Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Science-based technologies and interdisciplinarity: Policy implications

The following policy implications can be drawn from the analysis in this subproject:
- During the development of the two science-based areas analysed the science base of the fields broadened in the sense that more scientific disciplines became involved. To support this development, broad, open and flexible policy instruments seem to be adequate. In addition, this observation raises the general question of the relation between policy instruments supporting linking and networking activities and policy instruments supporting fundamental research activities. The challenge is to design the optimum ratio between these two types of instruments for the respective science/technology area.

- The statistical data point to strong interrelations between the different phases of the innovation process leading to different patterns of development in the two cases. In particular, the interrelation between the characteristics and possibilities offered by the technology at a certain stage of development and market requirements and demand seems to be an important factor in shaping science/technology development. This points to a dilemma of potential policy interventions: On the one hand, policy instruments supporting a broad approach towards the technological areas of interest seem to be useful. On the other hand, such a broad support and approach might conceal the discussed feedback mechanisms.

This leads to the more general question of significance, timing, and interrelation between the following elements: creation of variation, selection of best-suited options, and shift towards exploitation. Questions of variations and selection in particular are able to influence the innovation process. On the one hand, very strict selection processes can lead to a lack of progress and innovation while too weak selection can lead to inefficiency because of too much experimentation.

In terms of policy implications, this indicated the need of having a mix of instruments available which allows these systems' elements to be tackled in an optimum way. A crucial issue in this context is the question of direct intervention versus setting frame conditions. It should be pointed out that this discussion does not necessarily mean that intervention (direct or indirect) is the only option. No intervention may turn out to be the best option in certain cases. Similar problems are relevant within large pharmaceutical companies. During the process of drug development, the focus of activities has to switch at a certain point from more exploratory research activities to concentrated testing and developing of a particular drug candidate. A key success factor for pharmaceutical companies is to find the optimum balance between these two types of activities. Therefore, selection mechanisms are of paramount importance.

- During the development of the science-based technologies considered here, there is a significant overlap, not only between different research stages but also between different stages of the process as a whole. Policy instruments are needed which target different phases of the whole process. Since quite often there is a rather clear division of responsibilities among policy-makers, the question of interrelation and co-ordination between the different policy responsibilities is important. In addition, within a certain responsibility different types of instruments may be needed, leading again to the question of co-ordination and interrelation between the policy actors responsible for the different types of instruments.

- With respect to the question of national versus European policies at least two issues need further discussion:
-- The results point to the significance of international interdisciplinary networks. This brings up the question of whether it is possible to identify a type of "division of labour" between national policies and European policies, in the sense that national policies are more deeply rooted in supporting disciplinary research while European policies tend to support interdisciplinary activities more intensively. This would indicate the importance of the role of European policies for the development of science-based and interdisciplinary technologies.
-- On the other hand the international design of policies could also become a certain impeding factor for innovativeness. The argument is as follows: if the original source for innovative ideas is linked mainly to individual players, then the need to form international R&D consortia could lead to a certain levelling out of individual innovative forces.

- Interpersonal links and social networks play an important role in initiating and sustaining interdisciplinary co-operations. The question is whether and how policies could support the formation of such social networks. Direct approaches seem to be very difficult since they require a profound knowledge of "know-what", "know-why" and "know-who" which is hardly accessible from outside the research community. Indirect approaches like providing for a for dialogues between the actors or supporting mobility and exchange of researchers might be easier to follow.

- There seem to be inherent and pronounced differences in the patterns of development of science-based and interdisciplinary technologies. This points to the notion that it would be very difficult to define best practice policies for science-based technologies.

- As an impeding factor for interdisciplinary research networks, the disciplinary-oriented career schemes in public organisations in general and in universities in particular have been identified in some of the analysed countries. Therefore in those cases, integrating interdisciplinary components into academic career schemes is an important policy issue.

- Public procurement seems to be a difficult policy instrument in interdisciplinary and science-based technologies. At least the two cases studied here indicate that both the technologies per se and the organisational context, in which innovations take place, are extremely complex. Under these conditions, public procurement instruments must be able to draw on a strong expertise in the technologies under consideration and their organisational contexts, which might be a difficult challenge.


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