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Government/Industry/Academic Relationships for Technology Development: A Workshop Report
Shamma continued to discuss the cross-fertilization opportunities were part of the mission statement of the MURI program. At the time of this workshop, he was working on a white paper on adversarial modeling in collaboration with a UCLA economist and a sociologist.
The time frames for a MURI suit academic research and allow university professors to act like university professors. A project reports annually, not monthly, as required on other federal government contracts. The 3-year base funding also provides security and allows working on questions that will not need an immediate proof of concept or an immediate prototype illustration to show the potential for a large reward.
Shamma also mentioned some negative aspects of the program. His main criticism was the large size of the group that partners in the MURI program—such groups could be unwieldy. Multicampus management can be inefficient, and subcontract billing is slow from the subcontractors to the lead university and the lead university to the DOD. An additional one-time fee is also collected by the university administration when a subcontract is set up, but it is a minor expense.
Also, the co-PIs do not have any real say about what the other university partners are researching. Shamma can offer advice, but he cannot withhold funding if he does not like the direction in which a partner is going. This lack of control can have a long-term effect and can sour relationships in small research communities. One attendee asked how the team was put together. Is it based on pulling together well-known names and universities to win the contract or on pulling together the capabilities necessary to complete the work? Shamma replied that there were two models. For a given topic, a number of different combinations of universities and PIs can be fielded to submit a competitive proposal. No single research group in the country usually has a monopoly on the expertise for a specific technology. If there is such a monopoly, then it would be obvious where the award would go. This is the model that the UCLA-led team used. The other model involves an individual research group that is very advanced in a specific research topic and that proposes simply to win additional funding. Shamma also said that collaboration could go only so far. He believed that the UCLA-led group had been successful in having genuine collaboration. But, it could be more successful if one person were directing all the other campus partners in their work.
Another attendee asked about the exchange of software among team members and if such a practice added intellectual value or was simply a matter of organization and teamwork. He wanted to know what the optimum goal was for the team. Shamma believed the value added came from the conversation and the expertise. For example, the UCLA-led team uses two simulation test beds—a hardware test bed and a software test bed developed at Cornell. All of the other team members use that same software test bed. This is one way to try to align group incentives with individual incentives. Cornell had an incentive of its own for developing the software test bed so that the MURI team and others could use it to motivate and demonstrate research.
An attendee asked Shamma if the team felt it had come with up something innovative or if a breakthrough had resulted from the work and if, historically, the MURI program had achieved innovations and breakthroughs. Shamma believed it had happened for his group, but he emphasized that when a breakthrough did happen it was usually not during the first year or year and a half of research. Shamma also mentioned that he wasn’t sure if the same breakthrough would have happened without the group structure. The team