Future University – Edge Zones
February 5, 2013 – 6:47 pm | Comments Off on Future University – Edge Zones

I’ve been thinking a bit about the future of the university, and it seems to me that a new model may be emerging, one that has something of the traditional sanctuary of a place of learning, but that innovatively engages communities, both local and international. There will, of course, have to be those preserves where students and teachers can contemplate their experience and learn together, but there must also be what, for the moment, one might think of as an edge zone where interactions of many kinds might take place.

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Life Space – challenges to innovation

Submitted by on August 30, 2010 – 5:01 pm4 Comments

by Dan Anderson

Rapidly changing research practices at private biopharmaceutical companies, university and hospital research institutions and other emerging life science enterprises present a broad variety of work challenges to building and maintaining appropriate facilities. Work challenges may be generated from many sources, from senior leadership directives, financially or market driven, or from evaluations of currently occupied but under performing or inadequate facilities, or from new research projects, teams or principle investigators. We also appreciate that not all challenges are equal. Many of these challenges are well met through small modifications to existing spaces and practices; others require more time and resources but are generally ‘tame’ or manageable using traditional approaches. There is also a third category of more complex or ‘wicked’ (to use a New England-ism) challenges. These challenges occur less often but are encountered more and more frequently as institutions grow, regulatory requirements become more stringent, and research work itself becomes more collaborative and complex.

Research laboratory spaces are one example of a current work challenge in this industry that is increasingly shifting to a ‘wicked’ challenge. The reasons for this are clear even if the solution is not readily apparent.  The resulting research and development environment can be characterized as a convergence of obsolete facilities with a steep increase of demand for specialized and flexible lab space. Imagine if you will the least innovative spaces trying to support most innovative science. Labs are typically the least flexible building component and cost the most money per square foot to build and maintain. These spaces often have the lowest utilization rates and their design is based on outdated criteria. The types of research work and skills required are also changing, as ratios between chemical and biological work shift. We are seeing novel combinatorial sciences and system biology approaches quickly overtaking traditional approaches. In order to promote and maintain innovation, new research laboratory prototypes and processes are needed that are better aligned with current  research techniques and readily adaptable to accommodate future methods. There is an urgency that new prototypes and processes be developed that are flexible and sustainable, able to support innovation, and be responsive to change. The long-term value delivered to principal investigators is improved scientific results and new breakthroughs; to administrators and business stakeholders the value is faster speed of product delivery to market/patients; to facilities managers decreased cost of construction, operations and maintenance all add value to their portfolio.

In order for organizations to realize long-term value and increase competiveness, an internal focus of attention is required to carefully identify and reduce waste. The first step is to formulate a clear translational diagnosis in order to identify the ‘wicked’ challenges and identify the necessary resources required to solve these in a manner that maximizes the delivered value. By translational diagnosis we mean an extraordinary process that engages the organization’s leadership in a course of action committed to challenging conventional ways of thinking. The resulting ideas and opportunities may lead to unexpected and far-reaching changes. Organizational and operational procedures must be balanced with human resources and learning opportunities in order to sufficiently support and sustain innovative research work at a high level of performance. Evaluation strategies based on careful observation and data can present a clear assessment of levels of performance.  Opportunities for improvement can then be reviewed and implemented to optimize efficiency with contingency plans as constraints to innovation are identified and minimized.

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