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Science of Science and Innovation Policy: 2009 Workshop

NSF SciSIP Grantees Workshop: Toward a Community of Practice
March 24-25, 2009
Organized by Albert H. Teich & Irwin Feller
Sponsored by the National Science Foundation

As an initial step towards building science of science policy communities among National Science Foundation Science of Science and Innovation Policy (SciSIP) grantees and between these grantees and other science policy researchers, analysts and policy makers in related academic, governmental, scientific and professional organizations, we have organized a one-and-a-half day workshop of awardees under SciSIP’s first and second rounds of awards, augmented by a limited number of representatives from NSF, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and other Washington-based science policy networks.

The workshop has immediate, complementary and longer term objectives.The immediate objectives are to:

  • Provide NSF with an early opportunity to organize a collegial discussion of work in progress under SciSIP’s two rounds of awards well before this work will begin to appear in professional forums and publications;
  • Begin to develop from among the purposefully diverse set of disciplinary perspectives reflected in SciSIP’s two solicitations and subsequent awards, a “community of experts across academic institutions and disciplines focused on SciSIP.”
  • Identify new areas of emphasis for support in future SciSIP solicitations

The workshop’s complementary objectives are to foster a preliminary, collegial vetting of the policy relevance of research in progress under SciSIP grants, and to encourage SciSIP grantees to consider how their current grants might be extended, revised, augmented, or redirected in future work to more directly consider policy issues.

This objective flows from a desire to connect NSF and broader federal government interests in supporting work on the science of science policy. Consistent with the mission focus of NSF’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, SciSIP’s two solicitations have been directed at underwriting the development of “fundamental knowledge,” including theories, data, tools and human capital. Impetus for SciSIP however stems from a larger federal interest in the interactive development and application of this new knowledge to a longstanding yet continuously evolving set of public policy issues, typically summarized under the headings of “policy for science” and “science in policy.”

There is yet a third, longer term objective subsumed within this proposal: It is to help NSF and the NSTC build larger, more productive, and better integrated communities of practice engaged in advancing and applying fundamental knowledge in science policy. By disciplinary orientation, organizational and occupational setting, professional affiliation, formats and channels of communication, the current status of science policy research and practice in the U.S. can most charitably be described as fragmented.

To facilitate the flow of information about new theories, models and data from the SciSIP initiative across sub-communities and to identify potential gains to all of these sub-communities of more systematic interaction, we will follow up the workshop with two broad based dissemination activities that capitalize on the unique position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science—and especially its Directorate for Science and Policy Programs—at the intersection of major U.S. and international scientific-governmental-academic science policy networks. These activities are (1) preparation of a report—The Emerging State of the Science of Science Policy—based on the workshop proceedings, augmented by introductory and overview essays prepared by Feller and Teich, to be distributed broadly to domestic and international science policy audiences; and (2) a panel on “Systematically Investing in R&D: Federal, Industry, and International Perspectives” at which the workshop’s findings will be discussed, that will be included in the AAAS Forum on Science & Technology Policy, April 30-May 1, 2009, in Washington, DC.

The rationale for describing this proposal as an initial step derives from a corpus of published research on the incorporation of research findings into policymaking (e.g the 1978 National Research Council report, Knowledge and Policy: The Uncertain Connection) as well as the project directors’own professional experiences in a number of academic and professional settings about the intellectual and networking challenges of fostering substantive dialogue across analytical perspectives, including the subfield perspectives on science policy. Even more formidable challenges, again well documented, and observed and written about by the principal investigators are those of having faculty communicate and relate their research findings to the needs of policy makers for timely, relevant, objective, and understandable analysis and information.

SciSIP confronts both these challenges. Responding to them, integrating the results of individual grants into a common pool of knowledge from which policymakers are willing to draw or building communities of practice is likely to be a long-term iterative process. The process moreover is neither necessarily self-actuating, nor self-sustaining. Phrased more positively, this proposal is intended to (re)start the process, and get it moving in the right direction.

Our approach to confronting these challenges is to center the workshop on research findings emerging from the SciSIP awards; provide for independent, collegial commentary on these presentations by individuals whose work has spanned, or crossed over, implementing and writing about science policy (and who have not applied for SciSIP awards); and then to carefully roll out a distillation of findings from SciSIP awards to federal agencies and other organizations more directly involved in the formulation or implementation of science policy. In this way, we seek to avoid the two-sided performer-user pitfall that we have observed in earlier and related federal agency endeavors to promote research/knowledge utilization: on the one hand, requiring or inducing academic grantees to torque or overstate their research findings in order to connect to immediate policy issues; on the other hand, creating unrealistic or premature expectations on the part of users that early stage fundamental research will be directly relevant to their immediate needs, leading them to be disappointed or disenchanted when well conceived and implemented academic studies fail to produce such information.

The workshop will be organized in the following manner: One principal investigator from each of SciSIP’s first and second round of awards has been invited. The workshop will be held March 24 - 25, 2009 at AAAS’s headquarters in downtown Washington.

In keeping with SciSIP’s objective of fostering fundamental research on science and innovation policy, the workshop has been designed to highlight new, innovative or unexpected findings from ongoing projects, even if they are of a preliminary nature—bearing in mind that a number of them are of multi-year duration and many, especially those under the second solicitation will be just starting out. To maximize substantive discussion among grantees within the constraints of a one-and-a-half-day workshop, a combination of plenary sessions and four concurrent thematic sessions organized about the broad outlines of the SciSIP solicitation will be used. The concurrent thematic sessions will allow time for detailed presentation and collegial interchange about each grantee’s project; the plenary sessions will be directed at sharing information across themes and grants, listening to independent, expert assessments of work in progress, and shared discussions.

An expert in the thematic topics has been invited to join each panel as a discussant and rapporteur. To serve in this capacity, we have selected “reflexive practitioners”—individuals who have professional experience both as participants in a federal science policy settings and in academic or professional organizational settings. The rapporteurs will have two assigned responsibilities. First, to make an independent presentation at the plenary session, describing what they regard as the contribution of the collective body of work reported at their thematic session to SciSIP knowledge and, of special relevance to NSF, existing gaps or new opportunities. These presentations, in turn, will be the basis for discussions among all workshop participants. Second, the experts will be expected to prepare written précis of their comments at the plenary session. In addition, Philippe Laredo of the University of Manchester (UK) and Coordinator of the PRIME Network (Policies for Research and Innovation in the Move towards the European Research Area) has been invited to give a keynote talk providing a European perspective and describing the lessons learned from PRIME.