Governments fund science and research because it produces the technological innovations and advancements in knowledge that improve the economic productivity and living standards. However, to date we don’t understand well the outcomes of the approximately $6 billion annually in publicly funded research investment and how this research generates innovations and discoveries that benefit society. Government could benefit by measuring and mapping public research investment against indicators of economic and societal value creation to better understand the dividend to society and determine how to improve how we invest in science.
Measuring the societal and economic return of publicly funded research investment is hard. Part of the problem is the lag between research and bringing a product to market, particularly in medicine where the safety barrier is necessarily high. Another challenge is that some major discoveries are made serendipitously in a scientific field that was previously thought to be unrelated. A further problem is that time, funds, and IP to undertake commercialisation is even harder to attain than funding for the research, consequently many discoveries are commercialised much later and usually not by the discoverer.
Consequently there are not have good answers for key questions such as how much have we benefited from this investment, and what much can we expect from future investment in science and research. This makes it difficult to argue for sustaining or improving the funding to attain better outcomes in future.
These questions are now not insurmountable with available data. There is a significant amount of data measuring indicators of public research funding and analysis of these metrics against public research investment is likely to yield insights into the outcomes from public research funding and potentially ways to improve funding effectiveness.