Research policy put on back burner

January 30, 2004

The way the UK's publicly funded scientific research establishments are run could hinder the implementation of government policies such as the public understanding of science, according to a study.

The study into how the performance of public-sector scientists is assessed has found that management still appears to be focused on scientific peer-group interests.

Other objectives are neglected by the principle performance indicators, despite the government's aims of improving the commercialisation of research output and enhancing public understanding.

In a report that appears in the journal Public Money and Management , Keith Waldron of the Institute of Food Research, Norwich, suggests a more balanced approach to managing research establishments could be developed through a closer relationship with business schools.

Dr Waldron interviewed staff from two universities, two government departments, a research council, a research institute and two food companies with research laboratories.

He identified 28 measures of performance in the opinion of the interviewees, which included publication of peer-reviewed articles and industrial income.

Dr Waldron concludes that the majority of these indicators are of relevance principally to the scientific community and to the government's research councils via peer-group assessment.

He said performance analysis was "unlikely to stimulate balanced management activities of public-sector research organisations".

Dr Waldron said the expertise to tackle the problem could be found in business management schools. "Perhaps now is the time to exploit these with a view to clarifying the roles and responsibilities of scientists at all levels in relation to organisational management and strategic intent."

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