Paris/Brussels, 4 February 2022
Dear Minister Frederique Vidal,
Dear Representatives of Research Organisations,
Dear Research Community,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to this conference on Open Science covering many aspects of strategic relevance to build the future of Europe.
A future based on knowledge leading to more opportunities for younger generations to express their talent in attractive research careers, be it in universities, research organisations or industry.
You dedicate some sessions to discuss the assessment of research and researchers’ performance, which affects their behaviours.
I welcome this debate. It is timely and justified. Allow me then to share some thoughts and questions.
I start by recalling that most researchers are used to measure. In their labs, when collecting and processing data, scientists have to measure with accuracy to produce reliable and verifiable results.
The Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman started one of his famous lectures challenging his students about the complexity introduced over the centuries by using different measurement units.
Measuring research and researchers’ performance is of a different nature, and more complex in many ways. It has a direct impact on people and a far-reaching policy dimension for the European Research Area.
We agree on the need to ensure objectiveness and fairness as guiding principles and we can use the assessment methodologies to support broader policy objectives, to take into account that we live in times of change, including in the scientific methods and the public perception of the role of science.
Research processes are in constant evolution, accelerated by the current pandemic and the transition to a resilient, green and digital economy, and an inclusive society.
The variety of activities, making increased use of advanced technologies, put us in a situation where research deliverables are richer and not limited to delivering and counting publications.
Modern science delivers other outputs, mostly digital, like datasets, software, algorithms or protocols. And it delivers highly skilled people through specialized education and mentoring.
Multi-disciplinary Collaborations are required to address new scientific questions arising from increased complexity are another aspect of this evolution.
More and more researchers from different domains – from biology and physics to economics, anthropology or humanities – work together in the boundaries of knowledge areas.
These times of change invite us to question the system of rewards and incentives. I would like to have the feedback from all stakeholders on issues like:
Are researchers too much dependent on publications not reflecting the wider and deeper “raison d’être” of the scientific mission which include the dissemination of knowledge and mentoring of new generations?
Do we have unhealthy and disproportionate competition between individual researchers?
Are we heading to a vicious circle in which more publications translates in more funding, penalising a critical review of the scientific substance and limiting access of newcomers?
Are we risking lack of rigour, preventing fully enabled peer review, in favour of expediency?
Are we undervaluing research results other than publications and weakening the capacity and willingness of researchers to collaborate?
These issues have been there for a while but we have an opportunity, following the signature by Member States of the Pact on the new European Research Area and the recent Strategy for Universities, to deepen the debate and start acting.
Beyond cultural and methodological aspects, opening up science and innovation to citizens requires adequate infrastructures, like the European Open Science Cloud, new set of skills for researchers and for the academic and research organisations.
We can make progress in designing a conducive assessment system for researchers, research projects and research institutions. An assessment system embedding values such as ethics and integrity, which encompasses excellence and opens new opportunities for the research community through collaborations.
To attract more people to research – in particular young generations and women – to increase trust in science by our citizens or to well balance curiosity-driven and more downstream, impact-driven, research.
Let me now bring the dimension of young researchers recalling that 2022 is the European Year of Youth.
We should avoid putting young generations in a vulnerable position. If the assessment systems is to be reformed, it should have a positive impact on the quality of research and should improve the attractiveness of research careers and accessibility.
One of the actions included in the first European Research Area Policy Agenda, for the next three years 2022-2024 is to advance towards the reform of the assessment system for research, researchers and institutions to improve their quality, performance and impact.
We have consulted, throughout 2021, a variety of stakeholders including organisations representing researchers, public funders, private funders, universities, research centres, academies, national evaluation agencies and policy makers.
We received strong support to the objective of ensuring a combination of qualitative and quantitative indicators to evaluate research and researchers, not compromising on objectivity and peer-review.
The Commission started the process to engage over 150 European organisations interested in this work. We aim at advancing this year on the commonly agreed principles for assessment, and commitments for implementation within concrete timelines.
After this initial phase, for which I ask concrete deliverables, the work will continue to pilot the updated evaluation criteria and associated processes. I expect that the European University Alliances contribute and test the proposed reforms on the ground.
Let me conclude.
We understand that these transformations will require systemic and cultural changes and that we cannot dissociate this work from what happens in the rest of the world given the strong collaboration interconnections researchers establish internationally.
I ask all stakeholders to be closely associated to the design and implementation and take ownership of the proposed changes. Good coordination of efforts will be crucial.
I expect concrete results and I am looking forward to work with you because we share the common objective to make science an example of transparency, openness, integrity and opportunities.
We all aim at an inclusive scientific culture that permeates our society, through education, and disseminates knowledge and our values.
Thank you for your attention.