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International scientific co-operation

Final impact! How research co-operation leaves its mark

Background description

The European Union sees its ambition for a secure, high quality of life for its citizens as best achieved through a competitive and sustainable economy and through mutually beneficial partnerships with institutions and countries in other parts of the world. International scientific co-operation, with its ability to find innovative solutions to old and new problems, is arising as one of the new pillars of international relations.

Europe’s International Science and Technology Co-operation (INCO) programme has a proven track record in tackling subjects of significance for the sustainable development of Europe’s partner countries and regions, such as neglected diseases and health systems, food security, sustainable use of their natural resources and ecosystems, safeguarding their cultural heritage and other transborder issues. Engagement in policy dialogue and investment in people and institutions are helping build research capacity in developing countries and emerging economies so that they in turn can respond to these challenges on their own terms. The background and outcomes of the programme are detailed in the most recent Impact Assessment Report on the Specific International RTD Co-operation, prepared by The Evaluation Partnership.


Science and Technology for Development (STD) Co-operation started back in 1983 as a European response to demands by developing countries at the UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development. STD dealt mainly with the health and agriculture challenges in developing countries. Ten years later, various other strands of international S&T co-operation were brought together under the Fourth Framework Programme for Research, thereafter called INCO. The range of activities was enlarged to incorporate increasingly pressing environmental concerns, particularly since the Earth Summit in Rio. Other strategic themes, such as knowledge policies, energy policies, cultural heritage and associated challenges, were also incorporated into the collaborative agenda. The thematic priorities were underpinned by S&T co-operation agreements with those countries willing to coordinate their science policy with the Union. Efforts were also undertaken to enable international S&T activities by EU Member States.

Full title: Impact Assessment Report on Specific International RTD Co-operation Acronym: INCO Impact Assessment
Publication details: Commissioned by the EU, produced by the Evaluation Partnership, the 88-page report was published in November 2005
Websites: FP4, FP5 and FP6:

Science in society significance

The INCO programme in FP5, notes the report, has promoted professional skill development, stimulated innovation and the transfer of technology and two-way exchange of knowledge. It has trained young researchers, encouraged South-South collaborations, and made S&T collaboration a global endeavour. This has had an appreciable impact on relations between researchers in EU Member States and third countries (so say 93% of 341 people surveyed worldwide for the report). INCO has also helped solve some major socio-economic problems faced by many of the EU’s partners in poorer countries, say almost two-thirds of the respondents. In fact, the consensus (84%) was that INCO should be better promoted to researchers in third countries to squeeze more out of it. For INCO’s future, a massive 94% put a priority on developing partnerships between EU and non- EU research groups. While 78% felt more effort should be made for disseminating the results of INCO-related research to the general public, research community and policy-makers.


Today, INCO has established partnerships with 148 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Asia, Latin America, the Mediterranean, Western Balkans, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Between 1983 and 2003, more than 8 000 research teams – over 40 000 researchers equally drawn from the EU and developing countries – took part in some 3 000 joint projects. However, international scientific co-operation should be better resourced and strengthen its institutional links to other policy areas, such as external relations, trade, environment and development. More focus could be put on a version of ‘development science’ and ‘science policy’ adapted to the context of a globalising world. Better communication of the programme – its aims and scope – would help promote it further in partner countries, but also within Europe itself, given the importance of science and technology for sustainable development.

Although, it has been credited with helping solve some socio-economic problems in poorer countries and bringing the worldwide scientific community closer together, more work is still needed. “INCO should also address gender equality [and] greater involvement of female researchers should be encouraged,” commented one stakeholder from a third country, reinforcing efforts already made in the last few years and reflected in a number of recent INCO-related publications. Another suggested INCO-funded research helps scientists pursue research which is overlooked for political reasons in their countries. This research is “most often either major societal problems or environmental problems – renewable energy sources, rational use of energy and other resources, etc.”.