can be classified into the following subtopics: human capital (including education and workforce statistics); R&D (including business, academic, and nonprofit expenditures on R&D and government intramural and extramural appropriations or outlays on R&D); outputs (including patents, articles and citations, and innovation); technology balance of payments and trade in R&D-intensive industries; venture capital in science and technology sectors; and public attitudes on science and technology. One often used indicator of a country’s preeminence in STI activities is the ratio of R&D to GDP. A full discussion of the sources and types of STI indicators is included in Chapter 3 and Appendix F of this report.

BOX 1-2
Statement of Task

An ad hoc panel, convened under the Committee on National Statistics, in collaboration with the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy, proposes to conduct a study of the status of the science, technology, and innovation indicators (STI) that are currently developed and published by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). Specifically, the panel will

  1. Assess and provide recommendations regarding the need for revised, refocused, and newly developed indicators designed to better reflect fundamental and rapid changes that are reshaping global science, technology and innovation systems.
  2. Address indicators development by NCSES in its role as a U.S. federal statistical agency charged with providing balanced, policy relevant but policy-neutral information to the President, federal executive agencies, the National Science Board, the Congress, and the public.
  3. Assess the utility of STI indicators currently used or under development in the United States and by other governments and international organizations.
  4. Develop a priority ordering for refining, making more internationally comparable, or developing a set of new STI indicators on which NCSES should focus, along with a discussion of the rationale for the assigned priorities.
  5. Determine the international scope of STI indicators and the need for developing new indicators that measure developments in innovative activities in the United States and abroad.
  6. Offer foresight on the types of data, metrics and indicators that will be particularly influential in evidentiary policy decision-making for years to come. The forward-looking aspect of this study is paramount.
  7. Produce an interim report at the end of the first year of the study indicating its approach to reviewing the needs and priorities for STI indicators and a final report at the end of the study with conclusions and recommendations.

The second principle guiding this study was the priority of international comparability for key STI indicators. Indeed, policy relevance and international comparability were, to a large extent, complementary elements of the panel’s focus. Discussions with U.S. policy makers and international experts on STI indicators throughout this study made clear the similarities in the types of policy questions asked worldwide and the interest in having internationally comparable data at the national and subnational scales. This principle also comports with NCSES’s mandate to produce statistics on U.S. competitiveness in science, engineering, technology, and R&D.

The third key principle was efficiency, which entailed identifying those STI indicators that are essential and those that can be eliminated. NCSES requested that the panel deliver a prioritized list of STI indicators. The panel interpreted this request as necessitating efficiency gains that would require limiting the number of measures that can be considered key national STI indicators and establishing time- and resource-saving processes for creating those measures. The panel also used this opportunity to recommend approaches that NCSES could use to develop new or reinterpret existing indicators. Moreover, because STI indicators draw on data from the R&D and human resources statistics programs at NCSES, the panel identified synergies among all three programs as prospects for efficiency gains.


The panel’s approach to this study comprised five components (see Figure 1-1).

First, the panel consulted users, experts, and written reports and peer-reviewed articles to establish current and anticipated user needs for STI indicators. Users interviewed included policy makers, government and academic administrators, researchers, and corporate decision makers in high-tech manufacturing and service industries. The panel also sought input from developers of STI indicators and from individuals who are called on by policy makers and other decision makers to conduct assessments of high-tech sectors in the United States and abroad. To this end, the panel held two workshops, one at the National Academies in Washington, DC, July 2011, and the other in Paris following the meeting of the OECD-National Experts on Science and Technology Indicators (NESTI) Working Group in June 2012. These discussions collectively yielded a wealth of information on policy questions and specific measures considered of high priority by users of STI data and indicators.11


11See Appendix B for the full list of users and providers of STI indicators who informed the panel about key measures that NCSES should develop or continue to produce. That appendix also includes an updated list of policy issues published in the panel’s interim report.

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