CORDIS - EU research results

Tracing impacts of the FET programme

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - FET_TRACES (Tracing impacts of the FET programme)

Reporting period: 2016-07-15 to 2017-11-14

The aim of the FET_TRACES-project was to characterize and analyse the impacts of the research funding programme “Future and Emerging Technologies (FET)” of the European Commission. We have selected a sample of 224 FET Open and FET Proactive projects. For the impact assessment we used bibliometric data to trace academic impacts as well as survey-data to find out about impacts in more applied, company R&D surroundings.

Research funding is one of the main tasks of the European Union and a field in which the European integration has successfully been promoted over the last years. Whereas research funding can be realized in many different ways, the Future Emerging Technologies (FET) programme of the European Commission has a special focus. It is designed to promote a certain kind of research which is described as high risk, novel, collaborative, interdisciplinary, and technology-oriented. The idea is to promote research with the potential to trigger breakthroughs with high technological or societal impacts.

Our impact assessment analyses three dimensions which are of central importance of the FET-programme:

1. Novelty: At the centre of FET are novel ideas, concepts, approaches which may lead to radical new technologies.

2. Multi-disciplinarity: Multi-discipinary collaboration is another central element of FET. This includes collaborations of disciplines which are not closely related to each other at first sight (cross- or trans-disciplinarity).

3. Innovation eco-systems: FET-projects ideally start new economic activities based on new technol-ogies or new scientific concepts. Apart from the scientific uptake this includes industrial activities of any kind (company R&D, spin-offs, patent applications, etc.).

The outcomes of FET-TRACES contribute to a better understanding of this kind of research funding and it will help to identify mechanisms to situate FET-research vis-à-vis other funding programmes like the European Research Council (ERC) or funding schemes by national research funding agencies.
As foreseen in the work programme for year 1, the FET_TRACES-project has finished four work packages (WPs) which deal with the conceptual basics of FET-like research (WP1), the analysis of similar research funding schemes on national levels (WP2), the development of a set of suitable indicators for the assessment (WP3) and a basic analysis of the 224 FET-Open and FET-proactive projects in our sample (WP4).
In the second half of the year we applied a range of bibliometric methods to analyse scientific outputs and citation patterns of relevant FET-related publications (WP 6). Also, with the data from WP 6 we tried an assessment of the novelty level of project ideas using the LDA method (WP5).Furthermore we carried out two online surveys asking project coordinators asking about major impacts of their project (online survey I) and non-participants about their view on the FET programme and FET-research in general (online survey II).
After bringing together and critically discussing results from the quantitative methods (WP 8) we carried out case studies (WP 9) in order the identify success strategies for FET projects. Also, we have carried out an expert workshop in Brussels in which national funders, researchers and experts from the European Commission have discussed about the different funding strategies for FET research (WP10).
The results of the bibliometric analysis, the survey and the case studies show that the FET programme has specific impacts on knowledge creation, people and skills, the economy as well as the society. In our final report we summarize the most important results of the impact assessment.
The results emphasize the uniqueness of the FET programme as it allows researchers to develop original and use-inspired ideas. Also, the FET programme encourages researchers from different disciplines and backgrounds to work together and contributes to building new scientific communities.
Although the term “use-inspired basic research” suggests certain tensions (curiosity-driven and at the same time application oriented), the impact assessment revealed that combining both aspects can generate productive environments for manifold innovations. FET projects with remarkable outcomes were able to use the potential tension between excellence science and application orientation as a driver to push their research forward.
In the workshop with national funders of high-risk research, it became clear that FET research is of increasing relevance in several national contexts, too. Many research funding agencies have intensified their respective programmes in recent years. The participants stated that FET as the corresponding programme at European level functions as a multiplier with its focus on international collaboration. The need for FET funding will increase in the future due to the growing importance of a collaborative and interdisciplinary culture of science in Europe.
Another conclusion from our analysis is that we need to consider new methods to trace a project’s impacts. We found a great variety of impact pathways and recommend tracing “project journeys”, taking into account a longer time horizon and including additional qualitative methods. Whereas some want to strengthen impact planning and even want to include detailed innovation roadmaps as a requirement for funding, we instead recommend introducing follow-up documentation regarding the specific impact pathways.
FET is a unique funding instrument for new scientific and technological insights, which has relevant and substantial impacts. Looking ahead, the results of this study suggest that FET should not only complement the European research funding landscape, but that it should be increased in size and budget to become a major pillar of European research funding.
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