Brussels, 25 Feb 2003
A new report by the Commission's DG Research into the overall socio-economic (SE) dimension of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) concludes that the general SE relevance of FP5 projects is high, and that further action is needed to enhance the social and economic impact of research.
'When looking at future prospects [...] it is not so much on increasing the amount of SE-related research where efforts appear necessary, but rather on the enhancement of the SE value that can be drawn from research programmes,' states the report.
This leads to a distinction between the SE dimension of a project (the inputs) and its SE impact (the outputs).
In order to effectively maximise the impact of Community research on the economy and society, the report first identifies the need for qualitative and quantitative tools to measure such impacts. Any attempt to measure societal and economic changes is described, however, as 'an extremely challenging exercise'.
One example of the difficulty of assessing the SE impact of a project is defining a time frame in which to do so: 'The SE effects of a given research activity may not be visible in the short term, and their materialisation may depend on the deployment of further targeted initiatives: impact assessment should be carried out within a time frame which can be extended accordingly,' states the report.
On a quantitative basis, the report admits that no systematic impact assessment can be credibly carried out at present due to the lack of appropriate datasets. Under FP5, however, significant progress has been made towards developing methods and tools for general impact assessment, which should facilitate the future creation of SE-specific datasets.
A qualitative approach to impact assessment, on the other hand, can be attempted using the 'citation index' method. This method involves analysing instances where research activities have directly inspired policy actions (such as legislation and directives).
A quantitative analysis of the SE dimension of research programmes is more straightforward, using, for example, a measurement of the amount of resources that are explicitly committed to SE-relevant objectives.
Using such a method, the report analyses the level of dedicated funding for socio-economic research activities within the main SE-focussed programme of FP5 (Improving Human Potential). It puts this figure at around 190 million euro, with SE-related elements in other programmes putting the final amount well over 200 million euro.
It also calculates that in the citizens and governance, support for the coherent development of policies, and science and society programmes of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the level of core SE-related funding will rise to 355 million euro. This figure will again be complemented by socio-economic research carried out within the other thematic and horizontal priority areas.
Regardless of the levels of dedicated funding for SE-related research, the report stresses the importance of this aspect of the framework programmes: 'Socio-economic impact should not be considered as just one among other components of a multi-criteria evaluation framework, but rather as the criterion by which to assess the ultimate success (or failure) of research activities; whereby societal problems drive the identification of research needs.'
To read the report, please consult the following web address: