The European Research Conundrum: when research organizations impede scientific and technological breakthroughs despite targets, money and policy to foster these activities

Armbruster, Chris Chris.Armbruster at EUI.EU
Thu Oct 29 06:48:18 EDT 2009

Dear Loet,

One could indeed infer that the ERC organizes the power of the European scientific elite - only that the ERC review (by members of that very same elite) heavily criticized the lack of transparency that comes with it, e.g. in the selection of peer reviewers.

The ERC is also a signal that, at the European level, research is now an important issue (even as innovation remains the main focus). And yes, there is a struggle over how large the FP8 budget will be, what 'joint programming' etc. means. Yet, the ERC is part of 'The New Renaissance Dream' whereby Europe seeks to foster scientific and technological breakthroughs. Also, in the past decade the Commission has intervened on the question of university and research organizations and, at least nominally, these organizations have responded by organizing themselves (e.g. EUA, EUROHORCS, EIROfroum) and by espousing a call for restructuring in pursuit or excellence, i.e. new breakthroughs. Also, at the national  level this is an issue, e.g. German Excellence Initiative.

The paper addresses these broad issues and suggests that Europe and the national governments, but above all the research organizations and universities must concentrate on organization restructuring (not targets, money & policy). Minimally they must do this to avoid being left behind by North America, East Asia and India. But also in terms of the articulated European Research Dream - which is shared by many leading scholars (c.f. those organising the ERC or Euroscience or those advising the EC) - the organizational restructuring for more autonomy, more scientific leadership, more mission-oriented flexibility, more intellectual diversity etc. should be the imperative governing their actions.

Armbruster, Chris, The European Research Conundrum: When Research Organizations Impede Scientific and Technological Breakthroughs Despite Targets, Money and Policy to Foster these Activities. (October 27, 2009). Available at SSRN:

Best, Chris

-----Original Message-----
From: ASIS&T Special Interest Group on Metrics on behalf of Loet Leydesdorff
Sent: Thu 10/29/2009 08:22
Subject: Re: [SIGMETRICS] The European Research Conundrum: when research organizations impede scientific and technological breakthroughs despite targets, money and policy to foster these activities

Dear Chris,

The situation is very interesting. National research councils
traditionally organize the power of the scientific elite (Mills,
Mulkay) and given the subsidiarity principle this power cannot be
taken away easily by a European organization. The EU therefore in the
1980s decided to focus not on science, but on innovation (Jaques
Delors). The Framework Programmes were defined in terms of the
precompetitive technosciences. This terrain was yet unoccupied by
national research councils.

With the shift of attention to science as central to the
knowledge-base of an economy (e.g., the US program SciSIP, but mainly
China), this arrangement may have to be revised (for economic
reasons). Thus, we are witnessing in my opinion a power struggle
rather than a conundrum. At issue is who controls the allocation of
research funds and to which extend: national research councils or the

Best wishes,


On Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 9:24 PM, Armbruster, Chris
<Chris.Armbruster at> wrote:
> Adminstrative info for SIGMETRICS (for example unsubscribe):
> Dear colleagues,
> Please find the abstract and the link to a new working paper on the European
> Research Conundrum. Comments are welcome. I would be interested to hear from
> colleagues interested in this issue.
> Armbruster, Chris, The European Research Conundrum: when research
> organizations impede scientific and technological breakthroughs despite
> targets, money and policy to foster these activities. (October 27, 2009).
> Available at SSRN:
> Abstract
> The European Research Conundrum may be described thus: In the interest of
> the European Research Dream, the structure and culture of the research
> organization should be adapted to the mission of achieving scientific and
> technological breakthroughs but, alas, this mission is first overwhelmed and
> then deformed by the existing structure and culture of the organization. The
> conundrum has been highlighted publicly by the high-level review of the
> European Research Council (ERC), which "found fundamental problems related
> to rules and practices regarding the governance, administration and
> operations of the ERC that are not adapted to the nature of modern
> 'frontier' science management." The organization threatens to defeat the
> mission, even though the ERC is new, corresponds to targets, and is well
> funded.
> This paper advances three arguments. Firstly, the prevalent focus on
> targets, money and policy is criticized because it does little to bring
> about the required organizational restructuring while allowing the
> organization to overwhelm the mission, thus threatening a lock-in of ERA as
> second rate. Secondly, it is shown that it is known what kind of
> organizational design is conducive to scientific and technological
> breakthroughs and that this knowledge could be utilized to drive forward
> organizational restructuring. Thirdly, some practical suggestions are made
> how to gather empirical evidence about barriers and challenges in the
> European Research Area by tracking the experience of grantees of European
> flagship programmes in a multiple case-study design, which may be extended
> to innovation systems.
> To also speak to those who think that targets, money and policy should
> remain the focus, the research may be designed in a fashion that
> accommodates alternative and competing hypotheses as to what is conducive to
> or impedes scientific and technological breakthroughs and innovations
> systems.
> Keywords
> Scientific breakthroughs, technological inventions, innovation systems,
> European Research Area, European Research Council, scientific excellence,
> research university, research funding, research policy, R&D targets
> Chris Armbruster
> Executive Director, Research Network 1989
> Publications and working papers available in Open Access

Loet Leydesdorff
Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR)
Kloveniersburgwal 48, 1012 CX Amsterdam
Tel.: +31-20- 525 6598; fax: +31-20- 525 3681
loet at ;
Now available: The Knowledge-Based Economy: Modeled, Measured,
Simulated, 385 pp.; US$ 18.95;

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