The Role of Research Funding Agencies in Policy Discretion and Coordination in Austria

Governance
 
Institutions
 
Public Policy
 
Presenter
Rupert Pichler
Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation, and Technology
Sascha Ruhland
Austrian Institute for SME Research
Authors
Sascha Ruhland
Austrian Institute for SME Research
Rupert Pichler
Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation, and Technology

Abstract
Research funding agencies (RFAs) are a common element across almost all mature innovation systems because the implementation of research funding usually requires a specific organisational approach with structures that mediate between the government and the scientific community. In Austria, by far the largest part of federal funding is channelled through two agencies that are the Science Fund (FWF) and the Research Funding Agency (FFG). This paper will analyse the normative framework governing RFAs in Austria and discuss the dynamics that creates with the government’s policies along the following dimensions:

• Institutional development and design of administrative autonomy: Austria serves as an example of a strongly legalistic and hierarchical administrative culture. The Paper will explore what methods can be used within such a setting to justify and establish autonomy and which degrees of autonomy may result. The case of research policy will be dealt with in detail, reflecting also on the different needs of basic and applied research.

• Organisational set-up of autonomy: There are different dimensions of autonomy which each feed back to the room for manoeuvre of RFAs, such as managerial, financial or funding decision making powers. The inclusion of stakeholders into the governance structures also play a key role.

These two dimensions relate to the government’s ability to set research priorities and coordinate their implementation. The Paper will examine how the institutional and organisational provisions for RFAs in Austria affect this. Since administrative autonomy is always about somehow interrupting the chain of command from the minister to the respective RFA, there is trade-off between losing control and gaining commitment of stakeholders. This will be exemplified by the Austrian case where developments between agency capture and government interference can be identified.

Wherever possible, international comparisons are envisaged. The findings of these basically normative approaches will be complemented by empirical evidence available from past and ongoing evaluations. The paper will particularly draw evidence from the currently ongoing evaluation of the FFG with regard to the issue of how normative concepts of governance and autonomy translate into the day-to-day reality of cooperation between Federal ministries and an RFA. It will focus on the parallel existence of different understandings and different interpretations of (good) governance and the consequences this yields with regard to the effectiveness and efficiency of research funding and, more general, innovation policies. Furthermore, the authors will show and discuss how the current reality of governance might result in negative effects linked to the principal-agent problem such as moral hazard or conflict of interest.

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