“Encouraging impact thinking”

Horizon 2020 is the EU’s most ambitious research and innovation framework programme ever (and also the biggest multinational research programme in the world), with an overall budget of €80 billion over seven years. Christopher Tucci, professor of management of technology at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and member of the European Commission’s expert group RISE (Research, Innovation and Science Policy Experts), discusses how to promote European research at all levels.

TECHNOLOGIST What has been the positive impact of Horizon 2020 so far?

Christopher Tucci It is a continuation in the direction of building networks in Europe, and from that point of view it has been highly successful. It has helped business and universities build a big, dense social network. For example, being able to include more small- and medium-sized enterprises – which might not be so well-connected when looking for funding to support their research and apply it – has been very positive.

T. Where does the programme fall short?

C. T. I think it’s a victim of its own success, in the sense that the competition for grants is enormous, and even when the reviewers like the proposals these are not always funded.

T. What should change in the future?

C. T. The grants are not intended to cover growth entrepreneurship, as opposed to lifestyle-type businesses, or to bring scalable businesses to the market. This is fine, but then one opportunity here is to expand the financing to help some growth-type businesses access the market. If one could think of an analogy to the European Research Council grants on the side of commercialisation and entrepreneurship, that would be really exciting.

T. What else should the EU and its member states do to promote European research?

C. T. Some changes could be helpful for the dissemination of research.  Open science and open data are areas where national governments could play a role. Another aspect is given by the variations – in universities across and within countries – that characterise how institutions treat the entrepreneurship side of research carried out by their professors, postdocs and students. Right now academics are mostly evaluated on bibliometrics; if we could encourage more “impact thinking” – where impact can be academic, commercial or societal – that would go a long way in improving the overall impact of research on society.