Timely information on scientific and engineering developments occurring inlaboratories around the world provides a critical input to maintaining theeconomic and technological strength of the United States. Moreover, sharingthis information quickly with other countries can greatly enhance theproductivity of scientists and engineers. These are some of the reasons why theNational Science Foundation (NSF) has been involved in funding science andtechnology assessments comparing the United States and foreign countries sincethe early 1980s. A substantial number of these studies have been conducted bythe World Technology (WTEC) Division managed by Loyola College through acooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.
The purpose of the WTEC activity is to assess research and developmentefforts in other countries in specific areas of technology, to compare theseefforts and their results to U.S. research in the same areas, and to identifyopportunities for international collaboration in precompetitive research.
Many U.S. organizations support substantial data gathering and analysisefforts focusing on nations such as Japan. But often the results of thesestudies are not widely available. At the same time, government and privatelysponsored studies that are in the public domain tend to be "input" studies.They enumerate inputs to the research and development process, such as monetaryexpenditures, personnel data, and facilities, but do not provide an assessmentof the quality or quantity of the outputs obtained. Studies of the outputs ofthe research and development process are more difficult to perform because theyrequire a subjective analysis performed by individuals who are experts in therelevant scientific and technical fields. The NSF staff includes professionalswith expertise in a wide range of disciplines. These individuals provide theexpertise needed to assemble panels of experts who can perform competent,unbiased reviews of research and development activities. Specific technologiessuch as telecommunications, biotechnology, and nanotechnology are selected forstudy by government agencies that have an interest in obtaining the results ofan assessment and are able to contribute to its funding. A typical WTECassessment is sponsored by several agencies.
In the first few years of this activity, most of the studies focused onJapan, reflecting interest in that nation's growing economic prowess. Then, theprogram was called JTEC (Japanese Technology Evaluation Center). Beginning in1990, we began to broaden the geographic focus of the studies. As interest inthe European Community (now the European Union) grew, we added Europe as anarea of study. With the breakup of the former Soviet Union, we began organizingvisits to previously restricted research sites opening up there. Most recently,studies have begun to focus also on emerging science and technologycapabilities in Asian countries such as the People's Republic of China.
In the past several years, we also have begun to substantially expand ourefforts to disseminate information. Attendance at WTEC workshops (in whichpanels present preliminary findings) has increased, especially industryparticipation. Representatives of U.S. industry now routinely number 50% ormore of the total attendance, with a broad cross-section of government andacademic representatives making up the remainder. Publications by WTEC panelmembers based on our studies have increased, as have the number ofpresentations by panelists at professional society meetings.
The WTEC program will continue to evolve in response to changing conditions.New global information networks and electronic information management systemsprovide opportunities to improve both the content and timeliness of WTECreports. We are now disseminating the results of WTEC studies via the Internet.Twenty-four of the most recent WTEC final reports are now available on theWorld Wide Web (http://itri.loyola.edu) or via anonymous FTP(ftp.wtec.loyola.edu/pub/). Viewgraphs from several recent workshops are alsoon the Web server.
As we seek to refine the WTEC activity, improving the methodology andenhancing the impact, program organizers and participants will continue tooperate from the same basic premise that has been behind the program from itsinception, i.e., improved awareness of international developments cansignificantly enhance the scope and effectiveness of internationalcollaboration and thus benefit the United States and all its internationalpartners in collaborative research and development efforts.
Paul J. Herer
Directorate for Engineering
National Science Foundation