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Sci-tech system reform for original innovation

Innovative chip products based on the China-made Beidou Navigation Satellite System Photo: CFP


In the new era, sci-tech evaluation system reforms in China have to align with world sci-tech frontiers, and highlight the cultivation and enhancement of original innovation, so as to achieve “zero to one” breakthroughs in more areas. Approaching the underlying institutional issues by establishing a sci-tech evaluation system that guides the improvement of original innovation capabilities is effective for addressing deep-layered systematic problems.
 
Original innovation is a process through which a new technology is independently developed and its commercialization is realized. An emphasis on original innovation in sci-tech evaluation is what the times require. Innovation is the primary driver for socio-economic developments, and one of the determinant factors of a country’s rise and fall. Sci-tech innovation plays a major leading role in human civilization’s evolution. Equipped with original innovation capabilities, a civilization can safeguard its living quality and autonomy to master its own fate.
 
Shifted international arena 
Sci-tech evaluation system reforms focus on original innovative capabilities, manifested in two dimensions. First, heated international competition in the sci-tech arena requires innovation. Currently, with a new round of sci-tech and industrial revolutions, sci-tech research paradigms are undergoing profound changes. The depth, speed, and accuracy of innovation have significantly improved. All major economies view sci-tech as the core of this round of strategic gaming, in both physical and virtual space, with the support of governments and leadership from tech giants. The independent development of key core technologies hinges on original innovation capabilities. Therefore, reform of sci-tech systems is deepening, with particular emphasis on the establishment of sci-tech evaluation systems which guide original innovation to adapt to new situations in international sci-tech competition.     
 
The second dimension of system reform adapts to needs in innovation-driven development. The implementation of innovation-driven development strategies fundamentally enhances independent sci-tech innovation capabilities by improving original innovation capacity. Sci-tech evaluation system reform is urgent, to remove obstacles in systems and mechanisms, and accelerate sci-tech researchers’ vitality to the fullest extent. 
 
The 19th CPC National Congress set the strategic goal for China to become a global leader in innovation by 2035. With joint efforts from national sci-tech circles, and all sectors of society, China’s sci-tech strength is moving from quantitative accumulations to qualitative leaps, from pointed breakthroughs to systematic capability improvements. Establishing a sci-tech evaluation system to guide the improvement of original innovation is a breakthrough in promoting sci-tech system reform, and an important practice to implement the national strategy of innovation-driven development and form a basic system which supports comprehensive innovation.
 
Balanced development 
Two pairs of relationships should be appropriately addressed in the induction of original creativity. To consolidate the foundation and build a strong country through sci-tech innovation, we should realize the independent control of key core technologies, firmly grasp the initiative of innovation and development in our own hands, and strive to become a major scientific center and global innovation highland. Sci-tech’s evaluation mechanisms and direction also play an important role. We should aim for the vanguard of global sci-tech and harness general trends. Only by focusing on basic reforms such as improving the evaluation system can we effectively improve sci-tech development’s original innovation ability.
 
To start, we should properly handle the relationship between “destructive” and “constructive” approaches to the sci-tech evaluation system. For more than 20 years, the application of a simple sci-tech evaluation approach of “paper-, title-, diploma-, award-centric” (four-centric) has pushed SCI, EI, SSCI, CSSCI and other indexed journal papers to the altar. With the issuance of related policy documents such as “opinions on standardizing the use of relevant indicators of SCI papers in higher educational institutions and establishing a correct evaluation orientation” and “measures on breaking the mal-orientation of ‘paper-centric’ in science and technology evaluation (Trial),” the abandonment of four-centric evaluations has been carried from theory into practice. In the process of sci-tech evaluation reform, “destructive” reform does not mean completely abandoning the existing sci-tech evaluation systems and relevant evaluation methods. In fact, it means objectively analyzing the evaluation objects, developing the advantages and avoiding the disadvantages, reasonably combining the evaluation methods, enhancing their due efficiency, and establishing a sci-tech evaluation system to guide the improvement of original innovation abilities in the process of iteratively deconstructing and constructing at the same time.
 
Next, the relationship between keeping Chinese features and aligning with international frontiers needs balance. In the past more than four decades since reform and opening up, the sci-tech industry in China has yielded world-renowned achievements. Particularly, since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the sci-tech industry has strongly supported innovation-driven socio-economic development, accelerating China’s march towards an innovation country. In this process, sci-tech systems and mechanisms have safeguarded steady sci-tech development. Notably, benefitting from “a new system concentrating nationwide effort and resources on key national undertakings,” sci-tech evaluation systems with Chinese characteristics were established  and have played a significant role in facilitating sci-tech development in China, as it transformed from following suit to the new stage where “following, paralleling, and leading” co-exist. Intensified international sci-tech competition drives China to accelerate its high-quality opening up, with high-quality enhanced sci-tech activities opening up incrementally as well. The establishment of sci-tech evaluation systems that are open to global cooperation will be high on the agenda. Therefore, we should find the point where local evaluation mechanisms correspond to international evaluation mechanisms, plan sci-tech innovation using a global vision, establish the sci-tech innovation evaluation system accordingly, induce gradual improvements from original innovation into global cooperation, and contribute Chinese wisdom to global sci-tech innovation.
 
Incentivize originality
Three optimization aspects must be realized to activate sci-tech evaluation systems’ original innovation ability. At present, new globalization trends are evolving, and a new round of sci-tech and industrial revolutions is accelerating, as basic research and original innovations are driving breakthroughs. In the end, China’s sci-tech innovation is reliant on talent. It is urgent to improve systems and mechanisms for sci-tech innovation and accelerate the formation of evaluation systems which improve original innovation abilities. Original innovation focuses on three aspects: originality, disruptivity, and its leading role. In order to establish a sci-tech evaluation system that inspires original innovation capabilities, in addition to taking “quality, performance, and contribution” as the core evaluation orientation, it is necessary to optimize the evaluation system from the following three aspects:
 
First, evaluation systems, particularly interdisciplinary evaluation systems, are in need of improvement. Original innovation systems accentuate “originality,” while relatively more original achievements actually come from interdisciplinary research. To build an environment that safeguards the development of original innovation abilities, the country needs to improve its pool of experts in interdisciplinary research review, design evaluation models for distributive interdisciplinary projects, and construct flexible interdisciplinary evaluation systems.
 
Second, the evaluation process should be streamlined, with innovation’s significance raised in the evaluation rubric. Original innovation features disruption, highlighting the realization of major breakthroughs in theories, technologies, and methodologies, which further requires academic freedom and encourages exploration, while reducing administrative interventions in approved major innovative projects after experts’ consultations and reviews. The country, and scientific research departments of all levels, can endow project managers (chief scientists) with decision rights while monitoring them via middle- or long-term performance evaluation mechanisms.  
 
Finally, evaluation methods must be optimized, and appraisal mechanisms for non-consensus projects should be established. Non-consensus projects have become incubators for major original achievements and have catalyzed great changes in economic structures and industrial paradigms, in that those projects explore new theoretical arenas, provide an inclusive environment for innovation, and easily produce original outcomes. 
 
Through formulating inclusive evaluation systems, constructing scientific prevention models and establishing open appeal procedures, the weight of academic ethics and academic achievements will increase evaluation standards in non-consensus projects. Academic leaders of non-consensus projects shall take the lead in decision-making in terms of technological development paths. They should be granted the right to freely contract and control funds, and the right to rationally allocate related resources. 
 
Fu Hong and Zou Jingyan  are from the Research Center of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era in Beijing.

 

 

Edited by ZHAO YUAN


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