Conceiving Institutions: The Establishment of the European Research Council
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Elsewhere we argued that there has been a shift in the way in which social change occurs from broadly organic to predominantly policy driven transformations (Boden et al., 2004). Organic change is one where transformations are the result of the aggregate effect of a multiplicity of apparently not connected social actions. Policy driven change, on the other hand, is normally intentional whereby social problems are constructed, solutions to this problems proposed, desired outcomes of the change process explicated and success or failure in achieving the outcomes continuously scrutinised and measured. This transformation in the nature in which social change is effected encompasses social organisations as well as processes, schemes and other platforms. An example of this transformation is the newly established European Research Council (ERC). Although some discussions regarding the establishment of a pan-European agency to fund 'blue sky' research in particular research fields can be traced back to the mid-1950s the idea gained political impetus in 2001 during the Swedish presidency of the European Union (Nedeva et al. 2003). This impetus was intimately linked with the introduction and endorsement of the broader concept of the European Research Area (European Commission, 2000). Following that initial impulse, ample evidence of intense discussions regarding the relative value and the possibilities for the establishment of a new Europe-wide funding agency for basic research, being referred to as the "European Research Council" (ERC) has been accumulating (Gronbaeck, 2003). Discussions involve(ed) individual academics, research and research funding institutions, national and trans-national organisations with responsibilities for the management, co-ordination and funding of research as well as high level policy makers at the national and European level. The ERC was established in 2007 drawing on the ideological input and assumptions from two high level expert reports (ERCEG, 2003; HLEG, 2005). It is funded through the Ideas Programme of FP7 (the seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission). The aims and objectives of the ERC and its funding schemes have been outlined in different documents. The primary aim of the ERC is to ' stimulate scientific excellence by supporting and encouraging the very best, truly creative scientists, scholars and engineers to be adventurous and take risks in their research. The scientists should go beyond established frontiers of knowledge and the boundaries of disciplines.' Moreover, the council aims to '...create leverage towards structural improvements in the research system of Europe. For example, since many investigators who will be involved in the funded activities are likely to be working within universities, academies research centres and similar establishments, the ERC can have a strong incentive effect on these institutions...'. These documents clearly state the 'sole criteria for selection is excellence,' not political priorities. It is apparent that the ERC did not emerge organically but was decided upon and established as a result of prolonged and highly political and politicised discussion. In this context, it is to be expected that the ERC is likely to change the landscape of the science system (and its dynamics) in Europe and that its work and activities will be subjected to a high level of public and political scrutiny. To translate this into questions the issues are: i) is the establishment of the ERC likely to (and does it) change different aspects of the science system (does it affect, have impact); and ii) how can this impact be measured and attributed. This paper focuses on discussing the first of the two questions, namely does the ERC affect and how does it affect the public science system dynamics in Europe. To answer this question the paper first presents the story of the conception of the ERC and the debates and social processes that shaped it. Following that a discussion as to the range of possible effects that this organisation might have on the European (and global) public science system is discussed. The discussion is informed by the result from a currently on-going study of the outcomes and impact of the ERC funding schemes funded by the Ideas Programme. References Boden, R., Cox, D.,Nedeva, M., Barker, K., 2004. Scrutinising Science: The Changing UK Government of Science, Palgrave. European Research Council Expert Group (ERCEG), The European Research Council: A Cornerstone in the European Research Area, 2003. Gronbaeck, D., (2003) 'A European Research Council: an idea whose time has come?', Science and Public Policy, 30 (6). High Level Expert Group (HLEG) Frontier Research: the European Challenge, 2005. Nedeva, M., B. van der Meulen and R. Barre, (2003), Towards a European Research Council: Structured Review of Evidence, Report to the European Research Council Expert Group (ERCEG). Manchester: PREST.