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Research into valorisation

15 February 2016
Valorisation evaluation

Valorisation is also a subject of scientific research. For example the relationship between the impact of research and the excellence of researchers or their willingness to collaborate with social partners. Researchers determine the procedures to be used for valorisation and develop methods to evaluate its effectiveness. Journals such as Science and Public Policy [1], Research Evaluation [2], Research Policy [3] and Scientometricsiv publish the results of research into valorisation on a regular basis. Some of these articles offer insights that can support valorisation policy-making and practice.

By Leonie van Drooge and Stefan de Jong | reading time 8 minutes | 

A number of these insights and conclusions from the recent academic literature are given belowv. The information provided falls under the following headings:

  • More than just generating income
  • Productive interaction
  • Collaboration with knowledge users
  • Involvement of knowledge users
  • Valorisation and excellence
  • More than just patents
  • The motivation of researchers
  • Researchers and policy

 More than just generating income

Many researchers believe that valorisation is all about generating income for the research organisation in question. This idea can arise because of the way valorisation is monitored. Many research organizations have developed performance indicators that reflect economic activities, since it is relatively easy to measure the monetary “value” of valorisation in terms of the number of patents or the size of the financial contributions from companies. This tends to reinforce the impression among researchers that valorisation is an economic activity of the research organization concerned.

Of course, the managers and policy-makers of a research organisation do stress the fact that valorisation is more than generating income from research, that it is also aimed at making a meaningful contribution to public debate. However, this contribution is difficult to quantify for monitoring or policy-making purposes.

As a result, researchers get little encouragement or recognition for such activities as giving lectures or providing policy recommendations. Nevertheless, many will opt for such activities if they feel them to be the best valorisation strategies. In other cases they will tend to focus on activities that do enhance the economic impact of their research. In short, researchers have a whole range of valorisation activities to choose from, even though they may have the feeling that income generation is what they should be aiming at [4].

Productive interactions

Many researchers have direct or indirect contact with their societal partners. They exchange information and  learn from one another. Researchers regard such activities as a necessary and worthwhile part of their research, but they also notice that these activities are time-consuming and have no quantifiable effect on the impact of their research in the short term.. Calling these activities “productive interaction” may enhance their status. Productive interactions enhance the possibilities to to transfer and apply knowledge and research results. It can also bring about a change in the way knowledge users think or act.

 Productive interaction may take various forms. Direct interaction may occur for example through a workshop or membership of an advisory committee, while indirect interaction can be brought about by an article in an academic journal, a treatment protocol, an app or a scale model. Financial interaction is also possible, for example in the form of contract research or joint investment in expensive research facilities.

 Focusing on the interaction process instead of the ultimate effect has three important advantages:

  1. It makes it clear to researchers and to their managers what investments researchers make in order to ensure that the knowledge they generate has real benefits for society. In many cases, the interactions needed to bring this about are already firmly embedded in the daily work. Regarding these interactions as productive makes them part of the valorisation process.
  2. It yields insights into the process leading to the social impact of the research, by clarifying the links between the interactions and their effects. The impact is due to the sum of a number of interactions.

Creating a story about the interactions makes it easier to understand how the impact comes about. Such reflection on impact and its causes gives a much clearer picture of the whole valorisation process.

  1. It helps to solve time and resource allocation problems involved in evaluations. It often takes a long time for the full social impact of research to be realized. Besides, researchers seldom have the sole responsibility for bringing about a social change or realizing a social impact. Other parties and factors in the world of science and in society also play a role. Focusing on the interactions involved makes it clear what efforts researchers made during the evaluation period, and what the resulting social impact was.vii

Collaboration with knowledge users

The terms of long-term collaboration with knowledge users are not always laid down in an agreement. Such collaboration is often informal, especially in the social sciences and humanities. But research proposals often include the requirement of formal acknowledgement by knowledge users of their involvement, for example by some form of financial matching.

There may be various reasons for not confirming the collaboration formally. Some social partners offer interesting opportunities for research, but are unable to provide the necessary funding themselves. This is often not a problem if the collaboration fits in the framework of ongoing research. One example of this was action research carried out by a team of anthropologists in a neighbourhood where trouble broke out in the vicinity of an old, disused prison. The contacts with local residents gave the anthropologists access to a current case they were able to study.

In other cases, no new research is required. The contribution made by the researchers here consists of expertise, experience or knowledge from previous studies. An example of this is the contribution a linguist made to forensic investigations. Sometimes researchers attach such great importance to the collaboration that financial considerations play a secondary role, for example where the study gives them access to unique data sources, as when a group of musicologists and musicians collaborated in the study and transcription of sixteenth-century Spanish musical scores.

This study yielded three important insights that can be relevant to valorisation practice:

  1. Valorisation or collaboration with partners who do not have the necessary financial resources may require some form of government funding.
  2. t may be necessary to expand the definition of valorisation to include informal collaboration between the researchers and the knowledge users, but only in cases where this is not yet included.
  3. It follows from the matching requirement that some parties will not be able to play a role in research applications, and that some opportunities for collaboration that need to be taken up urgently have to remain unused. viii

Involvement of knowledge users

The level of involvement of knowledge users in research can vary widely, from practically nothing to close participation in projects and programmes. No matter whether there is much or little involvement, different roles of the knowledge users can always be distinguished.

Concepts such as “Mode 2ix” and “Triple Helixx” stress the involvement of knowledge users in scientific research. The term “transdisciplinary research” also indicates the presence of such involvement. In the ideal form of transdisciplinary research, social demand drives research activities and knowledge users play a role equivalent to that of researchers, contributing as much knowledge and experience as the researchers do themselves. This form of research is also known as “participatory transdisciplinary research”.

It is not always possible in practice to allow knowledge users an equal say in research activities. In “advisory transdisciplinary research”, knowledge users do not play an active role in the research but they do contribute their knowledge and experience. Researchers then have the option of making use of this contribution or ignoring it.xi

Excellence and valorisation

Does valorisation lower the level of scientific excellence? This question is often asked. Investigations of the relationship between excellence and valorisation in various disciplines show that it is quite possible to combine the two. Contract research, popularization and the use of research results to solve societal problems are not incompatible with high publication and citation scores.xii, xiii, xiv

More than just patents

Patents are a facilitator of knowledge transfer. Many people imagine that the biomedical sciences and the natural sciences are at an advantage because knowledge generated in these fields is much more easily patentable and transferrable. Research has shown, however, that far from all scientists in these fields can turn their knowledge into patents, and that patents do not always play a key role in valorisation.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is often seen as a prime example of a top research establishment, turning out socially relevant results and playing a significant economic role. In line with this, more than half the tenured staff in the faculties of mechanical and electrical engineering and computer sciences have a patent in their name.xv At the same time, however, patents are found to play only a minor role in knowledge transfer. MIT professors estimate that only seven per cent of knowledge transfer occurs via patents. Further investigation shows that patents are important for knowledge transfer to certain companies, but play a negligible role in knowledge transfer to others. It follows that much collaboration and valorisation would be missed if patents were regarded as the sole means of knowledge transfer.

Studies in Italy and the Netherlands show that the average academic in these countries makes fewer patent applications than the average MIT researcher. The percentage of Italian academics who have ever been involved in a patent application varies from 1 to 10% in comparable disciplines.xvi Dutch universities and university medical centres (UMCs) have been patenting more and more knowledge in recent decades. Each university or UMC currently makes an average of eight patent applications per annum.xvii Delft University of Technology is the most active in this field, making a total of about thirty patents applications each year. It was found, however, that researchers were involved in twice as many patent applications per annum, and that the other half of the patent applications were made by companies collaborating with academic researchers.xviii

Researchers in the social sciences and the humanities rarely take out patents. A Spanish studyxix investigated valorisation activities over a period of three years in these disciplines, and found that none of the researchers in question had taken out any patents or had had any income from licences.

However, half of the research groups investigated had been involved in consultancy work and contract research, and more than a third were involved in joint research and training activities.

Motivation of researchers

It is sometimes suggested that researchers should receive financial rewards such as a bonus on top of their salary for valorisation activities. Research has shown, however, that personal financial incentives do little to motivate most researchers. In general, researchers engage in valorisation activities because of the resulting academic prestige, because such activities may lead to new research opportunities or sources of funding, or because the researchers are intrinsically motivated to solve new problems.

Studies in the UK confirm that researchers may hold different views on valorisation and may show different motivations to engage in such activities. These studies have led to the development of a typology of researchers with regard to the attitude to and motivation for valorisation. This typology applies to the individual researcher, irrespective of discipline or seniority. The “traditional scientist” is largely motivated by considerations of scientific prestige; the “hybrid scientist” is motivated both by prestige and new opportunities for “puzzle-solving”; while the “entrepreneurial scientist” responds to greater autonomy and puzzle-solving.

Individual financial rewards are thus found to give little or no incentive for valorisation. Most researchers are not highly motivated either by more income for the research organization where they work or for themselves. A bonus for successful valorisation only motivates a small minority of researchers. Effective policy aimed at encouraging valorisation should try to motivate different researchers in different ways.xx It may be noted, however, that the above-mentioned researcher says nothing about the effect increasing the individual researcher’s research budget would have on his or her motivation.

Researchers and policy

Researchers can be involved with policy and policy development in various ways. Roger Pielke describes four possible roles researchers can play in this context in his book The Honest Broker.xxi

Two of these roles apply to the case where there is general consensus in the policy field. The Pure Scientist provides scientific information without further explanation, and without reference to the considerations governing the thinking of the decision-makers. He leaves it up to the decision-makers to evaluate and interpret this information.

The Science Arbiter delivers straightforward scientifically-based answers to questions. He does bear in mind the views and requirements of the decision-makers, but does not get involved in the discussion. He prefers to deal with factual questions, and prefers to avoid normative questions.

Both of the above-mentioned types maintain a certain distance from policy and politics. They provide information, but do not get actively involved in decision-making.

In many cases, however, researchers are asked for their input in much more delicate situations, where there are many open questions and the various parties involved have conflicting interests. Roger Pielke describes two different roles in such situations too.

The first is the Issue Advocate. He has a definite opinion on a particular issue. He draws conclusions from research, looks for allies, adopts a position and takes active part in policy formation and decision-making. The second type is the Honest Broker of Policy Alternatives. He also gets involved in policy formation and decision-making, but plays quite a different role in this context. He acts as a kind of active signpost. The Honest Broker understands the issues at stake and provides scientific information that is relevant is for decision-making, or formulates alternative possibilities.

The Issue Advocate restricts himself to supporting a particular policy option, while the Honest Broker shows the consequences of a number of different options and can also point out new possibilities that may help to resolve an impasse.






[5] Supplemented by some insights about patents from the “grey literature”.

[6] The authors of this study interviewed five policy-makers and five researchers who were engaged in genomics research in the Netherlands. They also held a workshop involving policy-makers, genomics researchers and researchers in the field of science studies to test their results.

Stemerding, D. and Nahuis, R. (2014) ‘Implicit and explicit notions of valorization in genomics research’, New Genetics and Society 33/1: 79-95.

[7] These insights are derived from three articles describing studies that formed part of the EU FP7 SIAMPI project.

For the first article, the authors interviewed fourteen researchers and nine knowledge users from an English research institute that studied issues of business management and sustainability. The value of the SIAMPI method was discussed at length with the director of the research institute. The article focused on the value of the productive interaction approach for learning from knowledge transfer processes.

Molas-Gallart, J., and Tang, P.( 2011) ‘Tracing ‘productive interactions’ to identify social impacts: an example from the social sciences’, Research Evaluation 20/3: 219-226.

The second article described the study of four cases in ICT research in the Netherlands and the UK. Researchers and knowledge users were interviewed in connection with each case. The article focused on the reconstruction of knowledge transfer processes.

De Jong, S.P.L., Barker, K., Cox, D. Sveinsdottir, T and Van den Besselaar, P. (2014) ‘Understanding societal impact through studying productive interactions: ICT research as a case’, Research evaluation 23/2: 89-102.

The third article reviewed the insights described in the first two articles and the results of two supplementary studies in the fields of healthcare research and nanoscience. This article focused on the value of the approach for assessment purposes. Spaapen, J., Van Drooge, L., 2011. ‘Introducing 'productive interactions’ in social impact assessment.’ Research Evaluation 20(3): 211-218 .

[8]This study focused on the collaboration with knowledge users of 97 Spanish research groups in the social sciences and humanities. One representative of each research group was interviewed. The instances of collaboration mentioned in the interviews were compared with data from the research groups’ administrative databases. Twelve cases based on twenty-four interviews with researchers and knowledge users were then subjected to further investigation.

Julia Olmos-Peñuela, Jordi Molas-Gallart, Elena Castro-Martínez (2014) Informal collaborations between social sciences and humanities researchers and nonacademic partners Science and Public Policy (2014) 41 (4): 493-506 doi:10.1093/scipol/sct075

[9] Gibbons, Michael; Camille Limoges; Helga Nowotny; Simon Schwartzman; Peter Scott; Martin Trow (1994). The new production of knowledge: the dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage. ISBN 0-8039-7794-8.

H Etzkowitz, L Leydesdorff (1995) The triple helix-- University-industry-government relations: a laboratory for knowledge-based economic development EASST Review, 14 (1) (1995), pp. 14-19

[11] The author distinguished between participative and advisory transdisciplinary research on the basis of a literature survey. She then analysed the differences between research proposals made by three Swedish research groups who were studying sustainability issues. The main author of each research proposal was interviewed as part of this study.

Malin Mobjörk (2010) Consulting versus participatory transdisciplinarity: A refined classification of transdisciplinary research Futures 42 (2010) 866–873

[12] This study focused on biomedical research in the Netherlands. A total of 188 research managers (27% of the total population) filled in a questionnaire concerning their opinions and activities in connection with knowledge transfer. Their replies were linked with their publication and citation scores. The data in question were taken from the Web of Knowledge

Van der Weijden, I., Verbree M., and Van den Besselaar, P., 2012. From bench to bedside: the societal orientation of research leaders: the case of biomedical and medical health research in the Netherlands. Science and Public Policy 39 (3) 285-303.

[13] In this study, knowledge transfer was regarded as popularization, collaboration with industry and teaching. The knowledge transfer activities of nearly 3700 French researchers over a three-year period were compared with their H Index (for further details of the H Index, see Hirsch, J. E., 2005. ‘An index to quantify an individual's scientific research output’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, 16 569–16 572,

The researchers were active in one of the following disciplines: natural sciences, life sciences, construction sciences, chemistry and earth sciences, and astrophysics. Jensen, P., Rouquier, J.B., Kreimer, P. et al. (2008) ‘Scientists who engage with society perform better academically’, Science and Public Policy 35/7: 527-541.

[14] This British study covered nearly 2500 research groups in the natural sciences, biomedical sciences, construction sciences, social sciences and humanities. A narrow measure of knowledge transfer was used, equal to the funding obtained from contract research as reported by these groups in the 2001 British Research Evaluation Exercise (the predecessor of the Research Excellence Framework and comparable with Dutch evaluations performed with the aid of the Standard Evaluation Protocol). Scientific quality is measured as the citation score of the groups’ publications given in the Web of Knowledge as reported by the groups. D’Este, P., Tang, P., Mahdi, S. et al. (2013) ‘The pursuit of academic excellence and business engagement: is it irreconcilable?’ Scientometrics 95: 481-502.

[15] This study focused on 236 professors (including full, associate and assistant professors) who had published at least one scientific article or taken out at least one patent between 1983 and 1997. All the relevant publications and patents were collected. This yielded a total of more than 5000 articles and more than 600 patents. (Agrawal, A. and Henderson, R., 2002. ‘Putting patents in context: Exploring knowledge transfer from MIT’ Management Science 48(1): 44-60)

[16] This study covered nearly 28,000 senior researchers in Italy. This group had taken out a total of 1475 patents, which were in the name of 919 individual researchers. Balconi, M., Breschi, S. and Lissoni, F., 2004. Networks of inventors and the role of academia: an exploration of Italian patent data.’ Research Policy 33(1): 127-145.

[17] According to a study of Dutch patents carried out by the Rathenau Institute. See Table 7 on page 31 of the following report for a summary of the number of patent applications. Horlings E., Gurney T., Deuten J., Drooge L. van. (2013) Patentaanvragen door kennisinstellingen, Feiten en Cijfers 10. Den Haag: Rathenau Instituut.

[18] NL Octrooicentrum (2013). Regionale Innovatie Systemen (RIS) en IP-based entrepreneurship in de economische regio’s rondom Nederlandse universiteiten, juni 2013

[19] This study investigated the knowledge transfer activities of 83 Spanish research groups in the social sciences and humanities, with the aid of a questionnaire and interviews with group leaders. Knowledge transfer was defined here as consultancy work, contract research, joint research, training and mobility of research staff. One representative of each group was interviewed. Olmos-Peñuela, J., Castro-Martinez, E. and D’Este, P., 2014. Knowledge transfer activities in social sciences and humanities: Explaining the interactions of research groups with non-academic agents. Research Policy 43: 696-706

[20] In order to answer these questions, Alice Lam from Royal Holloway, University of London, studied researchers in the life sciences, computer sciences, construction sciences and physics at five British universities, three of which were among the top five British universities. The other two were smaller, but had prestigious departments in one or more of the disciplines studied. She started with 36 in-depth interviews and then sent out a questionnaire which yielded 734 responses.

The author used self-determination theory to analyse the results, linking personal norms and values with the motivation to perform or abstain from certain actions. The norms and values distinguished in relation to knowledge transfer could be “traditional” (“science should be kept separate from commerce”) or “entrepreneurial” (“scientists should engage with commercial partners”). Motivation can be intrinsic (“I get a lot of satisfaction and pleasure from the work”), extrinsic (“I do it because of the benefits or external rewards it yields”) or absent (“I do not find this interesting or important enough to do”.) Lam, A., 2011. What motivates academic scientists to engage in research commercialization: ‘Gold’, ‘ribbon’ or ‘puzzle’? Research Policy 40 (10): 1354–1368

[21] Roger A. Pielke, jr. (2007) The Honest Broker. Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

This e-publication is an initiative of the Rathenau Instituut and part of the projects 'Valorisation as knowledge process' and 'Valorisation in the social sciences and humanities.'

Authors: Leonie van Drooge and Stefan de Jong
Web-design: Herbert Boland
Images: through the interviewees and Wikimedia

Please cite as: Leonie van Drooge and Stefan de Jong. Valorisatie: onderzoekers dan al veel meer dan ze denken - e-publicatie met voorbeelden en handvatten om zelf valorisatie te organiseren.The Hague: Rathenau Instituut, 2015.