Francesco Giffoni, Silvia Vignetti

Assessing the Socioeconomic Impact of Research Infrastructures: A Systematic Review of Existing Approaches and the Role of Cost-Benefit Analysis

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Keywords: Research Infrastructures; Socioeconomic Impact Assessment; Cost-Benefit Analysis; Literature Review; Evaluation Criteria.

Estimating the socioeconomic impact of research infrastructures (RIs) and of science in a broader sense is a complex but essential step in establishing and justifying appropriate levels of investment in this field. The most challenging traits include: the intangible nature of benefits, their long timespan, their high uncertainty and related risk as well as the high occurrence of externalities and spill-over effects. Not only do such features distinguish RI from investments in traditional infrastructures, but they are also highly idiosyncratic. As a result, there is a clear issue of attribution of impacts on economy and society to investments in RIs. This has led to the proliferation of ad-hoc modelling, tailored to the uniqueness of the object under evaluation rather than drawing from more comprehensive conceptual frameworks. This paper offers a systematic review of the most common methodologies that have been employed for the socioeconomic impact assessment of RIs over the past years. While there is not a single methodological approach in its original formulation that can appropriately answer all the questions a socioeconomic IA addresses, we argue that the Cost-benefit Analysis (CBA) is one of the most scientifically robust analytical frameworks for evaluating welfare changes attributable to RIs. We discuss both how the CBA can be used as an evaluation tool in its own right and how it can be combined with other approaches.

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