Peer Review for Industry/Academic Research Collaborations/Projects: What might we need to do differently?


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Aim: Peer review is about evaluating research for publication, but also the very related issue of research funding. In the context of research funding, peer review is seen as an essential and highly trusted component of selecting research proposals with the greatest potential for contributing to scientific progress and technological innovation. In recent years, there has been a growing interest and increasing move towards university industry research collaborations within Ireland (e.g. LERO (1) and internationally, posing unique challenges for research (2),increasing interest and focus in the context of awarding funding grants, and renewed questions around policy and best practice in the context of the peer reviewing such proposals.For example, ‘industry and university are governed by different belief systems [goals] and associated practices’ (3) whereby managerial challenges, misaligned industry expectations,conflicts of interest and research ethics concerns are amongst a number of challenges experienced. Given increasing focus, and proliferation of different types of University Industry Collaborations (UIC), and related publication outcomes growing in number and importance (4),there has been limited corresponding reflection and adoption of the traditional peer review process for these types of projects. For example, how best to predict successful research outcomes and impact, whilst protecting both academic and industry interests, including the integrity of the research process and results? In our study we are investigating the particular area of industry/academic collaborative research projects and what is different about evaluating them compared to conventional academic research projects. Our research project investigates what the literature and key stakeholders have identified as distinctive within industry/academic research in terms of how this should inform adapting aspects of peer review and/or considerations for peer-reviewers, in order to perform well as an evaluation tool.

Methods: Using the case of ‘Science Foundation Ireland’(5) SFI (the largest research funding body in Ireland), data collection involves exploring experiences, perceptions and practices in relation to both applying for and undertaking UIC’S using a grounded theory approach. Data collection consists of: (i) qualitative interviewing of both successful recipients and non-recipients of industry-academic grant funding calls, (ii) focus groups with key academic and industry stakeholders, (iii) content analysis of SFI documents and (iv) interviews with SFI stakeholders. The basis for the conceptual framework and related data collection procedures is via a literature review (6) on ‘Industry-academic collaboration’ articles and literature on ‘peerreview’ in the context of grant funding.

Results and Discussion: This presentation focuses on emerging findings from the literature review stage of the study in formulating the conceptual framework and data collection instruments. The focus of this presentation will be on: (a) critically discussing ‘ResponsibleResearch and Innovation’ (RRI) in the context of evaluating and awarding industry-academic collaborative funding proposals. ‘Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is an approach to structuring European research and innovation that is responsive to societal needs through processes which are inclusive, open, adaptive, and reflective , and aims to develop more responsible researchers and institutions, and a more engaged public, by focusing attention on ethics, governance, equality and openness (7). In this way, RRI is a broadening of overvaluation of research excellence beyond traditional quantitative rankings of individual organisational performance. We discuss critical perspectives on RRI in the context of UIC; (b)that existing research funding evaluation criteria may lie in tension with RRI, (c) that particular prioritisation of projects in terms of such factors as prestige of applicants and novelty of projects with an emphasis on protecting ‘scientific freedom’ etc. may be rationally argued as a more responsible use of public money in the context of value and impact, and that (d)there is a risk that bias towards ‘Open Innovation’ (8) (as one implementation of RRI) lends itself to iterative innovation over disruptive innovation in such contexts as technology development. Finally, we (e) review existing models of industry-academic collaboration in terms of what insight they bring to the peer review process when evaluating such collaborations.

Conclusions: A review of the literature highlights a significant gap in understanding good science policy and best practice in the context of grant funding evaluation of UIC, the role of peer-review, the need to account for the ‘hidden’ impacts of UIC, and the implications of broader policy approaches like ‘Responsible Research and Innovation’ on UIC. Whilst RRI and its mantra of science for society with society is gaining traction in EU policy and academic discourses concerning science funding, there is a need to critically examine RRI in the context of UIC, in such aspects as theory and evidence concerning disruptive and participatory approaches to the development, scaling and sustainability of innovations etc. This research project will critically examine this issue by linking and integrating existing literature with data collected across multiple-stakeholders in Ireland, thus contributing evidence, debate and proposing recommendations.