Science, science management, science policy … part 3
Science needs flexibility if it is to produce innovation from creativity. At the same time, it is understandable that taxpayers demand sensible use of the funds they provide. Dispelling this apparent contradiction – individual 'liberty' versus societal expectations – is the primary task of those involved in the planning of research activities; that is, science managers. Political bodies have the task of formulating policy anywhere – but only there – where it can be defined on the basis of democratic legitimacy that is derived from elections.
The decisions made in the world of politics, among the populace and in the field of science usually create few objections, probably because there is sufficient flexibility. Upon closer examination of the tasks involved and the aspirations of the participants, some aspects of the work – which are of great importance for practical implementation – become apparent; so instructions from above should be limited and detailed control avoided.
The conflict between micromanagement and discretion within scientific institutions is also not a trivial problem. At DLR, we employ programmatic controls that are intended, on the one hand, to ensure consistency with regard to the subjects of DLR activities, and, on the other hand, to not stifle scientific freedom – which is the source of creativity.
To do what is correct also in the future, an organisation such as DLR must understand strategy to be an ongoing process, without any limitation as to time. With this understanding, we are currently in the process of establishing a comprehensive strategy with the main objective of putting DLR in a flexible, yet robust, position for an unknowable future. Taking into account both internal and external expectations, requirements and challenges, objectives are being defined for our entire organisation and its various subdivisions, as well as investigating possibilities for further development. During a debate in the DLR Senate committee, this issue, which had until then essentially been discussed only within DLR (active participation!), was brought to board level. The feedback received to date from various external sources – academia, industry and politics – has encouraged me to continue to further this process transparently while taking into consideration the inputs of the various external stakeholders, as well as DLR staff members.
Given DLR's renowned position as a research centre, space agency and project management organisation at national, European and international levels, it is important when defining its objectives (both institutional and technical) to consider the structural consequences, thus reflecting the thesis of the economist and business historian Alfred D. Chandler, Jr, that 'Structure follows Strategy'.
Images: Experiment in weightlessness during the D1 mission in 1985. Credit: DLR (CC BY 3.0).