Virtual workshop on “Effective Policies to foster High-Risk/High-Reward research”, OECD Global Science Forum

Version 15



    An increasing concern of the scientific community in recent years is that research-funding processes have become too conservative and encourage only incremental advances in science and technology. As a result, there have been a number of calls for a change in funding processes and increased funding to support high-risk/high-reward (HRHR) research. However, it is not just a question of funding. At the research system level, issues such as disciplinary and institutional structures, research careers and precarity, cultural norms in the science community, research evaluation, and strategic prioritisation processes all have an impact on the type of research that is conducted.

    The underlying concern is that failure to encourage and to support research on risky, ‘out of the box’ ideas may jeopardize a country’s longer-term ability to compete economically, to harness science toward solving national and global challenges, and to contribute to the progress of science as a whole.

    Despite the near-consensus, that high-risk research is an essential component of a national R&D portfolio, there has been little study of the effectiveness of mechanisms for the funding of such research and practices for managing HRHR research programmes. Likewise, there is limited analysis of policies that could foster research environments more favourable to high-risk research.  There exist few indicators or tools to help manage high-risk research portfolios. There are also no good indicators for scientific or other risk or indicators of transformation and there is recent evidence (Wang et al., 2016) that traditional bibliometric measures of scientific excellence do not correlate with novelty.

    Following its recent report on “Effective operation of competitive research funding systems”, the OECD Global Science Forum has launched a new activity to investigate “Effective Policies to foster High-Risk/High-Reward research”. In this activity, High-risk, high-reward (HRHR) research is defined as research that (1) strives to understand or support solutions to ambitious scientific, technological, or societal challenges; (2) strives to cross scientific, technological, or societal paradigms in a revolutionary way; (3) involves a high degree of novelty; and (4) carries a high risk of not realising its full ambition as well as the potential for transformational impact on a scientific, technological, or societal challenge.

    The objective of this international workshop is to discuss key challenges for promoting HRHR research and to identify potential policy solutions based on case studies.

    In addition, the current Covid19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented mobilisation of the scientific community at the request of national and international authorities. This response is characterised by the launch of a large number of emergency/fast tracked research funding schemes by public research agencies and organisations as well as private foundations and charities. These initiatives encompass all dimensions of the pandemic but have to be developed in a timeframe and context that are challenging for the research funding system. Some of this funding needs to support novel ‘out of the box’ research as opposed less risky incremental research. This workshop will also be an opportunity to discuss some of the challenges for Covid-19 research funding, such as how to determine priority topics, how to encourage new ideas and how to set up a fast-track selection of proposals without sacrificing quality.




    (Link to the summary record)


    Conducted by ZOOM, tele-conference, hosted by OECD, on 22 April 2020 (Paris time).


    Introduction, reminder of the objectives of the activity and of the meeting by GSF chair and OECD Secretariat


    Session 1 : Introductory presentations

    The objective is to present a historical perspective on the rationale and drivers for HRHR mechanisms and policies, as well as on the challenges faced by researchers wishing to carry out truly innovative research. Chair: OECD Secretariat


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    Session 2: Funding mechanisms and evaluation processes

    The objective of this session is to discuss, on the basis of case studies, the challenges associated with funding HRHR and emergency research (criteria for proposals, adapting peer review processes, accepting risk…). Chair: Jessica Robin.


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                                                                                                  13:30-14:00        lunch break


    Session 3: Assessing the effectiveness of HRHR programmes


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    Session 4: Policies that may affect HRHR research programmes

    The objective of this session is to identify policies at the institutional level, which may affect, positively or negatively, the success of HRHR and emergency programmes. Chair: OECD Secretariat.


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    Tateo Arimoto

    Professor Tateo Arimoto is currently visiting Professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) and Principal Fellow, Center for Research and Development Strategy (CRDS), Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). Prof. Arimoto served as Director General of Science & Technology Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Education and Science. He is a member of the program committee of INGSA, the special committee of Science Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and United Nations STI Forum for SDGs.


    Jean-Pierre Bourguignon

    Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon was until recently the President of the European Research Council (2014-2019). A fellow of the CNRS for 44 years, now emeritus, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon is a mathematician specializing in differential geometry and mathematical aspects of theoretical physics. Director of the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques in Bures-sur-Yvette (1994-2013), he also taught at École Polytechnique (1986-2012).

    Cathriona Firth

    Dr. Catriona Firth is Associate Director for Research Environment at Research England. Prior to this she was Head of Policy for the Research Excellence Framework 2021. She has also held academic and research professional roles within a number of United Kingdom universities.


    Lisa Higgins

    Dr. Lisa Higgins is the Head of Challenge Research in Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).  Most recently, she has been leading a new division within the Foundation, which is developing and implementing novel challenge-based funding approaches. Challenge-based funding is increasingly being adopted by governments and other research funders to focus research, development and innovation (RD&I) activities to respond to and contribute toward addressing significant societal challenges.


    Heung Deug Hong

    Professor Heung Deug Hong is belongs to the Department of Public Administration, Kangwon National University, Korea. He is President-elect of the Korean Association for Policy Studies, Chairman of the Evaluation Professional Committee, Visiting Scholar, Rutgers University (US), and was President of the Advisory Council on Science & Technology, Korea (2017-2018). Prof Hong is co-chairing the OECD GSF Expert Group on High-Risk/High-Reward Research.


    Johan Huysse

    Johan Huysse is policy advisor at the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), where he is in charge of Human Resources issues. He advises on the university job classification system, which places a key focus on employee development and future career prospects. Johan Huysse studied law in Rotterdam and has worked at the HR departments of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Tilburg University and Leiden University.

    Jim Kurose

    Professor Jim Kurose is a Distinguished University Professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Jim has been on leave since January 2015, serving as Assistant Director at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), where he leads the Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). Recently, Jim also served as the Assistant Director for Artificial Intelligence in the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

    Diogo Machado

    Diogo Machado is a Senior Consultant/Economist at Technopolis.  His main field of experience is applying econometrics and data science methods in science and innovation research. Prior to joining Technopolis, Diogo worked at the OECD Science and Technology Policy. He has written for general and policy audiences, having published policy contributions at Bruegel, World Economic Forum and at the OECD. Diogo is currently acting as a consultant for the OECD GSF on High-Risk/High-Reward Research.


    Jens Oddershede

    Professor Oddershede has been chairing the Danish Council for Research and Innovation Policy over the last term (2014-2020). He was previously Chair of the Danish Rectors’ Conference (2005-2014) and rector (2001-2014) at University of Southern Denmark. Professor emeritus, he remains an active researcher in the field of quantum chemistry.

    Kazuhito Oyamada

    Kazuhito Oyamada is currently Fellow, Center for Research and Development Strategy (CRDS), Japan Science and Technology Agency. Mr. Oyamada had been working for National Institute for Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS). He has experience of management of funding programs, R&D strategy building and science and technology policy study.


    Jessica Robin

    Dr. Jessica Robin is currently Section Head of Integrative Activities in the Division of Earth Sciences at NSF. She has been with NSF since 2007 in the Office of International Science and Engineering as well as Geosciences and Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorates.  She has also led efforts to support high-risk, high-reward research across NSF.  Prior to joining NSF, she worked at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  Dr Robin is co-chairing the OECD GSF Expert Group on High-Risk/High-Reward Research.


    Duncan Shermer

    Dr. Duncan Shermer is Head of Research Assessment Policy at Research England, with a remit of evaluation of the current Research Excellence Framework (REF) and planning for future exercises. Prior to this he was involved in planning and delivering the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) at the Office for Students (OfS) and has also previously been involved in the delivery of the 2014 REF.


    Thomas Sinkjaer

    Professor Thomas Sinkjær is currently Head of Talent Programmes at The Lundbeck Foundation. He was previously Director at the Danish National Research Foundation (2007-2015) and is Professor at the Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University since 1993. Thomas Sinkjær has a great interest and experiences in promoting curiosity-driven research, in developing instruments to increase excellence in research and academic leadership, and to increase the societal impact of research.


    Michael Turner

    Professor Michael Turner is Senior Strategic Advisor at the Kavli Foundation. He served as Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics from 2010-2019 and has held numerous positions at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, Argonne National Laboratory, and the Aspen Center for Physics. A world-renowned astrophysicist, he helped establish the interdisciplinary field that combines cosmology and elementary particle physics to understand the origin and evolution of the universe.



    Marc Zbinden

    Dr. Marc Zbinden is Head of Division, Interdisciplinary and Internations Co-operation (InterCo) at the Swiss National Science Foundation (SFSN). He was previously head of the National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR) at the SFSN. Marc Zbinden studied in Berne and obtained his PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Bonn.