the project funding project) while the former gave rise to an review and initiation action which was not fruitful (WIOP). This surprised the ExC but at the same time we witnessed the emergence, through the work of the Characterisation Group, of a rich reflection on intermediary organisations and their interaction with knowledge production. The latter was instrumental in developing and getting a FP7 project dedicated to the development of a framework for assessing the effects of the ERC (EURECIA, project written in 2008, on-going for 2009-2011). Nedeva (2010) proposes an elegant answer to the unfolding of the ERC with her notion of science built as a relationship between “research fields” and “research spaces” . She sees the ERC as an answer to the tension “between the inherently global nature of the research fields and the localised, mostly national, research spaces”. This builds a major line of inquiry that the new EU SPRI research agenda should clearly highlight.