Suggestion to mitigate in-fighting over new scientific ventures–?

By Grant Jacobs 13/11/2009

Should contentious ventures be established by independent panels/boards/consultants who are not allowed to be part of the venture once it’s set up?

Fellow scibling wrote in Gluckman: stop the science infighting :-

The evening was rounded out with some words from Peter Gluckman who told a perturbing story — one of an international science opportunity for New Zealand that threatens to be derailed by in-fighting between the three institutions pitching for the business.

A collective groan seemed to go through the room as Sir Peter outlined this story and urged science to take on more of an ’NZ Inc.’ approach to science and actually work together more to win international work.

My suggestion is that contentious ventures be established by independent panels/boards/consultants who in taking on the job of setting up the venture, agree that they cannot be part of the venture once it’s set up. They can only work to get it up and running, then move on.

(They might be retained as advisory consultants for a time if this is seen as being useful.)

The idea is that the players involved in the actual initial setting-up of the venture have no vested interests in the established venture. Suitable people to assist might include newly retired senior academics, administrators or independent scientific consultants.

The start-up phase should run to a set timetable, both to avoid vested interests dragging proceedings out and to allow the independent panel work on a set term basis.

Ideally this shouldn’t have to be done, but opportunities often seem to result in an unsightly “lolly scramble”. Perhaps this is needed to set an example or get people past the existing conflicts?

Leaving aside any personality politics, best as I’m able to tell the main issues are funding and competition.

Shortage of funding means that everyone tries to “grab” opportunities that arise. A more stable funding and career basis might help mitigate this in the longer term–?

Previous governments have encouraged the institutions to compete, aiming to increase institutions’ performance. This competition comes unstuck, in my opinion, if–when looked at from a national level–it results in duplication of effort or otherwise unnecessary competition.

We’re such a small country that–geographic issues aside–surely there is little genuine need for, or sense in, duplication of effort? I’ve long thought that outside of a few limited areas where there is genuine head-for-head competition, we should be competing with the rest of the world, not ourselves.

We’re (understandably) reluctant to let go of things and I have no idea how get people to let go of the existing duplications, or even if you should, but we could at least prevent squabbling over new initiatives, perhaps by initially setting them up through an independent start-up board, panel or consultant?

Disclosure: I work as an independent scientist/consultant.

(Edited to ‘no vested interest in’; ‘no’ accidentally omitted in original.)