Indicators of Science, Technology and Innovation as Social Indicators

Andoni Ibarra (Unit of Philosophy of Science, University of the Basque Country-CSIC)
Rafael Rengifo (Center of Development Studies, Universidad Central de Venezuela)

ISSC Workshop, BBAW. Berlin, 14-15 March 2002


Beginning with new orientations in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy in EU --denoted the 'Third Phase' (cf. Muldur 1996, Caracostas, P and U Muldur 1998), and expressed in the Framework Program 1998-2002--, a new relationship between society and those sectors traditionally associated with STI, researchers, policy makers, and entrepreneurs is proposed in EU. This new orientation expresses what in another forum, the World Science Conference (Budapest 1999), was called 'a new social contract' between science and society. In a nutshell, what is sought in the words of Caracostas (op cit., p. 21) is 'the marriage of society and innovation', which includes the traditional actors and in addition citizen participators, the so-called 'civil society'. The EU therefore recognises the urgency of creating and developing policies, mechanisms and processes which secure this participation as an essential condition of the knowledge society.

However in practical terms, this new orientation in European policy runs the risk of remaining mere rhetorical declaration given the absence of effective mechanisms to ensure this marriage. To use the metaphor of Caracostas, wouldn't this just be a marriage in the old customary fold, or more bluntly a marriage of perversity. In effect, if those mechanisms for social participation in the STI policy are not specified, one of the stakeholders, the society, is left with a passive, non-autonomous, a mere receiver of the kindness or perversions under this policy. This can be clearly seen in the case of the indicators habitually used in STI activities: the social emerges as the sphere where the impacts of these activities are felt, that is ex post, not as a source of demands and orientations for these activities. The design and development of mechanisms for social participation and their corresponding indicators have, therefore, assumed an urgent status.

In this paper we present conceptual, institutional and instrumental options, with the view to making these social participation mechanisms and indicators possible. Conceptual, in so far as these mechanisms and indicators develop a basis for understanding processes of science and society, starting with a constructivist vision which sees these processes as essentially one and the same evolution, that of the co-production of knowledge and social identity (M Callon and V. Rabeharisoa, 2002). Institutional in so far as the option presented is introduced in the debate concerning the relationship between science and 'governance' (S. Funtowicz et al. 2000) in the sense of establishing synergic relationships, in the one hand, between production, use and diffusion of knowledge and technology, and in the other hand, between the conditions and social capacity to take policy and administrative decisions; aspects that we identify as relationships between intellectual capital and social capital. Finally, this paper seeks to be instrumental in that it presents a design for basic mechanisms of social participation of citizens in matters of STI which, at the same time functions as a source of new types of indicators of these activities. In other words as indicators of the social management of knowledge.

New Orientations/Directions

Conceptual Approaches

Since the early 90's a new view of the role of science in society began to become universal, there was an even more important re-evaluation of the role of society in the regulation and orientation of scientific and technological effort, and that of innovation. Various metaphors attempt to express this shift towards an STI more connected to the social: 'post normal science', a 'new social contract for science', 'R+D of Third Phase'. At the root of this shift the transition which Gibbons (1994) refers to as from Mode I to Mode II of Production of Knowledge, whose principle contrasts can be seen in the table below (modified from that developed by Gibbons).

The contrasts shown in this table are an expression of a deeper conceptual question: we can identify this transition with a form that is more socially articulated in the production of knowledge, in the sense that a perspective about the issue has been adopted, that among other things, assumes that science is a social construction. This 'contructivist' perspective has permitted a de-sanctification of the scientific endeavour, demonstrating its social character, indiscernible of other social practices, except when dealing with analytical purposes. Our proposal seeks to offer a first step in conceptualising the notion of social indicator based on different foundations to the traditional ones. The construction and use of STI indicators (STII) as social indicators, is brought about here following a double constructive strategy: on the one hand, contextualising the operation in relation to social agents and specific interests and, on the other hand, conceptually anchoring it to conceptions about science and its relation to society.

To start with something somewhat basic, a reflection and dialogue about STI indicators (STII) assumes fixing two questions: (A) Who wants (demands, orders, uses) these indicators, we mean what referents do we look for to indicate how an ambit of reality or experience has behaved, and how to take decisions, intervene, etc. (B) The second question, what are we speaking about, what is meant by science technology and innovation? We will comment on each question in turn.


The first, more than asking about a subject, implies that the social and historical context of construction and utilisation of indicators be specified and made explicit. First, because indicators are social constructions and not data drawn from objective reality, they are the result of operations and selections of representations put forward by specific social agents. Furthermore, the use of these indicators refers to equally specific social interests. For this reason, the determination of indicators is a reflection of negotiation processes and the hegemony of certain groups in the social medium.

In other words, by analogy to the characterisation of statistics as the rhetoric of science, we can conceive of STII as the rhetoric of science and technology policy, divesting the term 'rhetoric' of its potentially negative meaning, and understanding it as a set of discursive strategies to buttress demands, policies and plans, and this is more related to politics than with traditional policy. In this way, it could be said that the evolution of styles and approaches which STII construction has gone through corresponds with the pre-eminence of one or other social group in the area of science policy: indicators of science measurement, input generators for R+D (publications, citations, costs per researcher, etc.) they belong to the phase in which science policy was the territory of researchers seeking finance and legitimacy; the concern for output indicators is to do with the rise of policy makers in matters of the politics of science and technology, when the state was more strategically involved; finally, indicators most associated with innovation have recently been corresponded with the protagonism of business and the discourse of industrial competitivity (Freeman 1988).

Although what we have just said is in need of some qualification, the question remains, now that we are talking about the knowledge society, in the face of the need for another style or design approach and use of STII that does not just incorporate former concerns and interests, but instead, very crucially, gives space to questions, demands and interests that, for ease, we may refer to as the public, the civil society, that is, the group of collectives which is distinct from the State, from the company, and in the area that is of concern to us, different from the research community. Briefly, while recognising the complexity of this subject, it is worth saying , what it is we understand by civil society: it is that segment of the community which in its interests and logic of operating is distinct from the State and the companies, maintaining an autonomy as social agents although they may coincide with the aforementioned entities.


The other question that we must address in a reflection about indicators, as we mentioned at the beginning of this section, concerns the area of what it is that these indicators are supposed to be a signal, or an index. In the sense that science, technology and innovation appear to be fields defined by practices, institutions, processes and policies it seems that we don't need discuss them. But, in another sense, when we try to indicate how these institutional and political practices operate, the question remains which of these do we interpret as legitimate, as deserving observation and of recording and, more specifically, which social groups, what interests and claims, do we consider legitimate protagonists in the world of science, technology and innovation (Wynne 1996a). It is here that the term knowledge society assumes relevance as a metaphor that refers to a way of making society in which, simply stated, the fundamental raw material is 'grey matter'. The appeal to the knowledge society, as a desired social vision, as a possible horizon for contemporaneous societies, appears to demand a new approach to what we consider as knowledge; in addition, the very transformations in the internal practices of science and scientific institutions in epistemological network of science, obliges us to revisit the question of what we consider is knowledge and, more specifically, what do we understand by science, technology and innovation.

Again, in the case of the evolution of approaches around STII, it could be said that in the domain of the science and technology policy, the evolution of socially diverse ways of understanding knowledge corresponds to pre-eminence or hegemony of one or other interest group in the domain: from the scientifist vision, the view of science as the peak of knowledge, of knowledge as a matter for laboratories and universities, pertaining to the discourse of researchers seeking legitimacy; through the approaches in which science, as defined by J.J. Salomon (1970), is the manipulation of natural forces under the horizon of political decisions, corresponding to the acme of the State's science policy and its policy makers; until, finally, the science-production alliance. Here, knowledge becomes a basis for competitivity and University-Companies relationships, expressions of the entrepreneurial protagonism.

This raises a question about our need for a concept of knowledge, of science and technology, which, once again, incorporates the public, a concept that legitimises the questions and answers of that public. A knowledge society is only possible if there is a massive incorporation, heterogeneous and complex, of the most diverse social actors and their knowledge to the culture of innovation, and this implies a change in the concept of knowledge, a shift towards its consideration as a space for encounters among 'kinds of knowledge', in which science, technology and innovation is no longer the exclusive domain of experts, of academic, entrepreneur or technocratic elites. In short, what this is about is to assume that innovation is the result of a synergy of socio-technical knowing and processes, which extends further than much of what we consider as classical institutional agents (universities, companies, State) and that the step to a knowledge society obliges as much a re-legitimisation of these, as it does the peremptory incorporation of citizens, that is to say, of the civil society (Wynne 1996b).


Already towards the end of the 90's the EU had started to incorporate new social orientations in its policies and programs, in particular in the Fifth Framework Program 1998-2002, one which starting from a systematic vision of the factors that come into play in the STI dynamic, promotes a major integration of innovation, economy and society. Additionally, the World Science Conference held in Budapest 1999, rounded up by considering forms that open scientific and technological activities to the public limelight and public dialogue, synthesised in the call for a 'new social contract' between science and society. But there are more specific and recent documents which explain the orientation of the EC towards a meeting with citizens. Thus, the Science and Society Action Plan (Commission 2001) clearly outlined three strategic activities which are simultaneously condition and consequence of this greater citizen protagonism that we have commented on. The first strategic priority has to do with education and scientific culture in Europe and its fundamental objective is to convert science and technology into something more familiar to citizens. The second strategic challenge refers to the elaboration of scientific policies that are closer to society which is interpreted as a reappraisal of the social contract between science and society where the aspirations and demands of the latter would be a key input into the STI policy. Finally the third strategic activity is to do with the incorporation of responsible science in various policies, an objective that places a priority or the relationship between STI and governance - a desideratum of out time.

In these three strategic orientations of the EC we encounter the same concerns, the search for the mechanisms and policy instruments to link the citizen to STI. A good example of this we find in what has today been converted into a theme of debate throughout the EU organisation, the construction of spaces for governance as it relates to the technical-scientific. In effect it is now common to assert that STI's generation of welfare and national wealth has gone hand in hand with the effects of increasing complexity and risk of uncertainty. We are in a world in which science, identified with researchers and experts, not only don't hold in itself the keys to reduce risk and uncertainty, but depend on the trust of society in the struggle with these complexities. As Funtowicz et al. state: 'if science can be located within an interactive, reflexive and recursive process of governance, then public trust in science and confidence in the policy-making process can be restored and maintained' (Funtowicz et al. 2000, p.329).

We are witnessing a challenge of formidable proportions: not only are we concerned to open public debate on science and technology, to disclose to the mechanisms of democratic society, the budgets, priorities, institutional structures and impacts of the science and technology, but also to achieve a closer nexus between research and knowledge, and the social demands and needs. In other words, taken from a recent text of M.Callon and V. Rabeharisoa (2002), the tendency in developed countries is, for the time being, the co-production of science and society, of knowledge and of social identity. The participation of citizens, of civil society in this co-production process of knowing, techniques and social representations arises, then, as a fundamental dimension in the new arenas of technical-scientific practices and policies.

From a different metaphor, if we assume that intellectual capital is the assembly of processes which incorporates capacities and resources associated with the creation, use and diffusion of knowledge and technologies and, furthermore, assume the social capital as the assembly of processes that incorporate capacities and attitudes associated with the building of confidence, of co-operation, of association and the establishment of alliances and networks, then, in modern societies, in the framework of complexity, uncertainty and its economic, social and political challenges, there is no possibility of developing the first without a permanent effort to bring about and stimulate the second. And vice-versa, we could add, because that co-operation, associativity and the capacity to negotiate connected with them, take place in modern societies, by the presence of knowledge, systems of information-communication and social technologies.


Not withstanding what has been said, we still do not have the explicit mechanisms with their consequent indicators to make this marriage of 'good will' between society and innovation a reality in the EU. A good example of this can be found in the above text called 'Science and Society Action Plan' (Commission 2001), in which the section corresponding to participation of the civil society (p.8), contains only vague references to citizen participation processes, fundamentally in matters evaluating technology ex post. But it is the area of indicators where we find the greatest deficit when it comes to identification of spaces, modalities and processes of citizen participation in STI.

This then makes clear the necessity for constructing social indicators of science, technology and innovation or more properly, indicators of social management of knowledge that take into account, and at the same time opens the possibility for the participation and insertion of the citizen, that has already been referred to; that is, indicators which permit propiciate, identify and evaluate the scale and level of development and co-production of intellectual capital-social capital.

Another approach with similar aims is the one which attempts to determine those designated indicators which have social impact (Kostoff 1998). In general these proposals attempt to offer methodological procedures and indicators for the measurement of the social impact of science and technology at various levels: the derived impact (i) of the policies of science and technology, (ii) of scientific and technological knowledge in society (iii) of science and technology in social development. Frequently the same proposals conceptualise the designated indicators of social impact around three clearly identified autonomous yet related analysis: science and technology; social and cultural development; and the mechanisms of relationship between both (Dunn et al. 1987). Underlying these approaches there is an analysis which essentially distinguishes two spheres of reality: that of science and technology, and that of social development. What is attempted is an analysis of the impacts of the former sphere on the latter sphere.

We can, however, use a deflationist strategy and consider only one sphere, one in which the initial grand divide is diluted, and take as objects of consideration modifications and transformations whose modes are simpler and related to how various actors organise innovation socially, using knowledge, technological systems, companies, markets and political tools. These different agencies can combine, superpose and insert themselves in various ways but achieving a minimum order and sense. A goal of policy and economics of innovation is, in the first place, to consider the circumstances in which it can be expected that scientific-technological changes may influence the emergence of new forms of social life. But these changes cannot by themselves explain the transformations in modern societies. Rather they constitute aspects that can increase and assure the contribution of the greatest number of actors around a given decision, so that this will be accepted and recognised according to socially admissible values and norms.

Social capital and intellectual capital are two sides of the same coin. We cannot consider one of them alone without committing a fallacy: if we only consider the domain of intellectual capital --or, if you will, science and technology-- we fall on the clichés of the old social contract (Guston 2000); if we concentrate only on the domain of social capital we lose sight of the real transforming potential of science and technology. We must proceed, therefore, with both domains. That is to say, we propose to consider the processes of scientific and technological change that contribute to new forms of social life, from a constructivist perspective; and consider the social, economic or political realities in as far as they offer mechanisms to assign new interests, groups and tendencies; mechanisms that depend on processes of scientific technological and innovative change (Callon et al. 1986).

In other words, the growing contribution of actors is not a necessity that derives exclusively from an obligation to democratise knowledge and techniques as a condition for the emergence of a knowledge society; citizen participation is a requirement for the viability and feasibility of the processes of change in complex societies. This is not concerned with asking about the relationship between the capacities of a system of science and technology and our society since by doing so it is accepted that this society is constructed with different instruments of that used in building the system of science and technology or our ideas. The knowledge society has the faculty of integrating symbiotically both aspects in one complex form which is just what characterises modern societies.

The incorporation of actors -be they scientists, technologists, companies, universities, citizens, politicians, etc.- in the policy of science and technology is not a part of that policy, it is itself the policy. It is the social frontier that determines the scope of STII. 'Social' here is not abstract society, but a given medium in which certain innovative transformations operate and that in modern societies are managed in more and more complex ways.

For this reason the question of indicators for the social management of knowledge is, in the first place, related to how is developed the process of constructing such indicators, because, again, that task of design and social evaluation is not an exclusive matter for experts who 'represent' the heterogenous citizens' interests. In another respect, there are some previous experiences in this area, that may serve as a reference to the identification and assessment of participation and integration of various social agents (Row and Frewer 2000). In what follows a scheme of a Mechanism for Social Management of Knowledge is presented. Of course, this is one of various institutional options available to handle this matter. The scope of the scheme transcends the specific discussion about indicators, it should be understood as a mechanism for participative managing in matters of science, technology and innovation.

Mechanisms for the social management of knowledge

General Aim

Stimulate, facilitate, promote citizen participation in the creation, adaptation and diffusion and use of knowledge, technologies and innovations, in this way to promote a synergy which enhances intellectual capital and social capital.

Specific Aims

  • Permit and process the demands, opportunities and existing capacities of the citizens, related to knowledge and innovation as a basis for establishing investment priorities in the matter.
  • Facilitate the co-design of mechanisms and policy tools for science, technology and innovation, as well as the creation and application of indicators of social management in the matter.
  • Open a space for the exchange of knowledge and experiences among various agents directly involved in science, technology, and innovation – State, companies, universities – and citizens.
  • Facilitate and democratise the access to specialised information and social evaluation of research projects and their socio-environmental impacts as well as facilitating the processes of governance.

General Procedures

  1. The Management Mechanism can be initiated at the request of any participant social agent (state, university, companies, citizen groups, local authorities, NGO's, etc.), with preference given to those Initiatives that have the support of associations, alliances and networks of two or more of these social agents, always supposing that the participant beneficiaries co-finance the projects that the Initiative generates, sharing the risks and benefits.
  2. For this Management Mechanism an Initiative could be for example: a request to solve social, economic or environmental problems, that call for a scientific or technological response -- in some of its forms; demands for taking advantage of market opportunities or for improveing quality of life which involve the creation, adaptation or diffusion of knowledge and technology; requests for special training in human capacities -- from technical levels to post-doctorate; programs for the development of an innovation culture; programs for the creation or strengthening (e.g.: via CIT) of socio-technical networks.
  3. The Initiatives of the Management Mechanism may be carried out within a bounded domain or subject, which could have a macro-character -- e.g.: child health, marine ecosystems, agro-alimentary chains --, a meso-character -- e.g.: infantile cardiopathologies, impacts of sea dumping, production and trade of milk products--, or a micro-character --e.g.: infantile cardiopathology in specific areas or regions, impacts of sea dumping in specific coasts, indicators for the production and trade of milk products.
  4. Initiatives are directed to public entities of highest competence in the matters under consideration. On accepting the initiative an open meeting (a Call) to bring together agents associated with the area is convened. These agents will establish an Agenda where aspects such as the following are specified:
  5. - The state of the art in the issue or problem associated with the initiative.
    - A map of social agents to incorporate
    - List of projects
    - Agreements of a financial nature (forms and conditions of co-financiation)
    - Agreements about evaluation and follow up mechanisms, transfer of results, creation of networks, etc.

  6. Activities and agreements described are converted into a kernal of a process that, in turn, generates a series of processes that are expressed in a structured demand, both public and negotiated, of concerted activities linked to science, technology and innovation. Additionally, in this way a social space emerges which could give rise, through political, financial and technical suitable support, to a network of innovation, a web made up of social agents, mechanisms and resources whose development, proliferation, and articulation would bring about systems of innovation.

Conclusion: Prospects for social indicators

A Management Mechanism requires different kinds of indicators (of input, of process, of impacts) for its correct operation, as well as to offer a source of statistics at different levels: local, territorial and community. The Mechanism has two virtues worth emphasising. On the one hand, it produces indicators that are highly specific, hence of higher quality and capacity of use, as a part of its very functioning; on the other hand, as part of its operation the mechanism is itself a source of social indicators for social management of knowledge, in as much as its operation and development assumes the active presence of central dimensions in the aforementioned co-production of intellectual capital-social capital. Thus, for example, among other possibilities: indicators for mapping and mesuring the associativity among social agents for the undertaking of projects we have; indicators concerning the degree of development of the culture of innovation; indicators relating to demands and capacities in domains of knowledge and problems; indicators of the degree of perception and social attitudes concerning science, technology and innovation; indicators for organisational capacities and modalities related to knowledge and innovation; indicators for specific socioenvironmental impacts of productive or infrastructure projects, etc.


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