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P3. Rethink scientific excellence

Scientific excellence is a key criterion for evaluating and funding research. While scientific excellence is important, the question what constitutes excellence may have more than one answer. The evaluation of scientific excellence is typically left to expert reviewers who are scientists from the same field as the proposers. This approach is well established and ensures that research meets the expectations of the scientific community. While such a view of excellence as an internal factor of the scientific system will remain important, one can argue that research that aims to achieve social goals needs to be excellent in ways going beyond purely scientific excellence. In terms of European funding such excellence beyond the scientific system could be expected in research focusing in industrial leadership and societal challenges.

CSO involvement is most likely to be found in such research because CSOs typically promote aims that benefit society or particular stakeholder groups. If the aim of research is to achieve outcomes beyond the scientific system itself, then the achievement of such broader societal goals constitutes one integral aspect of scientific excellence. If this position is accepted, then it calls for ways of integrating such a broader view of scientific excellence in research funding and evaluation mechanisms.

Guiding Questions

Policymakers may wish to consider questions like:
  • How are policy goals underpinning the research policy expressed and communicated to potential proposers?
  • Do review and evaluation principles provide space to reflect on excellence in all aspects of the research, including its relevance for civil society?

Example: Excellence in delivering augmented communication for patients with degenerative diseases

The involvement of CSOs in a research project investigating Affective Computing for Augmented Communication is a good example of how policy makers can rethink scientific excellence. This is because, although the CSOs involved in the project were not typical research institutes concerned with scientific excellence, their involvement was central to achieving the research outcomes which were to use brain and neural computer interfaces to increase human capabilities and develop applications for patients with a degenerative disease. Their role was at the very early stages of the project and involved contributing to proposal writing and having specific work packages related to end-user testing and dissemination. By so doing, they were involved in setting the research agenda from their own standpoint, which was a concern for patients and how well the technologies would work and be received by the patients. This shows that research excellence requires a sound basis in the relevant science, but to be truly excellent, research has to be relevant to users.

CSO representatives suggested additional criteria for excellence: One refers to the communication of the research output to wider society:

'In terms of communication with people outside of your area, outside of the scientific community[…]'.

The second one refers to the impact of someone’s research on the concerned field:

'[The] demonstration that you can have of actually identifying the output, their impact on industry and how you might actually use those to impact the industry or to transfer to the industry'.