Our Shrinking World

The world is shrinking in most every way we can describe.  Aside from language, the communication barriers have been removed and the lines of communication and collaboration are open for business and of course our business is research.

In August, I had an incredible opportunity to present my perspective on the future of research and development at the GO8 Meeting in Auckland, New Zealand.  I primarily spoke about the effects of the US economy on present and future global research and development (R&D) efforts.

We all know that in order to do R&D you have to have funding, so a good place to start is follow the money trail which for the time being leads to the US.   The world’s total nominal R&D spending was approximately one trillion dollars in 2010 and the US’s share was approximately 40% with $405 Billion spent on R&D this past year. The US may thus far be winning the race but China and Japan are fast on our heels with $154B and $144B respectively.  Unfortunately, none of this is a constant because we all know that times they are a’changin’…

The US economy is sluggish at best and our recent state of political uncertainty means it is getting harder to justify sending money overseas when we are hurting at home.  The natural progression of this trend leads us to an assumption, a warning for both national and international researchers not to be surprised if US money becomes harder to get.  And we’re not the only ones.

Competition is increasing within each country.  There are less funds (generally) and more institutions competing for them.  There is also more transparency into who is doing what and how well they are doing it.  The US has instituted the Digital Accounting and Transparency Act (DATA), New Zealand has the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF), the UK has their Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), Australia has Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), and South Africa has DoHet Reports (RO).

Did I fail to mention that competition is also increasing between countries?  Sponsors are going to start funding the “best” research regardless of nationality.  This undoubtedly promotes an environment where collaboration is king.  Collaborative projects are looking more and more attractive as sole-sourcing dwindles and Sponsors seek out the honest identification of the best resources.  For example, figures indicate that inter-institutional collaborations are increasing (Subcontracts/Sub Awards), and from what we have seen Subcontracts used to be a part of about 25% of proposals 10 years ago, now they are a part of almost 60%.   With less funding available and increased competition for that limited funding, our world shrinks even more and collaboration becomes the catch of the day.

With collaboration, we must expect data from all over the world.  We need superlative systems flexible and inclusive enough to handle the challenges that inter-institutional collaboration can bring.  We are talking different currencies, different languages, all at the same time.  Imagine the information that needs to be shared.  We are trending away from expensive publication databases and looking to generate some common tools for collaborative information sharing such as VIVO, D-Space, Social Networking and SharePoint/TRIM.

To “play” in this changing world, systems need to be intuitive by being flexible enough to work with sponsor requirements from around the world while electronically integrating with your sponsors and researchers from other countries.  Considering our financially strapped funding structures, it is imperative that a system facilitates compliance without adding staff and resources or incurring significant training and implementation expenses.  You will be partnering with people and countries you have not before so security accommodating enough to not only allow your people, but external people in is also a must-have.

These are all things that InfoEd has considered and is implementing to help you all navigate through this ever-changing R&D world and at the end of the day, despite the US’s economic ambiguity, we still currently have the biggest funding pool to splash around in.  So in short, to maintain or grow your R&D you not only need to be able communicate and collaborate with national and international sponsors to carve out a bigger slice of the US money pie but also follow the money trail and partner with people who have the money. If I were a betting man, my money would be on Asia, specifically China.

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