Together with colleague Alenka Princic I visited on April 25 the Science Alliance meeting on The Impact of Science. We had our doubts whether it would be worth our money (it was a rather expensive day), but decided that we would like to go anyway. The topic is of course of huge interest for us librarians, because we want to facilitate research groups in their visibility and provide them with the right tools to work on their impact. Apart from us, Wouter Gerritsma from Wageningen (and the recently retired Librarian Ger Spikman) and Gert Goris from Rotterdam were there. Not that many librarians!
The day started with Donald Dingwell, Secretary General of the European Research Council. He impressed us with high numbers (in total 14000 people are working on ERC grants, on 600 places, producing enormous output, with every week a publication in Nature or Science). Interesting remarks from his part were that the timeline of an ERC-fund (5 years) is too short to see result of impact of research. He emphasized that progress is not “plannable”, and that therefore the ERC organisation is bottom-up, nobody tells somebody what to do.
At the meeting, sponsored by Elsevier and CWTS, Nick Fowler, Managing Director Academic & Government Institutions at Elsevier, also held a presentation. Apart from a sales talk about Scopus, he showed us some impressive slides. The reason that The Netherlands has a relative high number of publications output and citation impact lies, according to Fowler, in the fact that we have much collaboration and mobility. So the word brain drain is now being replaced by brain circulation or researcher mobility.
Erkki Ormala, now at Aalto University, but formerly with Nokia, also gave us some food for thought. Scientific progress is the key driver for innovation, economic growth and social development. This was a recurring topic of the day: do not just focus on academic excellence if you think of impact of science, but also involve the socio-economic impact. Nowadays companies seek engagement from 3rd parties via open innovation. The role of universities is apart from research and education, also knowledge sharing (rather than transfer!). (Later Carl Johan Sundberg, Bio-entrepreneurship, Karolinksi Institutet, referred to this as the “The 3rd task”, i.e., to collaborate.) Ormala continued: People need to think beyond the routine, and need to have the ability not just to adapt to change, but to create it. Universities should provide the intellectual capacity. We require a fundamental change in our thinking. So develop a globally leading university with a strong knowledge sharing culture. And Ormala put it clearly: Do it now, the world won’t wait!
The report Shirley Pearce, as next speaker, referred to, is probably pretty good reading. One of the recommendations that have been taken up by her taskforce is the creation of a National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), because overall the conclusion of their research was that university business interactions need strengthening and we should try to understand the sector differences.
Reinhilde Veugelers, in her role of Professor of Managerial Economics, KU Leuven (she is also scientific council member ERC), had another observation. She said that we are missing yollies, new high-tech, high-growth sectors, often university origins (graduate spin-offs), though ollies are increasingly open-innovative.
The remainder of the day consisted of a plenary forum, a few parallel sessions in the afternoon (we attended Research management) and the day ended with a plenary session again, chaired by Michiel Kolman, Elsevier. In his stakeholders’ map of Science marketing I missed the libraries. An observation from my side – we were not the intended target group of the day. The support that libraries provide for research management is apparently not recognized (intentionally or not). Most challenging part of the plenary forum was Frank Miedema, Dean of UMC Utrecht. He took as an example the new MRI-guided radio therapy which has a huge societal impact, but no big publications. He stated that grants and proposals should be really read again, that other stakeholders should be involved in the reviewing and that we should change our backward looking reviewing to forward looking actions. I liked the comment Wouter Gerritsma tweeted during his session: “Miedema actually tells the audience that scientists should tell stories. Storify your research! Valuable impact.” A countercomment was made quoting Pasteur: “However, chance only favours the prepared mind”, so how would you prevent bias?
Lisa Colledge (again Elsevier) also took the opportunity to tell something about Pure, and their work in the UK following the demand for comparative data & research metrics referred to as snowball metrics.
Cornelis van Bochove, now with CWTS, tried to model the prospect of economic growth in comparison to investment in research. An important phenomenon he referred to was the rate of learning. If the rate of learning is high, your growth is higher. According to Van Bochove the rate of learning in basic research is higher, so your return on investment is higher. There was some discussion whether his quantitative numbers were correct. He stated that one euro applied R&D generates about 15 euro and one euro basic research generates 50 euro extra national income. So he claims that topsector policies are harmful for Dutch economic growth, and that such approach is more appropriate for transitional counties. Interestingly he also claimed that government should pay for open access to publications and data, because it is needed to raise the rate of learning.
Though there was more material presented I would like to end with the contribution of Marja Zonnevylle (Shell). Instead of talking about marketing your research, she prefers that university and business should start talking together, at an early stage. Shell has a few deep and long relationships with universities (she mentioned ETH Zurich and our own TU Delft). Furthermore Zonnevylle stated that it is not the technology that is the most difficult to tackle: “You can always fix something, it is the other thing that is difficult (economy, politics).”Also Zonnevylle mentioned that Shell’s approach to intellectual property is changing. She says it is good to make things in open literature, because if there is more out there, the more there is to do and learn.
So did we get enough back from this congress, what was our return of investment? Also here I guess you cannot always quantify the impact you get out of it. One learning element for me was that obviously our Deans (two were present, from Industrial Design Engineering and Civil Engineering & Geosciences) had not approached us from the library, when they received their invitation, to ask whether we would be going. So still much work to do!
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