Mim John, planning committee chair, introduced the session on partnership insights. She noted that Al Grasso is currently co-chairing the National Academies Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR). That roundtable brings together government, university, and industry leaders to discuss topics across science and technology policy that merit cross-sector consideration and collaboration. For this workshop, she said, Grasso was invited to share his insights from GUIRR with a focus on how NCPC and the IC in general could expand their knowledge and reach. Grasso spoke about expanding partnerships, lessons learned from cross-sector and public-private collaboration, and challenges and opportunities presented by advisory and information exchange groups.
Grasso noted that GUIRR, formed in 1984, is the oldest roundtable of the National Academies. GUIRR tries to approach big topics of national if not international interest and typically invites speakers from across the community to speak about these topics. Its goals include bringing attention to important topics and framing opportunities and risks associated with a given topic. The meetings
and discussions also provide a framework within which all members—government, university, and industry—can participate and help build and bring together a network. He noted that GUIRR recently conducted an impact survey of its members. He noted one interesting result was that academic participants were more likely to deem topics relevant to their work than industry participants. However, industry participants reported taking more action with the information and networking assistance received from GUIRR activities.
Grasso described GUIRR’s organization, which includes an executive leadership council with representation from government, presidents of universities, and CEOs of research and technology companies. The roundtable organizes three meetings of the council per year, and at least one leadership dinner with council members, during which senior executive government leaders present to the group. Three meetings for the full membership are also planned each year, and GUIRR staff organize monthly webinars, which are free and open to the public. Grasso noted that GUIRR also offers opportunities for its members to prepare editorials for the magazine Issues in Science and Technology. That, he said, provides another opportunity to share and broaden the impact of GUIRR meetings and events. He explained that GUIRR funding is supported by three federal agencies and by an annual membership fee paid by the universities and companies that participate on the Roundtable.
John asked about membership and how an organization can be nominated for membership. Grasso noted that council members are individually nominated and serve 3 year terms. Universities and companies that join GUIRR as institutional members do so on a calendar-year basis, and generally learn about GUIRR through referrals from current members. Brinsfield asked whether members and participants rotate in and out, given the breadth of topics covered. Nicholson explained that GUIRR assembles a planning committee for each meeting that can include GUIRR members and/or other experts. Mr. Grasso observed that GUIRR members are divided about whether it is more important to have the same members attend all GUIRR meetings, or to rotate the representative role within an organization. He also noted that many members invite more than one individual from their organizations to attend meetings of interest.
Brinsfield asked whether GUIRR ever takes the opportunity to consider whether there are systemic issues that could be addressed through enduring partnerships across government, industry, and academia. She noted that there are often impediments to recruiting people into government who can stay on the cutting edge of an area. She then asked about whether GUIRR could make recommendations to particular agencies. Grasso noted that while GUIRR is designed to surface topics and convene around dialogue, other groups within the National Academies focus on consensus studies and development of recommendations. He also noted another opportunity that roundtable interactions provide, that is, the share of best practices across institutions and across sectors. He noted a recent example where GUIRR members explored how different institutions deal with intellectual property. He observed that when disparate communities come together on a topic, similar words and terms can be used very differently; intellectual property to a commercial player, he said, means something different to an academic audience.
Dr. Stewart observed that these kinds of collaborations are important but seem underutilized and undervalued right now. She noted that awareness–raising sessions between the industry, the government, and the research-oriented communities is important as well as sharing best practices. She noted the challenge of simply learning different vocabularies across different communities—in the national security space, for instance, words such as counterproliferation, nonproliferation, arms control, disarmament, and deterrence, may have different, nuanced interpretations depending on which organization or agency is speaking. She noted that diverse groups that can come together to share a common terminology and then discuss an issue in a report can be very helpful.
Fingar asked whether GUIRR has considered recent discussions about how science works in an interconnected world, the role of
universities, and security concerns that produce a restrictive view about access to technologies. Mr. Grasso noted that these are the types of topics that GUIRR addresses. He gave an example of a recent presentation on open source and open innovation. He said that it was clear that there were very distinct views within the group about the topic. Fingar also asked about the networking function that GUIRR provides and whether it could help an agency, such as the NCPC, find people with expertise in areas of concern. Nicholson responded that GUIRR has an informal network of members, former members, prospective members, and others who share news and that a public webinar series is available to a large audience.
Brinsfield asked whether industry and academia have a clear understanding of the national security community and which agencies are responsible for what. Mr. Grasso noted that this understanding can be challenging, but that he has also observed important learning happening in government-to-government meetings.
Dynes noted the challenge stemming from the fact that companies and industries are much more globalized and international. Brinsfield concurred that the industrial landscape is much more complicated than when U.S. companies dominated many important industries, poses challenges to intelligence analysis. John wondered whether a shift may be occurring, though, as leaders of global companies make investment choices based on environmental standards, labor issues, and so on. She noted that many of the institutional partnerships between government, industry, and academia that existed decades ago no longer exist. However, she said, “We’re going to have to rebuild it, and it’s going to take some time, but we’ve got to start talking about it.”