IST Programme RESPECT: an IST Programme Project
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Functional map of professional competences for EU socio-economic research


2. The occupational profile of socio-economic research

To develop the occupational profile of socio-economic research, we used a combination of functional analysis and the mixed method, common in the Flemish part of Belgium. From the method of functional analysis, we extracted the way of describing the tasks, skills and knowledges (key purpose, key areas, flowchart of tasks etc.). From the mixed method we borrowed the method of data collection (in-depth interviews and workshops). Below, we explain that we have chosen a specific kind of observational unit for the occupational profile. We go on to give an overview of the structure used in the compiled occupational profile. Finally, we summarises some general remarks that have been made at the validation workshops.

2.1 Observational unit

The rapid social and economic changes that accompany the introduction of IST technologies have exceeded the limits of the traditional boundaries between socio-economic disciplines. Increasingly, there is a need both for interdisciplinarity (involving the development of new concepts, models and methodologies that transcend the barriers between disciplines), and for multidisciplinarity (involving the creation of teams whose members have different areas of expertise and professional backgrounds, but who work alongside each other in complementary ways).

James Wickham (2002) noted that project calls of the European Union usually request that projects are interdisciplinary. None of the cluster projects belong clearly within a particular discipline and indeed most participants’ own disciplinary adherence, or even training, is probably unclear.

This evolution made us decide to focus on the research project as the observational unit, and not for instance on the ‘occupation’ of a socio-economic researcher. Defining the research project as the observational unit made it possible to transcend the disciplinary approach of mapping European socio-economic research. A disciplinary point of view would made it impossible to construct one overall occupational profile. With this approach, we could cover all of these disciplines:

  • Anthropology

  • Business studies, industrial relations and management studies

  • Communication sciences

  • Criminology

  • Cultural studies

  • Demography

  • Economics

  • Educational sciences

  • Ethics in social sciences

  • Geography

  • Juridical sciences

  • Political sciences

  • Psychological sciences

  • Sociology

Moreover, EU funding has contributed to the processes whereby in countries like the UK, Sweden and Ireland university research increasingly involves distinct institutions within universities. Perhaps more importantly, EU funding has also stimulated the growth of private research organisations and research co-operatives. This is even more the case outside universities, where research centres such as non-academic organisations are extremely unlikely to be defined by any particular discipline (Fretwell et al., 2001). This evolution is a second reason why we focused on the research project as the observational unit. It becomes quite difficult to allocate the required jobs within European socio-economic research projects to specific occupations, since the organisation of labour varies enormously between research organisations involved in the projects. For example:

  • In some research institutions, researchers are responsible for the presentation of their texts, while researchers in other institutes get administrative support.

  • The division of labour between the researcher and the project manager (or the professor and his assistant) within an institute is not recorded, and may vary between institutions; even within an institution there may be different agreements.

Together with the decision to focus on the research project instead of an occupation, we inevitably came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to map socio-economic research in its entirety. For this reason, we decided to focus on socio-economic research within a European project. However, the codes of practice developed within the RESPECT-project are oriented more towards all kinds of socio-economic research.

2.2 Results of the combined method to develop the occupational profile

We based the development of the profile on individual interviews with project co-ordinators, project managers, researchers and people in charge of administrative support.

Overview of socio-economic researchers interviewed, involved in European projects

research centre
InstituteSmall firm

Project co-ordinator 

We let the interviewees define the key purpose and the main functions of socio-economic research, and let them break these down to subfunctions until outcomes for each function were identified following a strictly logical sequence, as described in the method of functional analysis. The result of this analysis is a functional map, which contains three sections:

  • a flowchart of tasks or functional units

  • accompanying competences (knowledge and skills)

  • range indicators.

We will discuss each of these three sections.

Flowchart of tasks or functional units

The map starts on the left hand side with a ‘key purpose’ statement, which describes the unique nature and characteristics of European related socio-economic research, and which differentiates it from all other disciplines of research. (Give scientifically based information and advice to policymakers in Europe and contribute to the scientific community.)

The key purpose is separated in the first stage analysis into a number of main tasks that enable the key purpose to be met. These statements are called key areas and are coded alphabetically.

The fundamental question we asked to find these main tasks was: ‘in order to achieve the key purpose of socio-economic research, what are people expected to be able to?’

We came to four key areas:

  • Prepare a European scientific research project

  • Conduct scientific research within a European scientific research project

  • Execute supporting tasks necessary to guarantee the progress of a European scientific research project

  • Disseminate the scientific research results.

Each key area is refined to reach a level of detail, called ‘the functional units’. At this level, we describe an outcome that an individual might be expected to achieve.

In the functional map, we have further subdivided the different tasks according to type and position within the project. The pattern of the boxes refers to the functional type of tasks. We made a distinction between managerial, scientific, administrative and networking tasks (see Table). The shape of the box tells something about the executor of the task. We made a difference between a research partner, a lead partner and a project co-ordinator. A research partner is involved in the execution of the research assignments within the project, but does not bear the final responsibility. Conversely, a lead partner does bear the final responsibility for a work package within the project, but is not responsible for the entire project. The project co-ordinator has the general responsibility for the project.

Table: Description of the different types of tasks

Type of taskDescription
Management tasksTasks related to the management of the entire project (co-ordination)

Tasks related to the management of the jobs within the national research organisation
Scientific tasksTasks related to the execution of the scientific research job (conceptual thinking, execution of the conceptual framework, reporting, dissemination of the results)
Administrative tasksTasks related to the administrative aspects of a research project (finances, administrative regulation of the European Union, etc.) and the logistic support and practical organisation of scientific events
Tasks concerning networkingTasks related to national and international network building and maintaining of contacts, whether with regard to the project or not

Accompanying competencies (skills and knowledge)

Besides the presentation of the tasks related to socio-economic research, the occupational profile contains a list of skills and knowledge required to fulfil these tasks properly. Since the functional units (tasks described in the final level of the flowchart) are highly detailed, the skills and knowledge for these tasks will overlap. For this reason, we decided to deduce the required qualifications from the tasks formulated in the previous level.

Range indicators

Finally, we inserted range indicators to clarify some of the terms used in the flowchart. These terms or concepts are defined as range indicators. These terms have to do with the theory and method used in the European socio-economic research. A range of theoretical disciplines and methods are used in these research projects. Besides the efforts it would take, the occupational map would be no longer a simple and short document, if it had to map each of the relevant socio-economic theories and methods. Instead, theory and method are concepts, frequently used in the map and which refer to a range of disciplines and methods. The range they cover is recorded in a separate list. As such they can be circumscribed as range indicators. The advantage of such a range indicator is that it could be updated easily to identify changes in theory or empirical methods, without changing the main structure and content of the occupational profile.

2.3 General remarks on the profile from the validation workshops

After developing the draft version of the functional map, we inserted a ‘validation-phase’. We organised a workshop to discuss the profile with experts in four different countries: Belgium, Austria, United Kingdom and Germany. These workshops yielded a lot of interesting thoughts, which we could subdivide into two types: (1) general remarks concerning the entire profile and (2) specific remarks concerning particular parts of the profile. We incorporated the second type of thoughts in the final version of the profile. Below, we present the most important global considerations concerning the profile, which one should take into account when reading the profile:

  • The profile has been developed based on a particular management structure of a European research project (one co-ordinator who has full responsibility for the ongoing project, the different research tasks subdivided in a number of workpackages, lead partners who are in charge of a workpackage etc.). This management structure was promoted by the majority of the experts, contacted in individual interviews and the workshops. But other models do exist and may be equally successful.

  • The model of consortium that was the basis for this profile promotes the elaboration of existing networks (as does FP6). Still, this model has a rather ‘closed’ structure. Once the project is started, the project partners are defined and there is a limited tendency to contact other European experts throughout the project research. Besides, once a research-network has been developed (eg as a result of a earlier collaboration in a European research project) there is a tendency to endure this network without inviting new research institutes.

  • The subdivision of tasks according to the executor in the first phase (preparation of the proposal and composition of the consortium) is a bit arbitrary, since the allocation of roles is recorded at the end of this phase.

  • There is no hierarchical subdivision of tasks or classification of the tasks by importance, although some tasks are more important than others (concerning time-investment, quality of research, importance for the success of the project etc.).

go to the functional map flowchart go to the functional map flowchart of tasks