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Minister Halligan announces first five Science Foundation Ireland awards for Science Policy

Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, announced the first five awards of the Science Foundation Ireland Science Policy Research Programme, with an investment of €2.8 million. The selected research projects comprise studies of: the role of talent and human capital management in national science foundations; the economic and societal impacts of scientific research; the link between scientific knowledge production and technological progress; the peer review process; and the importance of star researchers.

Announcing the awards, Minister Halligan said, “The SFI Science Policy Research Programme is facilitating doctoral degrees that will generate important new policy insights that can help to bolster Ireland’s knowledge economy. The knowledge gained from these awards will help Science Foundation Ireland assess the impact of the research funding it awards, with the aim of strengthening and improving our overall eco-system.”

Commenting on the awards, Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland added, “These awards will build critical knowledge to enable us to develop effective policies on how we fund, evaluate and disseminate scientific research. Building Ireland’s research capacity in science policy will help to solidify Ireland’s position in developing international best practice and encourage collaborations with international experts in the field.”

The five awards, with a total value of €2.8 million will support 15 research positions, for both postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, for a period of up to four years. The awards were made to the following researchers:

  • Prof Helena Lenihan, University of Limerick
  • Prof John McHale, National University of Ireland, Galway
  • Prof Kalpana Shankar, University College Dublin
  • Dr Alma McCarthy, National University of Ireland, Galway
  • Prof Dieter Franz Kogler, University College Dublin


For further media information contact: Science Foundation Ireland Donna McCabe 01 607 3042 / 087 675 6845

Notes for Editors - profiles of awardees:

Awardee: Prof Helena Lenihan, University of Limerick (UL)

Research title: Evaluating the impact of science policy on the economy and society: A national evaluation and international benchmarking of science policy in Ireland

Award value: €577,423

Summary: Agenda 2020 identifies that science policy should lead to economic and societal impact. There is an acute lack of evidence on the process by which this occurs in Ireland and internationally. Science policy promotes scientific knowledge. Businesses leverage this knowledge into actual innovations, such as new products and services, more efficient production processes and organisational structures. Innovations such as these impact the economy in terms of sales and employment growth. Moreover, innovation impacts society in terms of social networks and civic engagement. In collaboration with international and national experts and policymakers, this project applies statistical methods to data from Ireland and internationally to evaluate the complete inter-linked processes by which science policy impacts on the economy and society. This research project will provide a more robust, trustworthy and accessible evidence base upon which to make decisions, allocate resources and build effective science policy, ensuring value for money is achieved.


Awardee: Prof John McHale, National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG)

Research title: The Impact of International Star Scientists on Irish Science

Award value: €856,264

Summary: How does the arrival of a star researcher affect institutional performance in terms of the productivity of incumbent scientists and the quality of subsequent recruits? Just as an iconic building can transform the fortunes of a city, the recruitment of a star scientist can have far-reaching impact on an organisation and on regional innovation clusters. Examples of such policies in the Irish context are SFI’s Research Professorship and the Research Centres Programmes. At a time of heightened interest in scientist mobility due to Brexit, this project aims to evaluate the effect of star recruitment policies on the performance of Irish science and the broader national innovation system.


Awardee: Prof Kalpana Shankar, University College Dublin (UCD)

Research title: A Mixed-Methods Examination of Reviewer Recruitment, Assessment Criteria, and Workflow in the Peer Review Process

Award value: 483,349

Summary: Peer review is widely regarded as the trusted mechanism available to select grant proposals with the highest potential for contributing to scientific and technological progress and innovation. This project will examine the peer review process in the SFI Investigators Programme and the Industry Fellowship Programme. In particular, we will study reviewer recruitment, workflow, and decision making/assessment criteria. The team will use interviews, observations, documentary analysis, statistics, and agent-based modeling. Interviews will be conducted with stakeholders including, but not limited to, applicants, reviewers, industry collaborators, and funding agencies. Specific objectives include the following: - To examine the experiences of key stakeholders (e.g., recipients, non-recipients, industry partners) in peer review at Science Foundation Ireland - To understand decision making and organisational processes/systems and their impacts on peer review at SFI - To integrate findings into specific policy recommendations for the peer review process at SFI, including evaluation criteria, workflow processes, and equity and transparency.


Awardee: Dr Alma McCarthy, National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG)

Research title: Achieving Scientific Excellence and Impact in Ireland: The Role of Talent and Human Capital Management in National Science Foundations

Award value: €255,956

Summary: This project will research, develop and evaluate a talent management model for Science Foundation Ireland drawing on best practice from four international science foundations globally. These organisations tend to differ from typical public sector organisations as they are characterised by high turnover, contract employment, and highly skilled staff. Therefore, these organisations merit particular research attention to better understand specific organisational and contextual factors impacting effective talent management. Many of the world’s leading science funding agencies significantly impact their nation’s economic and social development. Their ability to do so as efficiently and effectively as possible is largely determined by the knowledge, skills and abilities of their most important asset – their human capital. This project will employ a cross-national research design across five small advanced and larger economies to identify best international practice. This project will assist Science Foundation Ireland in meeting its Agenda 2020 objectives through efficient and effective talent management.


Awardee: Prof Dieter Franz Kogler, University College Dublin (UCD)

Research title: Science Technology Space (SciTechSpace)

Award value: €643,869

Summary: The creation and accumulation of scientific and technical knowledge are processes at the heart of technological change and economic growth. A significant literature has contributed to aggregate measures of knowledge production, but the underlying processes that explain how advanced knowledge is generated in the first place, and subsequently translated into novel products and processes of economic value, remains unexplored. The “Science-Technology Space” project will undertake an evolutionary analysis that will establish the link between scientific knowledge production and technological progress. Of particular interest are knowledge recombination activities at the intersection of science and technology domains. The overall objective of the project is to develop 1) an analysis tool capable of identifying gaps and opportunities for technology evolution and scientific advancement at the micro- and meso-scale, relevant for public and private entities, and 2) a science and technology policy evaluation appraisal tool capable of assessing impact and forecasting.