Improving the public value of science: A typology to inform discussion, design and implementation of research

Elizabeth C. McNie, Adam Parris, Daniel Sarewitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Decision makers call upon and fund science to solve urgent problems, catalyze innovation, and inform policy decisions. But the standard categories for describing, planning and assessing research, especially the persistence of "basic" and "applied," conceal much of the complexity and diversity of the contexts for conducting and using research, especially the role of knowledge users in the research process. Here we provide an entirely new typology aimed at allowing a more complete view of research activities and expectations, in order to improve deliberation and decision-making about research and its desired contribution to public values. Our multi-dimensional research typology divides research into three general activities: knowledge production, learning and engagement, and organizational and institutional processes, all of which are further subdivided into fifteen attributes. These idealized attributes are expressed in terms of a spectrum of value criteria ranging from strongly science-centric to strongly user-oriented. This enables consideration of the isolated knowledge value of science, the consideration and context of use, and the engagement of intended users. Used as a heuristic device, the typology can help inform and improve science-policy planning and decisions, aid in assessing the potential of existing projects, programs and institutions to achieve particular goals, and yield insights about the strengths and weaknesses of completed projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)884-895
Number of pages12
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Applied research
  • Basic research
  • Public value of science
  • Science policy
  • Usable science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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