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After Amman: A strategy statement

Monday 6 June 2005 by rigas
By Rigas Arvanitis

In the name of the coordination of the ESTIME project, I would like to thank you all fpr your participation to our first meeting in Amman. Your interventions, in the workshop of the 25th of April, the discussions between sessions and the participation to the MoCo Adhoc committee were full of interesting results.

Here are some of my first conclusions.

First, we still have an important work to do in term of presentation of the data and in the circulation of information on the role of research in the Mediterranean countries. A large part of misunderstandings come from an insufficient mastering of information on research.

Secondly, the comparison between countries has not the same meaning to all participants. For some it is useless, and even dangerous. For others, it is necessary. My feeling is that as long as we produce information (leaflets presenting results, interview data, reflection meetings), as long as we accumulate results, many of these questions will dissolve by themselves.

Thirdly, the participation of each country is different in the project. This reflects the situation of the research and the way the reflection on research is organized in each country. Without hiding these differences, it seems to me that we need to understand their meaning by answering some simple questions: what is the social, economic and political role of research? Who defines this role? What forces are at work influencing the research systems?

An important work of reflection still needs to be done. It is evident that most of us will interpret differently the ESTIME project and this might become a further source of misunderstandings, but also is a fruitful source of intellectual input: we learn, sometimes against our will, the meaning governments and researchers give to terms such as “science policy”, “innovation”, “development”. The best we can do in the framework ESTIME is offering is to organize the questions, document them in a more precise way. The major risk will be that our fieldwork reflects our own a priori perceptions, instead of documenting precisely the opinions and activities of the research population. For the policy people, the risk is that ESTIME becomes a tribune of discontent (not enough budgets, not enough political will, no clear strategy for research are the three main objections I have heard).

Four priorities are emerging, as I see the situation today:
-   The interpretation of quantitative data, whenever they exist, on resources and research outputs. We must construct indicators that will are meaningful, robust, validated by fieldwork and that can be updated in the future;
-   Understanding the formation of scientific communities in the eight countries of the project. This is a historical process that relies on four parts: a) the creation of public spaces of reflection and discussion (meetings, colloquia, web sites) on the role of research and the functioning of research institutions (universities and research centers, evaluations mechanisms, distribution of work between research, training and consultancy); b) the creation of research associations, clubs and networks (often but not exclusively, disciplinary); c) the circulation of information (publication mechanisms, editorial choices, publishing strategies); d) and, last but not least, international scientific cooperations and collaboration between the “academic” world and the non-research world. All empirical material needs to document these aspects.
-   Respond to the query on the role of social sciences in relation to other scientific disciplines. It is not enough to declare that social sciences are different. We need to document it, to show it empirically. What makes them so different? Is it the working of institutions? is it the way they choose their research subjects? Is it the way they participate to development? We need not do epistemological analysis here: we need to show concretely and materially how scientists work in the social sciences as in the exact and natural sciences.
-   Engage the discussion on the “system of innovation” in Mediterranean countries. Is there one? How does it work and what are its institutions? What are the funding sources, the actors and the initiatives that have been designed to make this concept become reality?

In order to respond to these question we have only one solution : empirical work. It is the meaning I give to our objective of promoting “science studies” in the Mediterranean countries. For all of us it is an effort to rip away our usual ways of thinking, to become more reflexive on our practice of research and on its means.

I invite you to write down your comments and reflections and use the website of ESTIME, which will become independent very soon. Until then visit this site !

Merci à tous ceux qui ont pu venir à Amman. Et bon courage.

Very friendly to all.

Rigas Arvanitis

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