To bridge the gap between basic and applied research, diversify what ‘basic research’ can entail, and to better integrate non-traditional research performing institutions (e.g. polytechnics) into the research funding landscape, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF/SNF/FNS) introduced the category ‘use-inspired basic research’ into its mainstream project funding in 2011. Technopolis was commissioned in 2016 to carry out an evaluation of use-inspired basic research at SNSF.
Over one thousand researchers and other stakeholders participated in the study and the final report has now been published. It highlights that use-inspired basic research projects have a dual focus: to create excellent science, and to solve or illuminate practical problems. This dual focus can make the design and execution of such projects inherently more challenging than ‘standard’ basic research, and also poses challenges for the task of evaluating ‘use-inspired’ proposals. Nevertheless, once funded, use-inspired projects are highly productive in terms of both academic and non-academic output.
Our report recommends clarifying the meaning and purpose of use-inspired basic research to project applicants and assessors alike, and to take a range of measures to ensure that dimensions of ‘use’ and ‘broader impact’ are better recognised and can be more reliably highlighted and scrutinised in the assessment process.Research funders considering the relationship between excellence and non-academic impact, or seeking to expand and transform the very notion of ‘excellent research’ itself, will find our evaluation of the experience at SNSF to be of significant interest.
The full report (in English, with short summaries in English, German and French) is available on the SNSF web site.