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Understanding and Assessing the Impact and Outcomes of the ERC Funding Schemes

Periodic Report Summary - EURECIA (Understanding and assessing the impact and outcomes of the ERC funding schemes)

The overall aim of the Eurecia project is to develop and apply a novel conceptual framework and methodology to understand better the dynamics of the European science system and the activities of the European Research Council (ERC) by assessing the impact and outcomes of its funding schemes.

More specifically, the objectives of the research project are to:

- develop a conceptual framework to analyse the impact(s) of the ERC funding schemes in their interaction with existing national and transnational governance regimes;
- develop a bespoke methodology for the identification and attribution of ERC impact;
- apply this methodology, thereby both testing it and providing stage one data on (a) the researchers, (b) research organisations, (c) research funding organisations, and (d) the wider context of national and transnational governance of science;
- propose methodologies for discrete (panel) assessment of progress towards the ERC achieving its desired and expected outcomes and impact;
- ensure that the framework for assessing outcomes and impact of the ERC incorporates a statement (and understanding) of its 'added value';
- provide output to aid ERC's strategy (including scrutinising its objectives) in consultation with ERC key stakeholders.

For the purposes of this project 'impact' has been conceptualised as 'a clearly attributable difference over time' and our research programme seeks to account for both intended (as represented by the objectives) and unintended impact of the ERC funding schemes. Correspondingly, the project and the research programme are structured around three framework questions. These are: 'how to measure impact?'; 'how to attribute impact?'; and 'how to assess impact?'.

Measuring impact is inherently challenging particularly in a complex system like science. This demands a nuanced and revised understanding of what science is, its dynamics, the nature of the relationship between policy and science and the causal mechanisms that produce empirically measurable effects (i.e. impact). Drawing on theories and concepts from the sociology of science, science studies and political science, among others, science has been conceptualised as a relationship between research spaces and research fields (Nedeva, see http://www.eurecia-erc.net online) and the research programme has been structured accordingly.

EURECIA is developing a methodology to measure the impact of the ERC funding schemes in five distinct but inter-related aspects of the science system: researchers, research and careers (G. Laudel, J. Glaser); knowledge communities (M. Nedeva, D. Thomas, Y. Nugroho); research organisations (M. Stampfer, J. Edler); the European funding landscape (T. Luukkonen); and national funding landscapes (B. Van der Meulen). Furthermore, the project incorporates two cross cutting themes, on science governance (D. Braun) and science dynamics (R. Whitley), ensuring cognitive congruence between the various aspects. Within each aspect we have already identified, by considering causal mechanisms, the possible effects that the ERC funding schemes can produce and have developed ways to empirically register them. A combination of research methods including surveys, cases studies and in-depth interviews, is being applied.

It is likely that impacts will vary across different funding landscapes, organisations and research fields. Hence, the study covers universities, research organisations, research funders and researchers, to be interviewed in nine European countries (the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Norway and Austria). We will also survey the 2007 cohort of researchers supported by the ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grant, including as a control group the researchers who passed the quality threshold but did not receive funding. Because of low numbers in this cohort, accounting for different research fields is problematic but has been done where possible.

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