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In Lepori B., Jongbloed B., Hicks D. (eds.), Handbook of Public Research Funding,
Edward Elgar, forthcoming in 2023.
What is Public about Public Research? The Case of COVID-19 R&D
Arizona State University
Acting on the premise that the meaning of “public” not only affects perspectives on
public funding of research but also fundamentally affects policy emphases, this chapter seeks to
analyze some diverse notions of “public” and their respective implications research policies. The
concepts examined here include (1) public as sector or legal status, (2) public as dimensional
publicness or configurations of political and economic authority, (3) public as public choice and
(4) public as public values.
Since three of these perspectives are familiar, the chapter gives especial attention to the
public values meaning of public. But what is a public values perspective? In an emerging
literature, in both public policy and in science policy, the term public values can be defined as
“those values providing normative consensus about (a) the rights, benefits, and prerogatives to
which citizens should (and should not) be entitled; (b) the obligations of citizens to society, the
state, and one another; and, (c) the principles on which governments and policies should be
based” (Bozeman 2007, 13).
To illustrate the relation of various concepts of public funding, and especially the public
values notion of public funding of research, the chapter examines the case of research funding
and policies for COVID-19, chiefly but not exclusively in the United States. The United States is
an especially interesting instance of COVID-19 funding because it touches on all the concepts of
“public funding” on offer in this chapter. Related, U.S. public funding of research is of especial
interest because of the many gaps between level of investment and derived outcomes. This is
exemplified in the area of public health outcomes.
Alternative Meanings of “Public Funding” of Science
As mentioned above, four distinct meanings of “public” are examined here, with especial
emphasis placed on one of these. The four meanings of public include (1) sector based, also
known as ownership; (2) dimensional publicness; (3) public goods; (4) public values. Each is
considered in turn, along with their very different implications for various dimensions of
research funding and research policy. Since the public values concept of public has especially
stark implications for public research funding, especially the impacts of such funding on
economic growth, inequality, and citizens’ well-being, this concept receives particular attention.
However, it is important to note that each concept of public plays a prominent role in thinking
about science, technology and innovation policy.
Sector Boundaries and Public Research
One may bring any of a variety of analytical lens to understanding public funding of
research (see Ulnicane, Chapter XXX, this Handbook), but the current chapter focuses on
government policy and performance, with government of private sector servings as legal
boundaries worth maintaining and using in analysis. Those focused chiefly on sector recognize,
of course, processes of public-private partnerships and hybridization but view these as “off
types,” departures from the norm, and maintain that sector differences remain a good guide to
activities and outcomes.
As mentioned, the chief concern here is with a public values approach, one that leads to
quite different issues than a legal boundary-focused sector approach. Thus, it is important to
emphasize the compelling evidence of the dangers of equating government or, in the sense most
often used, “public” research funding with public values. From the First World War until at least
the ratification of the Geneva Protocol in 1975 the U.S. government invested in tens of millions
of dollars in research on biological weapons, research that was public in the sense of
government sponsorship and provision but that had little bearing on any generally recognized
public values. During that period, government researchers and government sponsored
researchers developed bacteria designed to destroy wheat crops, nerve gases, bacteria, including
anthrax, delivered through fluorescent particles, and a variety of pathogens including equine
encephalitis, melioidosis, glanders, and Q fever, among others. According to one report, one
public research project focused on inoculating tics and other parasites with germs that could then
be conveyed to a hypothetical enemy once released in their general population (Etukudoh, et al.,
To be sure, a sector focus need not be in contradiction to a public values concept of
public (or to the other concepts presented here), rather it is a matter of emphasis. Those taking a
sector focus on research funding focus primarily and in most respects beneficially on issues
related to what government and industry, respectively, are doing with respect to funding and
performance of research.
Dimensional Publicness and Public Research
My own work regarding “publicness” has taken two different but ultimately intersecting
routes, each relevant to public research. One stream of work has focused on the limitations of
sharp institutional distinctions among sectors, arguing that the rise of hybrid organizations,
massive contracting out, government regulation of business, public private partnerships and,
indeed, all manner of institutional and organizational design complexities, conspire to diminish
the legal and formal meaning of “public” and “private” and suggests the need for different ways
to use the terms productively. The argument is posed as a general one (Bozeman, 1987;
Bozeman and Bretschneider, 1994; Walker and Bozeman, 2011), but has also been
demonstrated to have considerable relevance to science organizations and institutions (Crow and
Bozeman, 1987). The basic idea runs through these diverse works- that publicness and
privateness should be thought of as dimensional rather than fixed and that we learn more about
organizations by understanding the extent to which they are either government controlled, or
market controlled than we do by examining only formal legal status.
Perhaps the best example of the application of dimensional publicness to science and
technology policy is int the study of scientific institutions. In case studies and documentary
analysis of more than 300 U.S. research and development organizations, ones chosen from every
sector (public, private, nonprofit) we find that knowing the sources of funding tell us a great deal
about behavior. Thus, research organizations that are legally private vary considerably
according to the percentage of their funds coming from government contracts and grants. By the
same token, research organizations that are formally public behave differently if they have a
high degree of private contracts or private service compared to those who exist chiefly on
government funding (see Crow and Bozeman, 1998; Bozeman, 2013). Thus, in considering the
impacts of government funding, it may be useful to understand not only the source of funding
but also the recipient of the funding and the possibility of using policy levers to shape changes
in the organizational and institutional designs of research performers.
Public Goods and Public Research
When we discuss “public funding of research,” as mentioned, we are in most instances
using the term as a shorthand for government funding of research, but the routine parlance does
not diminish the importance of public goods conceptualization in “public funding.” Indeed,
public goods concepts permeate much of thinking about public funding and science policy (e.g.,
Sanz-Menedez and Cruz-Castro, 2003; Cruz-Castro, et al., 2020).
The term “public goods” is part and parcel of positive political economy theory in
general and public choice in particular. It also one of the most common terms in applied policy
analysis, popular because it is part of a theoretical formulation than provides guidance for
making judgments about public funding and public investment and for allocation functional
activities between public and private sector. According to one leading textbook, public goods
are “in varying degrees, nonrivalrous in consumption, nonexcludable in use, or both” (Weimer
and Vinings, 2005, p. 72). These authors note that nonrivalrous consumption indicates that if
one person consumes a good then the quantity available to other persons is undiminished.
Likewise, excludable ownership is another way of saying that an individual or group has control
over the use of the good (though, note, with no implication of the justness, beneficence or
legitimacy of such control).
From the standpoint of public funding of research, public goods theory highlights a long-
standing thesis about the efficient allocation of resources, namely that government should fund
research and technology goods deemed public, whereas business should fund research that is
private, in the sense of rivalrous, excludable and appropriable. Since so-called basic research is
viewed has having especial public goods aspects and because results of basic research are
generally disseminated in open sources (or ones with minimal charges), most basic research
should be supported by government and most development and commercially relevant applied
research by industry. Throughout the world, most large government funding research have
tended to follow this pattern, focusing more on what is perceived as basic research, doing so
either self-consciously or not.
The sector-spending criteria suggested by public goods theory is closely related to
market failure theory, they idea that the role of government, should there be a role, should be
confined to “interfering” in the market if and only if there is market failure. Market failure
theory (Bator, 1957) prescribes use of markets, not government, unless one or more of the
following “failures” occur: monopoly, imperfect information to consumers, or the inability for
providers of goods and services to protect against “free riders” (those who benefit from a good
or service but do not for one reason or another pay for it). For the moment let’s not delve deeply
into such limitations as, for example, there is almost never perfect information, just as in public
goods theory there is almost never a pure public good but, rather, decisions to be made about
goods along a spectrum of private (rival, exclusive to degrees) and public (nonrival,
nonexclusive to degrees).
Since this chapter’s concerns are not with theoretical or operational descriptions of the
technical efficiencies of resource investments, there is no reason to go much further in reviewing
a widely familiar set of criteria and arguments derived from variants of classical, neoliberal
political economy theory. Suffice to say that most such public goods and market failure
approaches are more ambiguous than they seem, less rooted in evidence than one might expect,
and sometimes include internal logical flaws (Randall, 1983; Cowen, 1985; Joseph and
Johnston, 1985; Zerbe and McCurdy, 1999; Furton and Martin, 2019).
Public Values and Public Research
One view of publicness is described above, dimensional publicness which seeks to
understand the joint impacts of political and market authority affecting organizations and
policies. A different, but not entirely unrelated, meaning of publicness is the publicness of
values. Unlike the above-described “dimensional publicness” the normative publicness of
public values theory relates more closely to public philosophy and, particularly, to public
interest theory than to institutional and organizational relations per se. However, the two
interact when we ask, in one form or another, this question, “What mix of political and
economic authority best severs the achievement of specific public values?’
A public values focus, whether aimed a science, technology, research and innovation or
whether brought to any other public policy and governance domain, always starts with one core
assumption: that the purpose of legitimate public action should, first and foremost, be to advance
public values, as defined above (Bozeman 2007, 13). One implication of the public values
definition is that public values are not the same thing as “objectives or actions of government
policy nor, for that matter is “legitimate public action, the same as “government action.” With
respect to research performed by the private sector, public value theory takes no normative
positions and, instead, remains agnostic about the role and impacts of privately-sponsored
research. However, it is important to note that private sector research often makes enormous
contributions to public values, whether or not the specific objective to make such contributions
or whether the outcomes are a “positive externality” (to reframe that term”) from work
undertaken primarily for other purposes such as by government mandate or regulation, in search
of profit or stock value, or curiosity.
In the case of government science, public value theory is not agnostic with respect to
objectives and focus. If research is publicly financed, it is assumed not only that the research
should result in public benefit but that (1) the benefits should be, practically speaking, not just
theoretically speaking, as widely distributed as possible, and (2) any negative effects from the
research should not only be minimized but when unavoidable should, likewise, be fairly
There has been some research and theory focused directly on public values focused
science and “public value mapping” (e.g., Bozeman and Sarewitz, 2005, 2011, Joly, et al, 2015;
Molas-Gallart, 2015; Matt, et al, 2017; Bozeman, 2020) but there is a much more expansive
literature (or literatures) focused on closely related topics. Scholars from around the world
(Ulnicane, 2016; McNie, et al., 2016; Mazzucato, 2018; Uyarra, et al. 2019; Birch, 2020) have
begun to question the aims of innovation and have begun to focus on science policy approaches
reinforcing not only economic benefit but also social, including much of the work under the
“responsible innovation” rubric (Stilgoe, et al., 2013; Hartley, et al., 2019). Some documents
espouse public values. For example, the Healthy People 2030 document produced by NIH
(2021), though it does not use the term public values, is decidedly a move in that direction.
In the table below, we consider possible strengths and weakness of the four meanings of
“public” as pertaining to research. Each has a distinctive contribute to understanding public
policy for and research policy.
Table One. Four Meanings of “Public” in Public Research
should be publicly
funded and what
to view “public”
and “private” as
popular usage and
The vast majority
of existing work
“public funding of
include Salter and
of market- and
Focuses not on
public research but
the publicness of
the providers of
research (i.e. not
sector but mix of
Does not otherwise
than to not which
mix of political and
seems to work best
for what broad
familiar; not useful
Laredo and Mustar,
2003, 2012, 2018;
Coccia, et al., 2015.
How is economic
achieved in the
provision of goods
Public research is
efficient because of
the difficulty and
focus on cases of
gives limited and
to social benefits
and costs and their
Meuller and Tilton,
1969; Klette, 2000;
Jones and Williams,
2000; Bleda and Del
Rio, 2013; Perez-
Martin and Scott,
2017; Choi and Lee,
2017; Alam, et al.,
What are the public
values objectives of
and how what legal
sector and focuses
instead on most
Intuitive but not
(except in earlier
concept of “public
2013; Joly, et al.,
2015; De Jong, et
al., 2014; McNie,
et al., 2016;
benefits and costs
as means not ends.
2015; D’Este, et
al., 2018; Reed, et
al., 2121; Ribeiro
and Shapira, 2020;
Ciarli and Rafols,
2019; Matt, et al.,
2017; Shin and
Concepts of Public Research: Health and Medical Research Pre-Pandemic
Before discussing the case of U.S. public research spending on COVID-19 vaccine, let us
first consider the broader framework for spending on health and medical research. Doing so
suggests why the U.S. case is an especially fertile one.
The US spends prodigious amounts of public research funding on health and medical
research, usually with the express intention of improving public health. In 2019, before the
advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. spent more than any other nation on health care,
both in absolute numbers and per capita. Of the more than $11 trillion dollars spent, a significant
amount was devoted to public funded research, with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)
receiving $39.1 billion for health and medical research, substantially more than requested in the
President’s budget, the largest science investment in the federal budget, and the largest such
investment in the world. The NIH research budget is more than six times the US National
Science Foundation budget, which funds all areas of science and social science excepting health
and medical research, and the NIH alone represents more than one-quarter of federal
expenditures for research and development (R&D) and more than half the money spend on basic
and applied research, that is, excluding the sizeable DOD budget for technology development
(Congressional Research Service, 2020).
While NIH research includes considerable “curiosity-driven” research within its overall
research portfolio, most of its research seeks to serve to public benefit objectives, including those
specified in the agency’s planning documents such as Healthy People 2030 (NIH, 2021), which
includes 355 “measurable objectives” indexed by topic. However, not everyone believes that
large scale investment necessarily yields commensurate benefit, either in the U.S. (Sarewitz,
2010) or other industrialized nations (Chatterjee, 2014; Grant and Buxton, 2018). One indirect
indicator is that despite eclipsing other nations’ spending on all categories of health and medical
spending, including research, the US life expectancy was, in 2015, less than 43 other nations, all
with much less spending per capita (World Data, 2019). For example, the U.K. spends only
about $3,749 per person and the U.S. spends $9,237. Nonetheless, U.S. life expectance in 2019
was 80.9 years in the U.K. compared to 79.1 in the U.S.
The research-health outcomes gap in the US is notable. One major impact study (Bown
and Casadevall, 2015) has shown increasing gap between spending for R&D and benefits in
terms of medical gains to public health. The authors speculate that reasons for this gap include
the focus on genetic models in general and especially ones that may not be applicable to human
beings (i.e., mice models that have convenient if perhaps not relevant genetic properties), an
increasing tendency to focus on chronic rather than fatal diseases, and the fact that an increasing
percentage of research grants resources is taken up with administration as opposed to research.
We might add to these concerns the fact that there is often little or no connection between the
theoretically elegant medical research “solutions” provided and the health objectives they are
supposed to advance. Indeed, one study (Youtie, et al., 2006) indicated that a substantial
percentage of NIH-funding publications in at least one major field of study have little or no
impact on practitioners.
The overarching problem in government-sponsored science is that many technological
advances resulting from publicly funded research give little or no heed to the fact that there may
be substantial economic or social barriers to accessing the innovation. A medical device that
cost millions of dollars of capital investment and, thus, requires repayment and amortization,
gives little benefit those who cannot afford to pay, or do not have quality private insurance, or do
not have adequate government-sponsored insurance. In the United States and many other
countries, millions of people cannot benefit from innovation because they do not have the
required resources. If NIH doubles its pace of innovation, the increments to public health may
be minimal if a substantial part of the population, including many of the least healthy, do not
have the wherewithal to take advantage.
On December 1, 2019, “patient zero” in Wuhan, China was discovered to have disease
symptoms not previously observed.
Little is known about how he contracted what may be the
first human case of the malady that came to be known as COVID-19. The man had not been to
the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, later thought, with no iron-clad proof, to be a locus of
the origins of the transgenic disease. Three weeks later, 27 apparently similar coronavirus-based
cases had emerged in Wuhan, with several proving quite serious. By January 4, 2020, the United
Nations had announced an “incident management” and China as well as other nations had begun
to investigate the disease. A few days later the first case outside China was reported in a small
town near Seoul, South Korea. In February, cases were reported throughout Europe, the first
death was reported in the United States and by March, 2020 the United States led the world in
confirmed cases with 81,321 confirmed infections and more than 1,000 deaths. The year 2020
will always be known for its sobering annual world health statistics, with more than 76 million
people sickened by the COVID-19 virus and 1.6 million dead.
By late February 2020 and the World Health Organization said that it expected that no
effective vaccine would likely be available for at lest 18 months. By April 2020, some seventy-
eight companies and research laboratories in 19 nations had begun work on a vaccine (Schmidt,
2020), with some of the leading pharmaceutical firms in the world pulling out all the stops to
develop a viable vaccine at the earliest possible time. In early December 2020, more than six
months ahead of early forecasts, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to
give emergency approval for use of a COVID-19 vaccine. Other nations, many working together
with the World Health Organization and some (e.g., United States) following an independent
path soon followed suit. By early March 2022, more than 557 million doses of COVID-19
vaccine have been provided in the sometimes vaccination-averse United States. Presently, more
than 217 Americans have been fully vaccinated. More than 11 billion doses of vaccine have been
provided throughout the world and 4.47 billion have been fully vaccinated. Given that the two
most prominent vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, show an initial efficacy rate of about 90%,
significant headway has been made in the battle against COVID-19.
COVID-19 Medical Research
Arguably, the worldwide research effort aimed at developing and then mass producing
and distributing an effective vaccine has been, literally, one of the most impressive feats in the
history of science-for-application. However, success has come at a price, not only an enormous
cost in terms of research funding but also quite possibly the greatest concentration of human
scientific resources and energies in human history. In some cases, success has “succeeded” in
highlighting massive problems, including inequality, racism, and social fragmentation, problems
long preceding the pandemic but brought into to sharp relief by it. The most straightforward part
of the story is also an aspect quite relevant to this chapter’s purposes: an account of public
spending on research.
According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office (2021), as of March 14, 2021, the
Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense have obligated more
than $20 billon to the development, manufacture, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, with
the preponderance of funds being allocated to six pharmaceutical firms. The chart below, drawn
from this same source, shows the distribution.
Figure One. Distribution of Vaccine Research Funding
What is Public Research? Illustration from COVID-19
In the section above, four “theory lens” for understanding concepts of public research
were presented. Here we examine each of these for distinctive insights into spending on
COVID-19 research. We begin with a narrative explaining U.S. policy for investing in vaccine
At the onset of the pandemic the U.S. federal government made the unsurprising decision
to support private sector vaccine development. They did this in two ways, providing funds
directly for industry R&D and by agreeing to purchase successful vaccines. The emergency
nature of the vaccine development policies was suggested in the “Operation Warp Speed” project
name, a project rolled out in May 2020 by the Department of Health and Human Services,
structured as a collaboration among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food
and Drug Administration, the NIH and the Department of Defense, with funding provided via the
Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Under the Operation
Warp Speed aegis, the federal government provided more than $19 million to assist seven private
sector pharmaceutical firms in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Five of the firms
accepted the R&D funding and six of the seven signed advance purchase agreements. Ultimately,
three of the vaccines supported by BARDA funding succeeded to an extent that they received
emergency use authorizations from the FDA and two other were in phase III clinical trials in late
2020. Table Two provides information about the funding status under BARDA.
Table Two. Federal Funding for COVID-19 Vaccine Development
As we see, the two recipients of the largest amount of funds, Pfizer and Moderna, were
also successful in developing effective and, by this time, widely distributed vaccines. A third,
developed by Johnson and Johnson, has also come into widespread use. As this chapter is being
written, in March, 2022, 76.6% of the population in the U.S. been vaccinated with at least one
shot (the Johnson and Johnson requires only one) and 64.6% have been fully vaccinated. This
conforms closely to the world population, though there are stark differences by country. The
highest rates of vaccination have occurred in Middle Eastern countries. At this point, nearly all
U.S. citizens have access, at no-cost, to one of three vaccines and there is little growth in the
percentage vaccinated because (1) young children are not eligible, (2) many who have had
COVID are choosing not to be vaccinated, and, interestingly, (3) vaccination has become at
political act, with Republicans and political conservatives sometimes eschewing vaccination as a
personal liberty issue. The result of the latter is that states with a higher percentage of
Republicans continue to have higher infection and death rates.
At present, the U.S. appears confident in its stock of vaccine and its production
agreements, so much so that in June 2021, the Biden Administration announced its intention to
provide 500 million vaccine doses to low-income nations. As of March 2022, 475 million does
reportedly had been sent, but world health experts note that many more are needed address the
high incidence of the coronavirus in poorer countries (Wilson and Payne, 2022). Many other
nations and NGOs, especially the WHO and COVAX, have, likewise, banded together to provide
vaccines to nations that otherwise have limited ability of obtain them. Still, the vaccine gap
between poor and rich countries remains, as do the case levels. These critical outcomes present a
somewhat tragedy of the commons from the neglected disease issues discussed by Colburn and
co-authors (Chapter XXX, this Handbook), but the cases present interesting comparisons.
Public Funding of Research: Four Perspectives
A primary objective of the chapter is to show how different concepts of “public research”
can have quite different implications for understanding research performance, research policy,
and research objectives. Table Three below considers the four “public” perspectives in
connection with issues related to COVID-19 research.
Table Three. Four Foci of Public Research: COVID-19 Research Experience
Q: What research should
be publicly funded and
what privately funded?
A: Urgency set aside
usual concerns on
increments and base;
delineation of roles,
with government as
funding agent and
industry as provider.
implications for public
funding of private
Q: What configuration of
market- and political
authority structures prove
optimal for achieving
research funding goals?
A: Government provided
strong hand in strategic
development; funding of
dominant, but with
arrangements due to
clear delineation of
Renewed scrutiny of
arrangements given range
Q. How is economic
efficiency best achieved
in the provision of goods
A. Efficiency concerns
minimized due to timing
and urgency; market
failure issues diminished.
Public goods core
ignored due to
traditional role of
private sector in
vaccine research and
Not clear. On the one
hand, positive role for
government exhibited, on
the other success of
private sector providers.
Q. What are the public
values objectives of
research activity and how
what legal and structural
designs best achieve
A. Clear-cut, consensus,
public values in mission;
public failures evident in
Public values model
intuitions and desire
for partnerships for
Public values rise to the
fore in times of calamity,
but also can make
evident public failures.
Lens: Sector and COVID-19 Research
The key issue in a sector-based view of public research spending is the matter of
allocation and amount spent by the public sector, in most respects equivalent to government. The
COVID-19 case is anything but routine. Most public sector budgeting, including budgeting for
research, is incremental, meaning that allocations for year “T” are the best predictor of
allocations for year “T+1.” However, the incrementalism traditions of public budgeting are
traditions not iron clad law. In research, as in most areas of the budget, non-incremental
departures, both increases and decreases, occur, typically as a result of massive change in the
partisan composition of Congress or a national emergency (White, 2020; Flink and Robinson,
2020). By any standard, the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as a national emergency, one
reflected in the increased U.S. federal budget. Thus, the U.S. federal budget for 2019 was $4.4
trillion but in 2020 it rose to $5.8 trillion, including $2.3 trillion in deficit financing. The
pandemic was clearly a primary factor in this non-incremental increase, though the exact size of
the “pandemic bill” is not easily determined because it affects nearly every budget category.
Another non-routine element of budgeting, in this case for research, was the budget for
COVID-19 vaccine development. While the U.S. typically provides a significant percentage of
its research spending to private sector research performers. In this case one private sector
performer category is of interest, the pharmaceutical industry. Almost all drugs developed in the
U.S. and most other nations are developed by the pharmaceutical industry, typically with their
own investment in R&D. The investment is substantial. The typical cost of developing a new
drug, including R&D and capital costs, ranges from $1-2 billion. In 2019, the industry spent
more than $83 billion on R&D, nearly 20% of net revenue. COVID-19 vaccine development
departed from the usual proprietary R&D engaged in by the industry.
Regarding the sector model’s lens, it seems clear that this perspective gives little insight
into COVID-19 vaccine research. The sector perspective focuses chiefly on determining
allocation of responsibilities for research performance and, over many years, has developed
certain predictable funding norms, including not only incrementalism but also, in research
funding, the expectation that government will fund preponderance of basic research (Salter and
Martin, 2001; Pavitt, 2001) and that most development work, excepting only defense and
national security, will be funded by the private sector on the expectation that industry has
sufficient profit motives to do so (Levin, et al., 1987; Golec and Vernon, 2007). In the case of a,
literally, worldwide emergency, these norms do not obtain (Barigozzi and Jelovac, 2020). not
Lens: Dimensional Publicness and COVID-19 Research
To reiterate, the dimensional publicness concept focuses on the effectiveness of
institutional and organizational designs for delivering public goods and services. Unlike public
choice and political economy approaches, it is highly pragmatic, with no built in assumptions
about the performance capabilities of specific sector or multi-sector arrangements (Bozeman,
1987). The theory has been applied to a number of domains, including not only science and
technology (e.g. Crow and Bozeman, 1998; Bozeman, 2013), but also higher education (Lee,
2017), criminal justice “supply chains” (Seepma, 2020), mental health (Merritt, et. al., 2018),
recreation (Talmage et al., 2018) and housing and mortgage institutions (Moulton, 2009).
The dimensional publicness concepts seems to have something to contribute to the
understanding of “public funding of research” in the context of COVID-19 vaccine development.
In the U.S., government and industry organizations rather quickly came to agreement about
institutional and policy designs viewed as optimal for rapid creation, production and deployment
of vaccines (Le, et al., 2020). This is a clear case of sector boundary spanning and partnership
and creation of unique designs motivated in large measure by severe need rather than ideology or
theoretical considerations. These arrangements were characterized by high degrees of publicness
in funding (i.e. most R&D funding by government), high degrees of privateness in the execution
of the research, and a mix of public and private authority in determinations and partnership
pertaining to contractual agreements, bonuses and incentives, performance standards, property
ownership, and even subsequent easing of regulations. This is a classic dimensional publicness
model in the sense that it is motivated chiefly by pragmatic decisions (Corey, et al., 2020 ) about
what is the most feasible and effective approaches to accomplishing mission and objectives.
Arguably, the dimensional publicness model is particularly useful for understanding rapid and
crisis-based policymaking, instances where the usual norms and design arrangements (Sampat
and Lichtenbert, 2011) may seem more like strictures than guidelines (Di Minin, et al., 2021;
Sampat and Shadlen, 2021).
Lens: Public Goods and COVID-19 Research
While public goods approaches to decision making are oftentimes paramount, especially
when policymakers seek means to ensure efficient and prudential public spending (Boyne, 1996;
Stearns and Zywicki, 2009; Kimenyi and Mbaku, 2019), this theoretical lens and its related
“new public management” approach ( Ferlie, et al., 1996; Hammerschmid, et al., 2019), is
arguably the least helpful interpretation of “public” when considering public research focused on
developing COVID-19 vaccines. In the case of vaccine develop, clearly the priority was
effectiveness but combined with speed (U.S. GAO, 2021). In truly urgent cases of
policymaking, especially ones with ubiquitous consequences, the usual interest in economic
efficiency almost always moves to the background.
The acceleration of COVID-19 vaccine research was only one policy initiative among several
aimed at attacking the pandemic. For example, Operation Warp Speed (OWS)decisionmakers
used a portfolio approach selecting vaccine companies to support, optimizing by selecting
research approaches using different physical mechanisms (platform technologies) to stimulate
immune response. The OWS) authorities also worked together to expedite visa approval for
international technical and scientific personnel. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies took their
own measures, including the unusual step of beginning manufacturing well before clinical trials
had authorized distribution (CDC, 2021). In short, clearly in this emergency context little time
was available for contemplating issues of market failure or either theoretical or practical
guidelines regarding production and pricing efficiency, issues long deliberated in most policy
and development contexts.
Lens: Public Values and COVID-19 Research
A public values lens takes a very different concept of public than the three others presented
here. First, whereas the other three perspectives focus strongly on allocation issues or
institutional design issues, inputs into desired outcomes, the public values approach, more
normative, focuses on whether a public value is achieved (or whether there are demonstrable
public failures around which to build and agenda). Research shows that there are only a few
“consensual public values” (Jørgensen and Bozeman, 2007; Bozeman, 2019), issues which as
right to sustenance and health, personal freedom, and ability to participate in politics, but also
implies that these values transcend efficiency and more pragmatic considerations.
Perhaps the most important difference between the public values lens, a difference that
makes it especially apt for addressing a worldwide calamity, is that does not disaggregate
processes (research, development, manufacturing, dissemination) because its focus in on the
achievement of public values, broadly defined, as opposed to specific steps toward and
instrumental objective. Thus, for example, if we take the predominant public value in the
COVID-19 case as public health, then the approach gives little concern to the productivity of
research or even its cost if it does not, for whatever reason, successfully address the public value
objective. Thus, a high quality vaccine that is not widely distributed is a public failure, an
economically efficient pricing structure that deprives many citizens of access is a public failure,
and, arguably, political processes that lead to “benefit hoarding” (Bozeman, 2002), such that
wealthy nations have high access to vaccine and poor nations have little access is also a public
failure (depending in part of the reasons for the disparity).
An important aspect of the public values approach is that in this case “public” does not
mean government or political authority or public partnership but is more akin to the meaning of
“citizen.” Thus, when we consider “public research” in such a normative context we are,
essentially, saying “research for the collective good of citizens,” and with that concept various
attendant assumptions accompany, such as implications for who finances public research and
who performs it.
Which meaning of “public research” is the most useful? The answer to that question
depends upon a variety of prior questions, including, most importantly, what is the ultimate
objective of the research? If the objective is enhancing productivity, then one answer version of
“public” may be best, if the answer is assuring economic efficiency, then another concept may be
preferred, and, as this chapter has labored to point out, if the objective is “serving the public
interest” then a very different concept seems most useful. Related, the best “public” concept
may well depend upon perspective. Citizens, policymakers, elected officials, industrial leaders:
there are good reasons why these very different clients for “public spending on research” will
have different preferred concepts of “public.” Nevertheless, it may well be valuable for any
stakeholder to reflect long and carefully about the meaning of “public” and “public research.”
Doing so may provide a fuller conception and richer understanding of the multifarious interests
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In the case of the “sector” and “public goods” categories the literature is expansive, and the
literature cited includes core studies or literature reviews. In the other two categories,
“dimensional” and “public value,” the illustrations provide a fuller representation of the structure
and content of two much smaller literatures.
This brief chronology is developed from several sources, including New York Times (2021);
Baraniuk, C. (2021) Covid-19: How the UK vaccine rollout delivered success, so far, British
Medical Journal, February, 2021;372: n421