Brussels, 19 Jul 2006
Later this year, a new service will be launched which will enable policy makers and researchers to directly compare the research systems, programmes and policies of different countries with the click of a mouse. Called ERAWATCH, the online service will be run jointly by DG Research and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), in collaboration with CORDIS. It is funded by the EU's Framework Programme for research.
Speaking to CORDIS News at ESOF2006, Patrice Laget, Head of the Supporting the ERA (SERA) Unit at the Joint Research Centre's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), explained the rationale behind the project.
'When you look at science policy in Europe, it often lacks evidence,' he said. 'In 2003 the IPTS created the SERA Unit to gather and analyse evidence of programme performance. Our role is to support policy making, and we work very closely with policy Directorates General such as Research and Enterprise.'
The biggest challenge faced by Mr Laget's team has been the absence of harmonised data. While some EU Member States produce very good data, others produce very little, and data collection methods vary from country to country. This makes it very hard to compare countries or try and gain an overview of the research policies in Europe.
Yet such an overview is vital if the European Research Area is to work effectively, and this is where ERAWATCH comes in. For the first time, reliable, harmonised information on the research systems of all 25 EU Member States, plus other countries participating in the Framework Programmes as well as the US, China and Japan, will be available in one place.
Information available on ERAWATCH will include an overview of each country's research policies, the latest news, recent documents, an explanation of how the system works, details of research programmes, information on funding agencies, research performance, and indicators such as expenditures, publications and patents. In this way policy makers will be able to compare the inputs and outputs of the system and use this information to design better science policies at all levels.
Users will be able to look at information at the country level, or compare data from across the EU. 'You could ask it about tax and fiscal measure for researchers; many governments give tax breaks for research. You can see for all countries what they do, if anything, and compare them,' said Mr Laget.
The IPTS used a common template to collect the information. Each country will have a two page report with basic information. A series of more detailed templates has been designed to provide information on policy documents, funding agencies and research programmes. These could include the programme starting date, content, funds etc.
Putting ERAWATCH together has been a long and complicated progress; it was first proposed by DG Research back in 2003. The key to the success of the system is that it is interactive. 'When it goes public it won't be perfect,' cautioned Mr Laget. 'But we are counting on the feedback of users to improve the system.'
Meanwhile a team of testers is helping the IPTS iron out a lot of glitches. According to Mr Laget, feedback on the content and amount of information has been good, and they are now refining the functionality to make searches easier. The live version should be available online in September.
The main target audience for ERAWATCH is policy makers working in the fields of science, research, technology and innovation. However, the Head of Unit expects that researchers will also be keen to use it to find out about funding opportunities in other countries, including researchers from outside the EU interested in finding out what is going on here.
'ERAWATCH will be good for Europe,' commented Mr Laget. 'It will demonstrate to the rest of the world that research in Europe is good and we have an effective research system.'