Hot Topic: Research and Innovation Infrastructure
There has been a lot of talk about research parks lately. Here are few ideas that have been discussed lately.
Science Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, recently released a report on the federal government and the growth of regional innovation clusters, The Geography of Innovation. Authored by Jonathan Sallet, Ed Paisley, and Justin Masterman, the paper argues in favor of innovation policies for which responsibility is shared between regional leaders and the federal government. To that end, the authors think that Congress should appropriate the $100 million that President Obama has requested for fiscal year 2010 for the Economic Development Administration of the Department of Commerce. The federal government “can and should assume a vital role in which it frames critical national challenges, facilitates the flow of information and expertise to and between regions, and helps finance, in a competitive and leveraged fashion, valuable activities that clusters would otherwise be unable to undertake”, reads the report. The Geography of Innovation offers policymakers a guide through past attempts, including failures and positive lessons.
Other policy recommendations were put forth by Anthony Townsend, Research Director in the Technology Horizons Program at the Institute for the Future. He recently presented a forecast on the future of research parks based on a joint research project with the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina. The research study, “Future Knowledge Systems,” analyzes fourteen trends that inform three scenarios of research parks in 2030. In a piece for Science Progress titled Is There a Future for Science Parks? Townsend explains what these three possible future scenarios look like:
- Science and Technology Parks 3.0 – incremental change: rather than simply managing collections of buildings, they will manage knowledge ecosystems—collections of people, companies, networks, and know-how. “Their boldest move a decade from now will have been their push into green technologies.”
- Rise of Research Clouds - disruptive competition: networks of small collaborative lab spaces around universities, big corporations, and legacy science parks. “Tied together by social software, these collaborative labs will become a place where big companies and small startups can co-locate in close proximity.”
- Dematerialized Innovation - research parks in decline: a failure to plan for contingencies such as high energy prices, declining productivity in R&D, or an extended recession will require companies to cut R&D once again, dramatically cutting their need for traditional science park space.
In light of his analysis, Townsend recommends that policymakers at the federal level look at how funding can be directed at infrastructures that support not just basic research, but also technology transfer through, for example, accelerators and incubators which engage scientists, investors and entrepreneurs. For the state level, he recommends that the policy focus shift from universities and individual development projects to grand visions at the regional level that can guide and coordinate actions over many years.