Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

Will Merging U.S. Science Agencies Increase Innovation?

Will Merging U.S. Science Agencies Increase Innovation?

I read the news report Merger of US earth sciences agencies proposed by AP Science Writer Randolph E. Schmid with mixed feelings. The report describes a proposal to combine two US government agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Ordinarily I would applaud an effort to streamline and simplify government operations, especially in a situation where there is a potential overlap or duplication of policy formulation and administrative effort. An important question, however, is whether such a merger might actually promote innovation and creativity among the thousands of researchers and technologists who are employed by these two organizations. 

I don’t really know if the two organizations have a set of well defined operations that can be rationally combined so that functional overlap is reduced. Researchers and technologists employed by these two organizations already have a wide variety of important professional relationships with other domestic and foreign individuals and organizations, both inside and outside the USGS and NOAA spheres. Maintaining such relationships, irrespective of how many organizations are issuing the paychecks, will be critical to the flow of ideas and information.

Merging these two organizations is not going to have a quick or significant impact on these relationships and the likelihood that they will lead to new ideas. Instead, it’s in the areas of policy and infrastructure where I would concentrate. For example, picking up ideas from my post Using Collaboration Technologies to Accelerate Innovation in Federally Funded R&D Programs, I would concentrate administrative energies on increasing the likelihood that departmental employees will communicate and interact with anyone they deem relevant to their work, no matter where.

The individuals and teams in these organizations currently do their work through a large number of departments, professions, associations, R&D agencies, companies, consultants, contractors, and vendors. It therefore makes great sense to encourage people to join and participate in both formal and informal organizations and communities, including those supported by collaboration tools and social networking software.

Making “cross-boundary” communication a priority, and helping it to happen, will have more impact on creativity and innovation than any back-office reorganization.

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