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Issue 11, 2nd quarter 2006

Foresighting Europe Newsletter

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Shared visions, common research futures

The future of key actors in the European Research Area

In order to achieve a knowledge-intensive economy, we must rethink societal development and renew the frameworks put forward by the social and economic sciences. By redefining knowledge, we could allow research - the generic form of knowledge production - to have new economic and social impacts.

AN EXPERT GROUP WAS SET UP IN 2005 ON "THE FUTURE OF KEY RESEARCH ACTORS IN THE ERA"

The purpose of establishing this group was to contribute to European RTD policy in order to help develop the performance and effectiveness of the European Research System. Its mandate was to undertake an exploratory prospective analysis, looking to 2020, of the role and importance of various actors in the ERA (such as universities, researchers, civil society, small and medium enterprises, big enterprises, and governmental bodies at the national and regional level) in the production of knowledge. This future-oriented and multi-disciplinary group analysed the trends and possible future changes in the way knowledge is produced by the actors involved, and the relative role and importance of these actors in knowledge production.

The principal concept underlying the work of the group is that a more knowledge-intensive economy and society calls for a reconceptualisation of societal development, and hence a renewal of the frameworks put forward by the social and economic sciences.

In fact, the expert group produced a series of eight working documents, which focus on the different actors relevant to the European Research system. The papers identify the key future trends in knowledge production, assess the relative importance of the actors in knowledge production within society, and develop scenarios on the future of the actors. The synthesis report presents an analysis of the various individual reports and provides scenarios on the future of knowledge production in the European Research Area of 2020, as well as policy options on how to best adapt to future trends and changes in knowledge production in our society.

Four major transformations must be taken into account as EC decision-makers attempt to show leadership in the field of research:

  • the nature of leadership itself is changing: authority, knowledge and networking are all becoming more pervasive and fluid;
  • the nature of research is changing: specialisation, truth and knowledge diffusion are no longer tied together;
  • the nature of cooperation is changing: trust, membership and community are all becoming spontaneous;
  • the nature of the goals that have driven the relationships between leadership, research and cooperation are changing - the goals of survival, risk management and learning are all shifting from a world where the ends justified the means to one where the means are the ends.

The synthesis report highlights the importance of efforts - which are already well underway - to reinforce the ERA's role as an integrated base, which serves to overcome a wide range of geographic, institutional and disciplinary barriers to the sharing of knowledge.

The main policy message is that Europe must move beyond industrial-ERA challenges to embrace those of knowledge society.

THE EXPERT GROUP PRODUCED A SET OF SPECIFIC POLICY ACTIONS TO OPEN, EXPAND AND INTEGRATE THE EUROPEAN RESEARCH AREA:

  • Policies that put into practice expanded criteria for designing and funding research programmes for the European Research Area to include user-centred technological, organisational and social innovation;
  • Policies that initiate experiments in order to validate the quality, trust and transparency of new forms and producers of knowledge (including individual independent researchers);
  • Policies, both budgetary and regulatory, that create and facilitate new collaborative environments for research, including user-centred research, and new governance processes;
  • Policies to enhance the capacity of policy-makers (including at the regional level) to recognise and facilitate new forms of research, and particularly new approaches to the governance of research processes;
  • Policies to abolish national borders for researchers and students within and outside of Europe;
  • Policies to strengthen the autonomy of universities, including areas which have so far been strictly controlled by most governments - such as a university's strategic profile, and the selection of specialisations.
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