Like most things in this world, science projects exists on a market involving people, opportunities, interests, offerings, choices and competition. While building the ESS research facility in Lund, there are several other ongoing projects for constructing research infrastructure. Building a next generation research facility for Europe 2020, is not only about aiming for higher technical performance and resolution in data.
In his talk on ESS Science and Scientists conference in Berlin, Paolo Radaelli from University of Oxford Department of Physics addressed the importance of complementing existing research infrastructure with unique technical features of the ESS that will change the paradigm of what is possible. Furthermore, building a “next generation facility” should also include social innovation with the development of new organisational methods which can provide ESS with a comparative advantage. ESS certainly has a unique opportunity here since it’s being built on a greenfield site compare to many other science projects, which more or less are upgrades on existing research infrastructure. It gives ESS a nice possibility to set a new standard for academic workplace environments.
With Paolo Radaelli’s request for new management models in discussing where are we, where we’re going, and the challenges for Europe 2020, my thoughts goes to Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies (55.000 people, 3.6 billions US$ turnover) who has made “reversed accountability” real. The key principle of the E1C2 model (Employees first, customer second) is described in the following way: “The value generated by an organisation is created by its employees, mostly those in contact with the customers. The managers are not creating the value. Managers should be there to listen and support the employees. Not the opposite”, says Vineet Nayar. For HCL Technologies, it’s in the interest of the company to understand that the employees create the value, not the CEO or management. If the staff members feels good about their job, if they get enough autonomy, support and transparency from the top, the impact for the customer will be positive.
When it comes to developing new reseach facilities, we have learned invaluable lessons by realizing the ILL Millennium Programme, building ISIS TS2 and watching the construction of SNS and J-PARC, to mention a few examples. Paolo Radaelli promoted in his speech the culture of sharing and copying to help building further on good ideas. This in a time when protectionistic policies conflicts with open science, innovation and distribution of information for developing knowledge and technology. Personally, I agree with that we need to see ourselvs as a community rather than as competitors, in a society which is moving from “copyright economy” to “creative economy”.
On my visit to the SNS research facility in the United States some years ago, I met an engineer who expressed his gratitude to the Europeans for all the benefit SNS had in building upon the knowledge developed through the work produced so far in the European Spallation Source project. Being able to complete their construction of a neutron spallation source quicker than Europe, ESS can now iterate further upon their work. This is exactly how the world of science, and a knowledge society in general, should work. Symbiosis rather than competition. Shared innovation culture instead of information protectionism. However, the reality around research facilities tends to be the latter. My personal experience, having shifted a couple of times between working within academic institutions and private entrepreneurship, is that there are few workplaces that are as traditionalistic, when it comes to organisation and leadership, than academic institutions.
As Paolo Radaelli expressed in a more provocative part of his presentation: “Science communities are made up of highly specialised teams depending on public funding and little commercialisation; It has a relatively small number of “top teams” who are very secretive; A small number of people who really know what they are doing; Mobile, but can be fiercely loyal; Everybody is a Prima Donna.”
Perhaps not surprising scince the universities historically have been developed under the aegis of the Latin Church, and later founded by Kings or municipal administration. The academic world have inherited and preserved the organisational tradition of centralised top-down governance. A system design which performs excellence in creating bottle necks, serving the purpose of obeying status ranking, control and regulation rather than facilitating the spontaneous interaction and creativity reqired for expanding knowledge and innovation.
Paolo Radaelli points out that it make sense to see the development of different research facilities around the world as a “distributed infrastructure”. Building for the next generation is not about who has the best engine or the cleverest engineer – it’s about leadership, teamwork and putting together a winning package.
The combined effort of all the specialists from all facilities, and the scientific leadership of their user communities, can advance science as a whole when joining and supporting each others projects. This generates a greater return of value for the investments that society puts into science.
In our globalised high speed economy with the market dynamics of free democratic societies, academic work environments clearly need to upgrade to the new agile and heterarchical management models that have emerged within business life and industry (if they want to stay in business). The next generation will demand it. However, established organisational systems requires an effort to upgrade. Those who moves swiftly will take a lead. ESS certainly has an advantage here being a greenfield project on a greenfield site.