Organization and research fields
Research: an integrated system
The priorities and areas of intervention of the various research actors in Italy are determined, as provided by the reform of the National Research System (Legislative Decree no. 204/1998), at government level. Every three years, the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR) draws up a National Research Programme (PNR) which, together with its annual revisions, is approved by the Interminsterial Committee for Economic Planning (CIPE) in the light of the objectives set in the more general Economic and Financial Planning Document. In this way, research initiatives are appraised organically, guaranteeing a programmatic orientation in the outlining of objectives, approach to activities and distribution of funds. In regard to the European and international dimension of research and taking into account regional initiatives, contributions and research conditions, the PNR defines general objectives and modes of implementation of research to whose implementation the public authorities (with the available resources according to their budget estimates or balance sheets, as permitted by their remit and in respect for their autonomy and institutional activities), universities and research institutes contribute.
Provenance of resources
In a shared governance mechanism, the MIUR’s coordination (through the PNR) of intervention on the European, national and regional levels is an essential element for the development of the sector, and works to promote the conditions whereby knowledge can be transformed into economic value. Research funding constitutes an expense item of fundamental importance on the balance sheets of Italy’s government and companies. Private investment comes from business, which partially fund its internal research activity, but also from leading national associations. Public funds have two different sources:
- national: distributed by ministries in support of universities, research institutes, businesses and other private bodies involved in research;
- regional: funding is entered on regional balance sheets and is directed at development and innovation in local production systems.
National and regional funding is supplemented by European funding, which may be direct or indirect: in the former case, the European Commission awards funding to individual research projects on the basis of the objectives set in the Framework Programme, and in the latter it releases structural funds for co-financing the projects and programmes sponsored by individual member states.
Another strategic objective for improving the performance of research is consolidation of international effort via bilateral and multilateral accords involving countries all over the world (not just the European Union). Here too there exist:
- ajoint programme whose objective is to redress imbalances between the European or global scope of current issues and the national or regional nature of the instruments available to solve these problems;
- resources released with the intention of promoting first-class research at the pan-European and global levels and creating/consolidating high-performance research infrastructure.
Italy’s cooperation with extra-European countries is primarily focused on North America (USA and Canada), Japan, emerging economies (like Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and China), the countries of the southern shores of the Mediterranean, and sub-Saharan Africa.
Topics and fields
What are the research topics?
Research is an activity which seeks to acquire knowledge in all domains of science and technology. But with the expansion of knowledge and humanity’s natural tendency to socialize also on an occupational basis, over time it has become necessary to establish distinctions between different areas of research and to implement consistent parameters for classifying an ever-changing reality without, however, erecting barriers to this change.
It is impossible to devise a perfect classification of a living and changing activity like research. Every form of categorization has its merits and defects, its overlaps and sooner or later it becomes insufficient. Therefore, although classifications are essential, attention is increasingly being paid to the interdisciplinary aspects of knowledge, for as human knowledge evolves, new issues and methods are continually emerging in newer, ever richer forms.
To describe the disciplines into which study is divided and the different thematic areas addressed by research we can therefore draw on different classifications, which emphasize different aspects and levels of profundity, in relation to their objective. On the international level, for example, the European Research Council (ERC), a research body created to support frontier research, recently proposed a new classification, for the evaluation and funding of research projects, articulated into 25 panels divided across 3 principal domains comprising over 250 research topics.