Journal article Open Access

Potentials and limitations of programme-based research funding for the transformation of research systems

Bührer, Susanne; Seus, Sarah; Walz, Rainer

The aim of this chapter is to analyze the opportunities and limitations of programme funding for the transformation of science systems. In recent years, various societal drivers have increased the pressure on the science system to legitimize the use of public funds. It is no longer sufficient to achieve goals intrinsic to research, such as contributing to the development of theory and methods or achieving knowledge gains. Furthermore, the contribution that research makes to solving problems matters, especially in the area of major societal challenges. This debate is strongly linked to keywords such as Sustainable Development Goals, Societal Impacts, the "New social contract of science", the mission and transformation orientation of research policy, the public value of research, next generation metrics as well as different policy frames that shape research and research funding (see also Ulnicane and Aleman Diaz in this handbook). All these keywords revolve around the questions of 1) what are legitimate expectations of science and its role in the innovation system, 2) how would internal structures and processes in the science sector need to change in order to meet external expectations, and 3) what can public research funding concretely offer to foster change. In our chapter, we focus on the question, what public programme funding, in particular, can realistically contribute to initiating, shaping, accompanying, or accelerating the change processes outlined above.

The chapter is structured as follows: In the following section two, we critically review the existing literature on transformative research and corresponding research funding approaches, using sustainability research as an example. The concept of (conflicting) policy frames (see also Ulnicane and Aleman Diaz in this handbook) offers a helpful lens through which these transformative changes can be described, namely the “republic of science” (Polanyi) versus "the societal function of research" (Bernal) (cited from Ulnicane, forthcoming). In the third section, we describe the role of research funding for enabling but also changing research processes, before we present the German funding framework to promote sustainability research (FONA)  as an empirical illustration,  in section 4. The chapter ends with a critical assessment of gaps and future research directions.

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