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The Project

The focus of this study is on the critical mass of European public R&D programmes. It is often argued that in many S&T areas, public R&D programmes in Europe are individually and/or collectively not achieving "critical mass". Yet neither is it entirely clear what is meant in this context by critical mass, nor what the determinants of critical mass are. Industry also complains about the multitude of different programmes in Europe. Clarifying these issues is the purpose of this study.

The main scope of the project is therefore to ascertain whether, in selected S&T areas, public R&D programmes in Europe are individually and collectively achieving critical mass. The investigation area indicated in the terms of reference is the ERA-NET scheme, which was launched under FP6, with the purpose of stepping up the cooperation and coordination of research programme activities, carried out in Member States and Associated States at national or regional level, putting in place design and coordination mechanisms to aim at the networking of research activities, including their ‘mutual opening’ and the development and implementation of joint activities. The final objective is to reflect on policy implications of the findings from the analysis carried out.

The study will also evaluate the feasibility of a benchmark exercise comparing coordinated and non‐coordinated R&D activities and programmes in the same Science and Technology Area. Should the feasibility have a positive outcome, the study will set up the benchmark exercise to implement the comparison. The capability to carry out R&D and innovation analysis, to deploy appropriate analytical tools and to work out highly relevant policy recommendations is a key factor of success for the proposed study.

In the conceptual framework developed the different elements that can affect critical mass are grouped as:

  • External characteristics (e.g. research field, geographical characteristics, market characteristics)
  • Programme level characteristics (e.g. administrative regulations, coordination of activities)
  • Project level characteristics (e.g. duration, funding levels, quality and quantity of partners)

On the output side, returns are classified as follows

  • Social returns (spill‐overs)
  • Private exploitable returns
  • Academic returns

The conceptual model integrates internal and external economies of scale by looking at impacting variables at project or programme level and at scientific area level. It uses an open definition of Critical Mass, to also include heterogeneity aspects at project and programme level that affect scale and scope.