Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Collaboration Success Equals More Social Scientists?

After hearing from Rob and Drew, what major challenges stand out in forming productive collaborative research relationships?

Collaboration Success Equals More Social Scientists?

Dr. Dawson’s remarks upon his initial cynical views of collaboration were bridged successfully only when engaging with a particular unnamed networked and skilled relationship developer who assisted him in developing talents for collocating people across organisations whereby trust and social capital could be nourished. Then projects could be increased in scope, scale and budget all substantially. This person was not a scientist. His example correlates even to the physical separation of the arts and sciences discernable in my own undergraduate studies in Canada at Acadia University. Each discipline appears to undermine the relevancy and accessibility of the other but like yin and yang intellectual capacities arte possibly best served by skills in both fields.

Coldly Dawson also explains that successful collaboration should not feel like (revenge?) or a, “one night stand.” His management of a CRC grant was assisted not only by the university clustering director but also his tenure as CRC engagement group leader where he experienced new challenges and explained, “tall poppy phenomena” can develop when and if funding and grants allocations become too concentrated to one CRC project stream. He also identified the benefits of long-term funding in providing a safety net to allow good science to take place where there might otherwise be “Taylorist perspectives” or “clip board amnesia.”

His preference for a diversity of income streams as operational insurance includes participation in more than one CRC at a time if possible and a problematic engagement with the social sciences perhaps proving a critical area of future improvement necessary to see greater institutional collaborations in future as recommended by O’Kane’s report. Favourite quotes: Neither government nor industry wants to pay you to tell them they are a bunch of bastards.” or “We don’t need independent biological observers who pass judgment from the heavens.” In contrast to the heavens as an expatriate abroad the pay may be extremely poor in peaceful heaven as well. I prefer an exciting hell?

It is easy to agree with Dr. Dawson on these points. However good quality management decisions are often difficult to make without high level executive agreement that certain “biological observers” may have the right “rock of eye” or qualities of observation and criticism which do make sound organisational or strategic sense even when or if that observer does or does not possess the correct disciplinary credentials as Dawson has previously noted. A recurring theme is a dearth of managerial training. The social sciences produce many graduates who more often than not fail to progress in career paths which correlate with their particular studies probably willing to be cherry-picked on the road to heaven in their velvet-lined ditches. Why would most of the world’s business teaching faculties for example, not include a majority of social science refugees if this were not so? While slow speaking and slow learning may be the prevue of the convention renting jet-set I am not convinced that commercial project collaborations benefit any more than political junkets do in generating better trade relations among nations or collaborators. It is perhaps a Reaganesque trickle down philosophy that does not trickle far from the revenue stream.

On the other hand Dr. Lewis provides the bootstrap learning curve which more closely shapes my own progressive learning path and perhaps the ticket to greater collaboration. Everyone may need to learn and listen more? Quite simply learn what they already do not appear to know? He details the bitter realities of needing to constantly reshape the vision and mission of his organisation (SARDI) as well as hiring and firing based on grants approvals with the whimsical budgetary constraints of a “Stalag 17” mentality. He rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic to inform real working and future employment conditions in his nine research centres which dominates the conversation whereby participants are given the opportunity to assist in shaping the direction of the organisation and hopefully generate more revenue streams less reliant upon government handouts or Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. In his facilitator approach taking ownership of the collaboration efforts requires a reworking and revalidation of mission and vision every four to six years as well as deconstruction of what he terms, “The Republic of Science” approach whereby researchers must shift towards an IP and commercial data confidentiality mindset more aligned with business than traditional knowledge generation to survive budgetary shortfalls. For example just as he described that commercialisation as a concept was not well established even a decade ago neither were the opportunities for specialized learning or teaching even in the field of international business English itself spun from general English as a second language programs where I currently reside gaining an income to finance learning about what it takes to rework an organisation into something which might generate a similar self-sustaining income based on its own research. He details pragmatic approaches shared by both social and pure scientists.

Lewis’s focus is on strategic plans which show consistency in scope between partners as well as a need for “equal partnership” among them which would inform Dawson’s view to avoid “cringing” between disciplines as well regarding social science and pure science as two essential wings in the exemplary exercise necessary for both avian and profitable flight (to the heavens where none may be barred entry or called out as bastards?). Simply strategic mission and vision are a couple of applied social science inventions. Shared intellectual capacities, scope of credibility and capabilities need to exist as well. Both speakers insist on a shared language among collaborators. He lists the difficulties of collaboration as they reside in the necessary qualities of strategic planning. For example, strong business models are necessary as without them all is lost, an ability to track what capabilities exist at present and with poor budget or finance options could be quickly gone or eaten up by operational constraints, being able to agree what end goals will be and how they will be achieved or shared, all objectives when absent, will ensure destruction in terms of collaboration efforts regardless of discipline.

Lewis explores that without these internal systems in place from the onset no collaboration project will ever take successful flight out of a research organisation and bolsters this with examples of his own successful case study: Root Disease Testing Service a product with a profitable market which necessitated development of its own technology contracting consultancy. In it he details that researchers need remain part of the negotiating team as they can often answer essential and critical questions related to product development under his R*T*D*I*C scientific product plan: Research, Development ,Transfer , Innovation: representing change in the industry and community. While he admits little to no management training over his career it would be a continued fatal flaw to say that the most economical and best model for researchers to follow would be to learn as you go. This would be costly in terms of gut reaction where few funding agencies might aspire to attribute best practices to that. While both research managers appear to do so a little extra bootstrapping might go a long way towards better refining their attributes and duties to their talents. Under such terms one must return to Dawson’s claims that a managerialist preoccupation may come to dominate an otherwise fine researcher. Return to Lewis to find an entire culture of change must be undertaken internally for research organisations to better grow commercial gains. Would you even be given a car to drive without passing a basic license exam? What about administering 9 billion in commercial funding projects over twenty years?

Lewis, R. (2001) Commercialisation Delivering to Market Seeking a New Paradigm Executive Director South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)

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