RCL Case Study

Supporting a national research council with an independent evaluation of its strategy and work by a high-level international Evaluation Committee

 

Partner’s business

The Research Council of Lithuania (RCL) was first established in 1991 as the Lithuanian Science Council, and underwent several reforms before being reorganised into the Research Council of Lithuania in 2007.  

Since then, the Council has served as an advisory body on research policy for the Parliament and the Government, and also as a research funding body, administering competitive, merit-based research funding programmes and organising the assessment of research activities.

Partner’s Challenge

In 2012 the RCL approached the European Science Foundation (ESF) to implement an independent evaluation study of the RCL. This was believed to be necessary in the light of significant changes in the mission and funding portfolio of the RCL, over recent years, and there had been no previous international evaluation of the RCL during that period.

Solution

The overall goal of the evaluation was to identify current strengths and to provide recommendations for further improvement in the governance and management structures of the RCL, as well as the strategy, scientific quality and impact of its funding schemes. 

In particular, the scope of the evaluation focused on governance and management, analysis of strategy for the funding schemes, the scientific quality and impact of its programmes and internationalisation. 

The methodology included a scoping visit and data gathering and analysis by the ESF. 

An international Evaluation Committee was established, including R&D executives and researchers. 

The Evaluation Committee conducted a site visit and interviews with RCL personnel and stakeholders, and a separate self-evaluation report was also conducted by the RCL. 

Main results and conclusions

The Evaluation Committee was impressed by the manner in which the RCL has managed the complex process of implementing significant change within a research funding system. This included the introduction of a myriad of funding schemes in a short span of five years while retaining the confidence of stakeholders in the process.

The RCL has implemented a system of merit-based, competitive allocation of research funding.  Interviews with stakeholders from the political system, research performing organisations and other agencies suggested that the RCL is held in high esteem by these stakeholders, and that it has developed a reputation for fairness and commitment to quality. 

A series of detailed findings and recommendations were provided to the RCL in the evaluation report to strengthen the RCL and its ability to deliver value to the national research system.

Most of the recommendations flow from the core need for an enhanced focus on the strategic role of the RCL, both internally and externally. This also leads to considerations of the role of the RCL in innovation and in internationalisation (including the acquisition of EU funding). These are two of the most pressing concerns of the national research and higher education system in Lithuania. 

The report identifies that, while there is a strong awareness of international standards in research and research funding allocation, the RCL should seek ways to further reduce its reliance on a national pool of reviewers. 

While internationalisation is seen as a horizontal priority by the RCL, and is supported by a number of its funding schemes, the report calls for the development of a longer-term strategy for internationalisation. Among some of the possible measures to consider in this context are mechanisms that attract international research talent into the country, and measures to propel Lithuanian researchers towards greater success in securing European funding and collaboration.

The report also found that the RCL should find routes whereby it can carry out its policy advisory role in a more active manner. This includes establishing more formal and regular communications, and interaction with other agencies in the Lithuanian R&D landscape.

In terms of RCL’s funding portfolio, the report recommended taking a more strategic approach to research funding, including consideration of a reduction in the number of programmes and calls. This would lead to an increased emphasis on larger grants that are likely to raise quality, impact and international competitiveness. 

The conclusions from the independent Evaluation Committee review were very positive. The Research Council of Lithuania was identified as a highly valuable asset within the Lithuanian system of research and higher education.

Testimonial

"The Research Council of Lithuania (RCL) was established in 1991 and underwent substantial re-organisation during the past 5-6 years. Therefore, external evaluation of the RCL, carried out by the European Science Foundation‘s Evaluation Committee, was a well-timed and essential step. It brought benefits, not only to the RCL itself, by providing the opportunity to measure its activities according to international standards, but also initiated broad discussions on research and innovation policy in the State among chief actors in this field."

Dainius H. Pauža, Chair, Research Council of Lithuania (RCL)

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