A research leaders’ workshop to consider forming the:
Highly Integrated Basic and Applied Research (HIBAR) Alliance:
Seeking solutions and understanding by uniting the approaches of invention and discovery
(Drafted by A. Austin, Michigan State University, C. Crittenden, University of California Berkeley, H. Gobstein, and J. Woodell, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, D. Sarewitz, Arizona State University, B. Shneiderman, University of Maryland, L. Whitehead, University of British Columbia)
Academic research is vital to technological, medical, and social advances that improve the lives of many people around the world. However, we believe that academic researchers could dramatically increase their impact if the academic incentive systems were updated to accommodate new understandings of what research processes are most likely to yield high payoff in new knowledge and useful inventions.
We believe that the incentive systems of academic research, which drive promotion, publication, and grant decisions, often discourage an important class of needed research. This research, which Donald Stokes described as Pasteur’s Quadrant[i] research, combines the motivations, approaches and perspective of both basic and applied research. Such research projects address significant societal problems in a recursive approach that combines, and builds upon the traditional methods of basic and applied research. (Here, we will use the more descriptive label “Highly Integrated Basics and Applied Research” for this class of research projects. Suggestions for a better label are very welcome.)
Such applied & basic research projects usually require strong connections with external organizations, long term vision, academic rigor, and teamwork among diverse contributors[ii]. Although they often involves science and technology, they usually go way beyond those fields, involving social science motivational theories and design thinking. Crow & Dabars[iii], Sarewitz[iv], Shneiderman[v] and Narayanamurti[vi] have all argued that many past research successes have been characterized as arising from basic research when in fact they were driven by working with business, civic, and non-governmental practitioners, while using basic research theories and approaches. Testing theories in the real world produces the twin-win: validated theories, which could be published, and effective solutions, which could be disseminated. Many such twin-win breakthroughs took place in visionary corporate research labs, such as Bell Labs, or were incentivized by mission-driven funding by the DOD and NASA. The research we see as effective is often characterized by a patient focus on knowledge creation at the interface of use, for example in areas of agriculture and clinical medicine. If academic leaders could shift the research culture at universities help encourage dual-excellence projects which combine basic and applied research, we believe everyone would benefit. Universities would retain their eminence in long term, academic research, while truly being more relevant to societal needs. But how can we do this?
On January 26, 2015, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities is hosting workshop with about 20 participants who have been working to change academic research incentive structures, and/or to introduce new programs which combine basic and applied research. Their efforts have focused on:
- raising the frequency of research partnerships with business, civic, and non-governmental partners, (e.g. partnership agreements that deal with data sharing, intellectual property ownership, publication plans, etc.);
- hiring/tenure/promotion policies to increase recognition for collaborative efforts that include novel research approaches;
- research impact assessments that include, in addition to traditional citation counts, broader metrics and qualitative portfolio-based evaluations;
- teaching reform that includes service-oriented team projects with on-campus, nearby institutions, and business, civic, and non-governmental partners;
- learning how to improve the speed and success rate of Pasteur’s Quadrant research projects and how to effectively disseminate this know-how to achieve its effective adoption; and
- increasing the general appreciation and understanding of dual-excellence research in promotion, publication and research funding allocation, in order to improve its quality and quantity.
Change can be led at multiple levels, ranging from projects of individual and collaborative groups of faculty members, to departmental leaders (who may help encourage new research directions with practitioner partners, revised courses, speaker series, etc.), and higher-level academic leaders (who may help revise hiring/tenure/promotion policies, public recognition of successful research, seed funding for innovative projects, etc.).
We seek a discussion of change strategies that actually work, so as to develop guidance for others. We suggest that a network of those involved in academic change could help guide success.
Case Studies in Academic Culture Change
How can universities evolve toward a greater focus on dual-excellence research? One effort in this direction is being pursued by a small network of faculty members at the University of British Columbia. They have looked into modern thinking about organizational culture change, (Kotter[vii], Carnegie[viii] Foundation, Bay View Alliance[ix]), and concluded that a good technique to consider is an administration-endorsed networking of faculty members who already believe in dual-excellence research. They observe that it is now understood that in large organizations, the administration alone generally cannot achieve a change in culture, even if that change is one that almost everyone would like. The impediment is natural organizational inertia, which can be overcome, but not that in a purely top-down manner. Such change requires a great many thoughtful conversations among trusted colleagues, along with personal supporting experiences. These cannot be provided by administrators because there are not enough of them and they do not have enough available time. With an administration-endorsed faculty network, the persuasion exercise can be carried out by passionate believers, who are convinced of the value, (in this case), of dual-excellence research, and who are supported by their administration.
The early work at UBC is promising, but success of this type will be more likely if there is an alignment of similarly interested universities who share experiences of this type. For example, a different approach, focused on changing the reward system to encourage dual-excellence work, has been pursued at the University of Utrecht medical school, as described in Nature by Benedictus and Miedema[x]. Ideally, each collaborating university could take a slightly different approach within the theme of administration-endorsed networking, and would share among themselves their successes and failures, with a goal of accelerating overall success. Public universities are especially well positioned to pursue such change, as has been shown in President Michael Crow’s transformation of Arizona State University. Other examples include the University of Southern California’s revision of their hiring/tenure/promotion polices to encourage collaboration and the University Maryland’s efforts to promote teamwork and engage with off-campus partners.
We are inviting a small group of researcher leaders, primarily from around North America, to a workshop for exploring these general ideas, with the aim of developing ways to cooperate in enhancing dual-excellence research at our campuses and beyond. We have no illusion that we’ll get this figured out in a single one-day workshop. However, we do hope to assess whether there is sufficient enthusiasm and shared interest to move forward on one or more concrete next steps. They could include a funding application to help accelerate future planning work, ideas about additional universities and individuals to invite, and possible future ways to collaborate and network.
Please see appended a more detailed draft description of Highly Integrated Basic and Applied Research.
[i] Stokes DE. Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation. Brookings Institution Press; 2011 Mar 1.
[v] Shneiderman B. The New ABCs of Research: Achieving Breakthrough Collaborations. Oxford University Press; 2016 Feb 4.
[vii] Kotter JP. Accelerate: building strategic agility for a faster-moving world. Harvard Business Review Press; 2014 Apr 8.