address them. One participant expressed this in terms of the capability of federally funded systems to deal with such problems as rapid urbanization or climate change:

Are there better ways to consider the whole of the federal investment in ways that reveal more consistently or vividly our most pressing challenges that call for new knowledge? Is there a federal forum that involves partners from both the Executive and Legislative branches of government as well as the university, private, and nongovernmental communities, to discuss such topics as the management of urban sprawl, changes in water delivery and supply, the role of climate in the emergence and spread of disease? Could such a forum or process inform the development of scientific research agendas?

In some cases, an agency may be interested in dialogue on a broad issue but does not have a funding mechanism for the issue. Interagency task forces were identified as a potential forum for addressing crosscutting issues that fall outside the missions of individual agencies. However, to be dealt with at an interagency level, an issue needs to have strong administration support, which can often vary from administration to administration.

A focusing event that drives people and organizations to rally around an issue that may not normally be within or entirely within an organization’s jurisdiction can sometimes create the necessary impetus and political support for innovative forms of collaboration. Examples of focusing events include natural disasters (tsunamis), national security threats (9/11), and even international meetings, such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Such focusing events can drive the establishment of programs and institutions that are explicitly designed to address a specific problem. A few participants pointed out that dialogues have often been started as a result of a crisis or other focusing event, but many have been continued because of their success. Although a focusing event can draw attention to a problem, participants emphasized that in many situations, it is preferable to begin a dialogue in advance of a problem, so that if a problem arose, one would be able to react effectively right away. Most of the programs represented were examples of such preemptive programs. In the absence of such focusing events, limited agency missions and stovepipes often make it difficult to address challenges that require integrative solutions.

Space to Innovate

Systems to bridge research and decision making in the federal government are innovative and often entail relatively radical institutional innovations, such as new dialogues between users and producers of knowledge, new links across agency or discipline stovepipes, intrusion into others’ turf, and generally doing things that have not been done before. The response to such efforts by established interests may involve resistance, efforts to co-opt, or more generally efforts to turn the radical innovation into something less threatening that has been done before, or something that is more likely to survive existing evaluation systems. Successful projects and programs create safe spaces in which to carry out their experimental innovations. Such spaces protect innovators from hostile takeovers, encourage experimentation, and embrace error.

Safe spaces or spaces to innovate require leadership and an environment that welcomes new ideas and risk. Some participants emphasized the accepting environment required of an organization that fosters innovation: an environment that welcomes new ideas and a realistic

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement