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Assessment Tools for Breakthrough and Emerging Science and Technology

Robin Williams

February 1 2004 – January 31 2005


This international study, funded under the European Union New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST) programme is led by Professor Arie Rip, University of Twente and Innogen, with the Research Centre for Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh and the Centre for the Study of Innovation at Ecole des Mines, Paris. The University of Edinburgh contribution to ATR-BEST focussed mainly upon `Addressing the challenges of breakthrough science and technology'.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the project was to develop a process, with corresponding tools, for the management of new and emerging science and technology, where uncertainty is great, but hoped-for potential is also great.

There is experience with managing newly emerging science and technology, and recognition of their importance, but these experiences have not developed to a level that one yet can identify `best practices'. The project focused on the emergence of a new field of enquiry and exploitation at the interstices of existing fields, including nano-technology-related developments and breakthrough technology arising from genomics-related knowledge. It sought to explore differences between technical fields by mapping the extent and intensity of linkages between emerging fields and anticipated application domains.

The project focused upon a number of related questions:

  • How do practitioners handle emerging and potentially breakthrough science and technology?
  • What are the differences between NEST areas - between, for example, emerging fields with specific linkages to application domains and those which hold out the promise of generic applicability?
  • What trade-offs surround the choices in managing NEST, for example between specific and generic exploitation potential or between pursuing aligned or more heterogeneous research goals?
  • How are they addressed by science and technology programme builder and research funders etc.?
  • What are the main strategies for managing NEST (for example through the promotion of portfolios of research) - and are there instances of best practice?
  • Which processes lead to productive interaction, and how can these be supported?
  • What policy lessons can be drawn from these outcomes?

Research methods

  • Literature study and desk research
  • Interviews and other interaction with practitioners: research programme builders; research funders; science and technology policymakers
  • Practitioner workshop to explore their reaction to the approaches and tools

Key findings

The study developed concepts and related tools that may improve the selection and monitoring of projects under NEST, to enable scientists, technologists and policymakers to improve their strategic reflection and choices.