Three challenges to S&T policies :
private, global, and participative research
The paper will try to reflect on the new dimensions in science and technology policies as they have been appearing in the last years of the twentieth century. It will argue that the new and complex issues at stake are not possible to disconnect from some very fundamental institutional issues. Where should research be done? Who should pay for it? What should be its orientation? Such issues as environmental pollution, toxicity and standards in food and agriculture, or new processes and products such as new breeding techniques, biotechnological production, bioengineering, new products with possible hazards, seem to challenge the traditional contract, characterised by a certain separation between the fundamental and the applied. Moreover, as a larger proportion of research is undertaken by private R&D laboratories instead of public university labs, and mainly in the larger companies, the motivation of research seems to clearly be that of profit. This trend will attain some limits which are difficult to envision today.
First of all, these might be the limits that faces any economic sector. As research per se is becoming a new economic activity. Instead of having research as a partner subordinated to economic activities, we now face a research activity which is a strong proposer on its own behalf, a sector which has to be accounted for and in some areas -e.g. telecommunications, informatics, new materials, computer sciences- is dominating the evolution of industries and services. The way this "new" sector of research interacts with the rest of the economy should also become a very crucial aspect of the new economy.
The second limit might be that of globalization itself: global markets and international issues are a new area of political and institutional action. Action in these markets and in these new settings can be effective as far as the institutions area of competence is global itself. The rise of new institutional frameworks with international action may take some time and their absence or presence will mark the evolution of the research activity.
Finally, as the impacts of the new products and technologies become stronger and more apparent in everyday life, citizens will become more aware of the role of research and will be willing to participate more actively in the definition of the research orientations. This new political demand, although it builds on some known movements resisting to large technological projects, is now trying to define the contours in a more institutionalised way. But other forms of participation can also be imagined, such as the participation of clients in the design of products, or the interaction between knowledge suppliers (such as R&D centres) and knowledge "users" (such as firms).
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