Does Money Spent on Transport Research Achieve Anything? Developing an Evidence Base to Secure Future Funding for European Transport Research.



Does Money Spent on Transport Research Achieve Anything? Developing an Evidence Base to Secure Future Funding for European Transport Research.

Authors

A Pearman, B Matthews, ITS University of Leeds, UK; M Schmidt, L Giorgio, Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences, AT; C Reynaud, M Poincelet, Nouveaux Espaces de Transport en Europe, FR; D Carvalho, J Vieira, Transportes,

Description

The paper reports work developing and applying a structured procedure to evidence the impact of transport research projects. The methodology, results of its application and implications for future European Commission transport research are described.

Abstract

Research is critical to tackling the changing demands on Europe?s transport systems as they seek to respond to economic, environmental, social and demographic pressures. However, transport research competes for funding with many other important social and scientific concerns and so must be, and be seen to be, effective in addressing the policy objectives that national administrations and major international bodies such as the European Commission prioritise. The need to demonstrate the effectiveness of previous rounds of research funding in order to secure continued support is a recurring problem for policy makers and researchers alike. The issue is particularly challenging in many parts of the transport sector because the time lag between when research results emerge and identifiable effects occur is long, and because direct causality linking a given research outcome and an identified consequence relevant to policy objectives is often hard to establish.
This paper reports a piece of research, SITPRO Plus, which seeks to provide European Commission officials with a rigorous procedure for evidencing the impact of transport projects funded under the fifth and sixth Framework Programmes (FP5 and FP6). Its broad aim is to help shape the pattern of expenditure in the remainder of FP7 and emerging ideas for the nature of FP8 and the development of transport research more generally. SITPRO Plus is itself an FP7 project.
In the paper, we first of all explain more fully the rationale for careful assessment of the impacts of funded research and argue that in any systematic review and assessment of a large programme of funded work, an underlying concern must be the extent to which the fundamental objectives of the programme have been advanced through the research results achieved. SITPRO Plus is seeking to trace the links between the specific objectives of research projects, the Programme?s research goals and wider socio-economic impacts directly related to European transport policy objectives such as safety, environment and industrial competitiveness. We note that, in recent years, funding bodies and national administrations have been under pressure to undertake impact studies of research at project and programme levels, but that this work has often been narrowly statistical using performance indicators that are not well aligned with policy goals. Alternatively, they can be based on largely subjective peer review reports, which are certainly not without validity but tend to lack consistency and an evidence base that can be interrogated by others.
The SITPRO Plus project, building on the previous FP5 SITPRO project, argues that a more structured evidence base is necessary to underpin a rigorous assessment of the potential effectiveness of research. This base, labelled the ?Research Impact Pathway? is explained in the paper and essentially traces the stages and the corresponding concrete evidence of types of activity that a successful research project will exhibit. The implementation of research assessment via the Research Impact Pathway has been significantly influenced by the rapidly growing availability of on-line information and the consequences of this for assessment are outlined.
Having set the context and justified the Research Impact Pathway methodology, the bulk of the paper addresses the specific outcomes of the SITPRO Plus project. In total, approximately 1000 projects have fallen within its scope and these have been explored through a combination of detailed desk reviews of project outputs, an on-line questionnaire, and telephone interviews with project principal investigators. The evidence from each of these three approaches is set out and an assessment is offered of the respective strengths and weaknesses of each as a means of throwing light on an overall research programme?s achievements. We touch upon the extent to which it is reasonable to expect to be able to evidence individual project achievement relatively soon after completion and consider the implications for policy makers.
Finally, an important part of the overall survey was to put together and evidence a view of where experienced transport researchers engaged in Framework activity saw the as yet unaddressed and/or emerging needs for transport research to help inform future European policy. This provides the platform for a series of speculations about how transport research might be shaped as FP8 begins to emerge as a tangible reality.

Publisher

Association for European Transport