Research Portfolio Analysis in Science Policy: Moving from Financial Returns to Societal Benefits
30 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2014 Last revised: 17 Mar 2015
Date Written: September 23, 2014
Funding agencies and large public scientific institutions are increasingly using the term "research portfolios" as a means of characterising their research. While portfolios have long been extensively used as a heuristic for managing corporate R&D (i.e. R&D aimed at gaining tangible economic benefits), they remain ill-defined in a science policy context, when research is aimed at achieving societal outcomes. Here, we analyze the uses of the term “research portfolio”. We explore its use in private R&D practices and related scholarly literature, in existing science policy practices, and we search for so far unused but relevant literature in science policy scholarship. While the financial analogy can in some instances be instructive, our review suggests that the concept of a research portfolios can indeed be useful for tackling complex societal challenges, but that a simple transposition from the world of finance or of corporate R&D is problematic. Specifically, the strands of science policy scholarship identified point to a need to 1) carefully consider the various types of portfolios associated with a societal challenge; 2) examine the links between research options of a portfolio and the expected societal outcomes; and 3) adopt a “systems” perspective to research. We argue that under these conditions, portfolio-driven approaches may foster social inclusion in science policy decisions, allow for “alternative” portfolios to be considered to tackle grand societal challenges, as well as promote cost-effectiveness and transparency.
Keywords: science policy, research portfolio, prioritisation, research landscape, societal challenges
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