This was the topic of a major conference on research and innovation policy recently hosted by the Research Council of Norway.
Collaboration holds the answer
Among the featured speakers was Dr Julia Lane, Programme Director of the Science of Science and Innovation Policy at the US National Science Foundation.
“We must be able to tell taxpayers and the authorities why it benefits society to invest in research,” was her premise. It is a demanding task involving many factors and long time frames.
“The key to creating better systems of measurement lies in cooperating across national borders, institutions and research communities,” she asserted.
Electronic tracking and analysis
Dr Lane founded the STAR METRICS programme (Science and Technology for America’s Reinvestment: Measuring the Effects of Research on Innovation, Competitiveness and Science), a partnership between US authorities and research institutions designed to document the outcomes of R&D investment in key areas of society.
(Photo: Nils Ragnar Løvhaug)
Research results often show up in places other than where the original investment took place. To track the effects, Dr Lane established a system to follow the people who carry out research and identify outcomes wherever and whenever they may occur.
“We already have lots of data, generated by electronic tracking via the Internet. New ways of structuring and analysing these data are making us more efficient and ensuring higher quality than with manual reporting.”
Knowledge can lose its value
Bronwyn Hall, professor at both Maastricht University and the University of California, Berkeley, is well known as a nestor in studies on financial impacts of R&D investments. She spoke about various methodologies and the challenges they pose when trying to establish causal relationships between research investment and returns.
“Returns are measured in more than just monetary terms, and the amount of time needed before one can observe the returns of an investment varies,” said Professor Hall. “What’s more, research results as elements in a knowledge base can lose their value over time. It is very difficult to determine how great this depreciation is and how quickly it occurs.”
Social impact exceeds private profit
The impact of innovation is also difficult to gauge since it reaches beyond the individual companies involved. Innovations may benefit consumers, for example, by way of improved products and lower prices. Also, there are other elements besides research that play a role in outcomes and value creation.
Analysis indicates that returns on research investment are generally positive, and that the benefits to society are greater than the profits for private investors.
Professor Robert Tijssen of Leiden University discussed advances in the field of bibliometrics. National and international cooperation patterns are gaining importance, and quantitative and qualitative data are increasingly being combined; the trend is away from static and toward more dynamic analyses.
In addition, the focus is in transition from investment components and results to links and effects – making bibliometrics more relevant as a tool for funders and other decision-makers.
Professor Tijssen also spoke about social media (such as CiteULike, total-Impact, blogs and Twitter) as potential suppliers of indicators of social impacts. The pilot surveys of the Higher Education Funding Council for England that identify social impacts in a variety of areas are another good example of the methods being developed. The surveys consist of universities submitting documentation of the social impacts of specific research activities.
“Is it feasible to combine individual studies with bibliometric ‘facts’?” asked Professor Tijssen, reminding the audience that behind every bibliometric “fact” is a history that must be considered when assessing the significance of indicators and the value of a research activity.
High level of activity at Research Council
The Research Council of Norway has several research programmes designed to contribute to knowledge development for research and innovation policy: