Times of crisis and opportunity

Growing government debt could lead to austerity, and some hard choices for research and innovation policy


Ensuring the affordability of government intervention will be a major concern for many countries as the economic costs of the pandemic rise. Government debt in all countries is unprecedentedly high, far above the levels reached during the global financial crisis. Such unfavourable conditions could severely restrict the scope and scale of STI policy, as happened in the period following the global financial crisis (see here). Budget constraints will also leave policymakers with hard choices about what to prioritise in their support for research and innovation. More resources are likely to be directed towards health research and innovation in the wake of the pandemic, but if the total amount of funding remains unchanged or even decreases, this implies a decline of public resources for other research and innovation areas.

Transdisciplinary approaches are needed to deal with complex, multifaceted problems

Reforms are required to tackle incentive structures in science that discourage high-risk and interdisciplinary research, inhibit data sharing, and reduce career mobility. The complex, multifaceted nature of addressing problems like COVID-19 and sustainability transitions underscores the need for transdisciplinary approaches to which current research system norms and institutions are ill-adapted. The disciplinary and hierarchical structures that have served science so well until now need to be adjusted to enable and promote transdisciplinary research that engages different disciplines and sectors to address complex challenges. Governments have roles to play in promoting this adjustment through a mix of policy initiatives (see figure).

Most common policy instruments used by national governments to promote interdisciplinary research

Number of national policy initiatives

Source: EC/OECD (2020), STIP Compass: International Database on Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP), edition 15 November 2020,

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