Public sector research - core policy instruments - collaborative R&D programmes



Collaborative R&D programmes are publicly-sponsored schemes involving industry (who usually act as co-sponsors), research universities, and PRIs in joint R&D activities. They aim to help firms to benefit from the extensive knowledge, expertise and facilities found in public sector research, while also orienting the latter towards more industrially-relevant research goals. These programmes can take various forms, including, for example, large industry consortia, science and technology parks, and innovation funding for high-tech SMEs. The role of government and the involvement of public sector research performers can vary according to the form taken by the programme.


Broadly, what activities and outcomes do collaborative R&D programmes seek to influence?

Collaborative R&D programmes set out to stimulate the development of new technologies that might not emerge spontaneously and thereby to boost technological development through R&D collaboration among the various main R&D performers. They can also support inter-sectoral mobility, since such programmes often involve secondments of researchers and doctoral candidates to industry.


How do collaborative R&D programmes have an influence?

Private investment in R&D can yield sizeable benefits to the firm, the industry, and society as a whole. However, such investment can be hindered by several factors, including the scale and cost of projects, the lack of expertise, and technical and commercial risks. Collaborative R&D programmes address these barriers to private investment in R&D by providing indirect subsidies (through funding the relevant R&D performed in research universities and PRIs) that reduce the risks faced by firms and by supporting working relations between firms and centres of technical expertise. They mainly focus on the early stages of innovation.


Some collaborative R&D programmes are mission-oriented, addressing scientific and technological problems in health, energy, the environment, aerospace, and defence. In these instances, programmes aim to support the high risk development of technologies that have potentially broad social returns. Consequently, governments need to complement business R&D investment in order to ensure adequate overall R&D investment in these technologies. Such programmes can be large-scale and have the potential to shape the economic specialisation of regions and countries and to contribute directly to economic development.


The main R&D performers in collaborative R&D programmes are industry (including large firms and high-tech SMEs), public research institutes, and research universities. Public research funding organisations play a central role in the design and funding of these programmes.


What factors should be considered when implementing collaborative R&D programmes?

Collective R&D programmes vary in scale, scope, and objective. However several common factors should be considered when implementing them:

  • Existing public-private partnerships: if existing partnerships between industry and public sector research are already strong, then collaborative R&D programmes are relatively straightforward to set-up. Where such partnerships are weak or even non-existent, such schemes will need to focus on raising awareness of the benefits of collaboration and on developing a common language and trust between prospective participants.
  • Attractiveness to industry: public funding alone tends to be insufficient incentive for firms to become involved in R&D collaboration with public sector research. Firms will be deterred from applying if the administrative requirements of research funding organisations are too burdensome and time-consuming. Arrangements for the sharing of IPR should be clear from the outset and broadly favourable to firms. Consulting industry on the coverage and design of programmes will make them more attractive, but the ability to do this will depend on the openness of PSR funding regimes, which varies between countries.
  • Additionality: Collaborative R&D programmes should mainly focus on financing the early-stages of innovation and targeting technologies that present significant risks and offer broad expected social returns. Such focus can help to reduce the risk of deadweight loss. Regular evaluation is required to identify potential deadweight loss and more broadly to measure the impact of collective R&D programmes with regards to their initial objectives. Evaluation should not consider only input or output additionality but also behavioural additionality, e.g. changes in firms’ attitudes towards collaborating with the public research sector.


Further resources

European Commission (2010), Interim Evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme, Brussels.

OECD (2006), Government R&D Funding and Company Behaviour: Measuring Behavioural Additionality, Paris: OECD Publishing.

National Research Council (2002), Government-Industry Partnerships for the Development of New Technologies, Washington, D. C.: National Academy of Sciences.

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