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Technology and infrastructures policy in the knowledge-based economy - Redesign of incentives: Dynamics of communities

The promotion of university/industry relationships is a well-established science and technology policy area. A long tradition of different institutional settings, financial incentives and other tools of technology transfer are used. Although there is a broad consensus that the linear model of innovation is inadequate, the concept of the "one-way bridge" from public research to industrial research is still widespread in the discussion on technology transfer. The contributions of this volume support the need to refocus the traditional policy of technology transfer - the establishment of transfer institutions and incentives within the public research world - and to convert it into a concept supporting a "two-way bridge".

A survey at German universities (Meyer-Krahmer, Schmoch 1998) has shown for all fields examined that the central linking element in the co-operation between universities and industrial firms is the exchange of knowledge in both directions. Although the institutional orientation of academic and industrial researchers is different, the exchange of knowledge can be considered a common denominator where both interests meet. The mutual exchange of knowledge in techno-scientific communities is obviously a broad phenomenon that is not limited to some exceptional cases, but applies to whole disciplines and sub-disciplines.

Another major conclusion underlines a characteristic of a national innovation system which one could call "structural absorptive capacity". We call the absorptive capacity (of firms, research institutes or universities) "structural", because it largely depends on meso-level characteristics. This structural absorptive capacity depends, according to empirical evidence, on the science intensity of technologies, the industrial life cycle, and the firm size structure of the industrial sectors. Furthermore, the absorptive and emittive capacities depends on micro-level factors: internal R&D capacity of firms, and interaction patterns to relevant technologies outside traditional linkages, as well as formal co-operation and informal networks.

The emergence of national systems of innovation has to be considered as a path dependent evolutionary process where various economic, technological, social and cultural factors interlock and strengthen each other mutually. The cognitive structures of universities are strongly influenced by the co-evolution of industry structure, technology and institutional factors (see also Nelson 1995), e. g. the close interaction of application-oriented university departments and industrial firms in the less science-based area of mechanical engineering in Germany has to be interpreted in this theoretical perspective. For many years, it has been a successful model of cooperation, but in the present situation, it implies risks of lock-in effects, which can be overcome only by deliberate efforts.

There is broad evidence that in addition to the factors already mentioned, the specific cognitive structure in this area supports the relatively strong orientation of universities on application and hampers the openness towards new, more theory-based technologies. However, this aspect has not yet been studied in a systematic way. So we suggest that more research on cognitive structures of different technologies is undertaken, because it can contribute to an improved understanding of national systems of innovation, but also of related problems such as the organisation of inter-disciplinarity or the relations between science and technology.

The paradigm of inter-disciplinarity affects these instruments by a shift from inter-organisational to intra-organisational linkages. The paradigm of science-based technologies calls for a renewal of traditional instruments to improve university/industry cooperation through new instruments linking academic communities with research communities in industry. Interaction and communication are more important than financial issues. This leads to the following set of conclusions.

An important consequence for science technology policy is the necessary change of organization, communication, interaction and incentives within the public research world. The consequences for science-based technologies are the need for new ways of linkage between basic research and applied research. Also trans- and inter-disciplinarity need better horizontal linkages between disciplines. Often in the literature inter-disciplinarity is a misleading concept of integration and mixing disciplines. It is essential to understand that first-class trans- and interdisciplinary research is highly dependent on first-class disciplinary quality of the scientists involved in interdisciplinary research. Therefore, an efficient linkage between (and not the integration of) disciplines is crucial for the establishment and dynamics of such epistemic communities.

Possible tools and mechanisms of such linkages are:
- Organisation of research: problem orientation in the case of well definable social or industrial-technical problems. This requires, in contrast to the currently predominant internal objectives of science, new ways of project organisation and management.
- A better linkage of the long-term application-oriented basic research with applied research would meet future requirements better. This could be achieved for example by a better institutional network, cooperation research with specific subjects, new models of financing, improved communication and other assessment criteria.

- Team research: besides the currently predominant orientation of academic research towards individualized research setting, interdisciplinary team research must be strengthened by appropriate incentives.

- Improved intra- and inter-sectoral mobility of researchers: on an international level and also between science and industry.

- Increased flexibility of research structures: more rapid taking-up of new developments by flexibilisation of the present rigid public service rules and budget laws, deregulation of the academic administration, and networking of research institutions for a limited time, especially in an international framework ("virtual research institutes").

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University Louis Pasteur
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Evaluation - Policies
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