The European Research Conundrum: When Research Organizations Impede Scientific and Technological Breakthroughs Despite Targets, Money and Policy to Foster These Activities
Research Network 1989
October 27, 2009
The European Research Conundrum may be described thus: In the interest of the European Research Dream, the structure and culture of the research organization should be adapted to the mission of achieving scientific and technological breakthroughs but, alas, this mission is first overwhelmed and then deformed by the existing structure and culture of the organization. The conundrum has been highlighted publicly by the high-level review of the European Research Council (ERC), which “found fundamental problems related to rules and practices regarding the governance, administration and operations of the ERC that are not adapted to the nature of modern ‘frontier’ science management.” The organization threatens to defeat the mission, even though the ERC is new, corresponds to targets, and is well funded.
This paper advances three arguments. Firstly, the prevalent focus on targets, money and policy is criticized because it does little to bring about the required organizational restructuring while allowing the organization to overwhelm the mission, thus threatening a lock-in of ERA as second rate. Secondly, it is shown that it is known what kind of organizational design is conducive to scientific and technological breakthroughs and that this knowledge could be utilized to drive forward organizational restructuring. Thirdly, some practical suggestions are made how to gather empirical evidence about barriers and challenges in the European Research Area by tracking the experience of grantees of European flagship programmes in a multiple case-study design, which may be extended to innovation systems.
To also speak to those who think that targets, money and policy should remain the focus, the research may be designed in a fashion that accommodates alternative and competing hypotheses as to what is conducive to or impedes scientific and technological breakthroughs and innovations systems.
Summary of key concepts and topics and institutions discussed:
- Organizational factors fostering breakthroughs
Organizational autonomy, scientific leadership, mission-oriented flexibility, personalized recruitment, intellectual diversity, communicative integration, cognitive complexity
- Organizational factors impeding breakthroughs
Strong institutional environment, departmental differentiation, bureaucratic coordination, filling positions, uniformity of intellect, compartmentalized communication, specialization of mind
- Institutions mentioned
European Research Area (ERA), European Research Council (ERC), European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), European Research Advisory Board (ERAB), European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI)
- Expert Groups covered
Lisbon Expert Group, Knowledge for Growth, Community Research Policy
- Topics discussed
Researchers in ERA, Research Infrastructure, Joint Programming
Number of Pages in PDF File: 22
Keywords: Scientific breakthroughs, technological inventions, innovation systems, scientific excellence, research university, research funding, research policy, R&D targets
JEL Classification: H52, H54, I28, O31, O33working papers series
Date posted: October 27, 2009 ; Last revised: November 2, 2009
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