Public sector research - activities and outcomes - Expert advice and consultancy

 

 

What are expert advice, consulting and extension?

Public sector researchers often perform various advisory roles to government and business through different mechanisms, such as membership of expert groups and committees and consulting services. They may act as individuals or in concert with other researchers organised in scientific unions and associations. Furthermore, at an organisational level, research universities and especially public research institutes (PRIs) may engage in extension activities that seek to diffuse R&D findings into practice. To elaborate:

  • Scientific advice – the increasing pervasiveness of science and technology issues in public policy has seen a corresponding increase in the use of expert scientific advice to inform decision-making. There is a wide variety of arrangements for eliciting scientific advice, reflecting in part prevailing policy styles and governance arrangements. These include membership in standing expert committees, invitations to contribute to scientific enquiries, and informal contacts with policy makers and regulators.
  • Academic consulting – public sector researchers have knowledge and specialised skills, which are valued by firms and generally unavailable from elsewhere. Researchers are therefore often engaged as consultants, either on their own or through their institutes, to advise or work with firms on particular problems.
  • Extension services – traditional SMEs often lack knowledge of and access to readily-available technologies that could improve their productivity. Extension services set out to modernise SMEs’ operations by inducing them to innovate through technology adoption. Assistance often consists of providing off-the-shelf solutions to SMEs’ technical problems but can also channel more recent innovations generated by public sector research to SMEs that may not normally have access to such information. Such services are commonly administered by technology centres that have more or less close relations with universities and PRIs.

 

There has been work done on styles of scientific advice to governments but measuring its quantity and quality is fraught with difficulty. There may be measures in some countries of income from academic consulting services, but these tend to be available only at the institutional level and are likely to be incomplete given the amount of private consultancy academics engage in. Extension services are regularly reported by PRIs at an organizational level though this information is rarely collated at a national level.

 

How do expert advice, consulting and extension relate to innovation performance?

Expert advice, consulting and extension can relate to innovation at a number of levels. For example, public sector researchers might be retained by businesses to advise on single projects. Senior scientists might also occupy non-executive director roles on company boards and advise on R&D strategy and management. More pervasively, public sector researchers often occupy seats in expert advisory committees advising regulators and policy making organisations on issues that can have profound impacts on innovation developments. Extension services are explicitly designed to diffuse new technologies and practices and can play important roles in spurring technological upgrading and organisational innovation. Thus, all in all, expert advice, consulting and extension can have significant impacts on innovation performance, though quantitatively measuring all of these things is problematic.

 

Which actors are important for expert advice, consultancy and extension to contribute to innovation performance?

A number of actors play important roles in expert advice, consultancy and extension:

  • Researchers and the ways they view their relationships to government and business. Advice, consulting and extension can offer researchers useful insights for their research and teaching activities and can provide useful evidence for the impacts of their research.
  • Research universities and PRIs, which are directly responsible for overseeing organisational level activities, such as extension, but also for fostering an environment where researchers are encouraged to interact with users.
  • Large firms (domestic and foreign), with their formal R&D operations, have the absorptive capacity to routinely engage with public sector researchers. They do so in order to extend their in-house basic research and to access windows on emerging technologies. In this way, external academic expert judgement is used to help reduce the uncertainties associated with cutting-edge innovation.
  • High-tech SMEs often lack the specialist expertise and equipment to solve all of their innovation problems and therefore look to outside capabilities and infrastructures for help.
  • Traditional SMEs are most likely to interact with research universities and PRIs through targeted extension services. More recently, consulting has also been presented as a possible channel for developing further interactions, e.g. through innovation voucher schemes.
  • Intermediary (sometimes third sector) organisations or structures that are active partners in delivering extension services, including industry associations and technology centres.

 

What factors are important for expert advice, consultancy and extension to contribute to innovation performance?

Several factors are important in shaping the contributions of expert advice, consultancy and extension to innovation performance:

  • Expectations around the roles and status of HEIs and PRIs will influence their participation in these sorts of activities, especially regarding extension services, which require a dedicated infrastructure to be put in place.
  • Differences in industrial ecology and economic specialisation will present different configurations of small and large firms specialising in different sectors across countries. This will shape the demand for consulting and extension services from public sector research.
  • The extent to which employment contracts of public sector researchers allows them to openly engage in private consultancy varies from country to country (for example, researchers have civil service status in some OECD countries). Similarly, academic career paths are unlikely to reward consulting and extension services activity, though will place value on providing scientific advice to governments.

 

Which policies are important for expert advice, consultancy and extension to contribute to innovation performance?

Core policy instruments that foster closer relations between public sector research and business will tend to enhance the contributions of advice, consultancy and extension to innovation performance. These include technology diffusion and university-industry linkage schemes, science and technology parks and cluster initiatives, and, more recently, innovation vouchers.

 

References

Davila, N. (2004), “Evaluating manufacturing extension: a multidimensional approach”, Economic Development Quarterly, vol. 18, pp. 286-302.
Glynn, S., Cunningham, P. and Flanagan, K. (2003), Typifying Scientific Advisory Structures and Scientific Advice Production Methodologies, Manchester: University of Manchester.
Perkmann, M. and Walsh, K. (2008), “Engaging the scholar: three types of academic consulting and their impact on universities and industry”, Research Policy, vol. 37, pp. 1884-1891.

 

 

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