Networked research collaboration is essential for an effective ERA, suggests EU evaluation report

March 7, 2003

Brussels, 06 Mar 2003

A recently published assessment of information society technology (IST) research has concluded that the effectiveness of research in the European Research Area (ERA) depends on the strength of networking between research partners.

With the participation of Slovenian partners from the Solomon European virtual enterprise (SolEUNet) project, the Commission's evaluation report identified a pattern which suggests that links between project participants have evolved progressively and in a self organising manner and have similar social characteristics as complex networked societies.

The evaluation process worked on the premise that the participation of a number of research organisations in a EU project represented a link between them.

In order to effectively measure the level of collaboration within EU IST research, two tools were applied to the IST research project and participation databases: 'data mining', which sorts through data to identify patterns and establish relationships, and 'link analysis', which visualises the hidden structure of investigated data.

The findings revealed that the IST programme contains a small number of groups that have a large number of links with other projects and participants. Referred to as 'hubs', these groups are highly interconnected and constitute the backbone architecture of the research network, acting as bridges that link the research community.

According to the report, another key characteristic is the development of networks in which the 'distance' (or degree of separation in terms of project partners) between any two participants is extremely close, otherwise known as 'small world networks'.

In fact, the average 'distance' between any two of the 7886 participants in the IST network is 3. According to the analysis, such proximity between groups suggests that the IST programme structure is comparable to some of the most cohesive social groups known in modern society.

'[Small-world networks] could potentially increase research creativity in Europe, over and above that from inter-disciplinary networking within each Member State,' claims the report.

However, it goes on to state that: 'If we wish to involve most European researchers in a single 'small world' of collaboration in the European Research Area, it will be critically important to identify the 'hubs', to support them.'

The report suggests that the new instruments of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), 'integrated projects' and 'networks of excellence', can, if properly managed, play a role in strengthening this small number of large groups: 'A programme with 100 projects of 10 partners each generates more than twice as many strong links as a programme of 200 projects of 5 partners each.'

Using the tools at their disposal, the research team was also able to map and analyse thematic research clusters, which revealed that while strong collaboration between partners from different Member States was evident, the largest number of links was found between organisations in the same Member States.

'Participation in the IST programme is therefore a substantial contributor to research collaboration within the Member States, as well as between them,' explains the report.

The report also identified a particularly strong core of networked relationships around certain thematic project areas, including mobile communications, knowledge management software and microelectronics.

These findings regarding the nature and extent of network linkages between research organisations suggest that an emphasis needs to be placed on interdisciplinary links in order to stimulate innovation and creativity.

Similarly, critical mass, which can only be achieved through the intense networking of a diversity of interests, is increasingly important for establishing general consensus on standards such as those for mobile communications.

For further information about IST programme publications, please visit:
http://europa.eu.int/information_society /programmes/evaluation/index_en.htm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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