Managing Science and Research

Managing science and research requires a unique skill set that are not the same as general management skills required for other types of businesses.  General management theory is applicable to science and research management, but not sufficient to cater for the specific requirements of science and research management.  For that purpose we assume in this article that the reader is already familiar with general management principles and approaches.  Our focus here is to look at the specific requirements of science and research management.

An important aspect is understanding what would constitute good science and how to create an environment that would allow the knowledge generation aspect of science and research to flourish.  Important aspects that differ from general management principles are:

  1. Quality assurance often supersedes the process-focused approach in organization generally.  Especially where the problems are not standard and therefore require unique approaches to be solved, it is very difficult to provide consistent quality assurance and performance indicators.
  2. Science and research management requires a careful balance between investment and creating utility for current use.  Unless a considerable effort is made to constantly invest in more capabilities and growth of existing capabilities, management of science and research finds itself over the medium term with an increasingly stale and unproductive scientific research capability.  This requires a financial management approach that does not optimise for short term profit only, but also caters for the capability building of ongoing the investment.
  3. The people performing the science and research work are usually a scarce commodity, and replacing them require considerable investment of both time and money.  For this reason retention and ongoing development of existing experts needs to be a focus in the business model (this is true for all knowledge-intensive innovative environments).
  4. The work environment need to enable innovative and creative work, and facilitate and value team work.  The performance indicators for these are often difficult to define (they might even be intangible).  But giving attention to them and getting them right for the specific type of science and research work is very important for a successful science and research capability.

In addition to all of this there is the aspect of “managing science where it happens”, namely to ensure the scientific work itself is of a good quality and make the best use of the available capabilities.  Usually this is catered for by the various conventions that scientists and researchers of specific disciplines adhere to professionally.

However, the various sciences have a number of differences and commonalities that make maintaining the scientific rigour when work is done in more than one of the major branches of science very difficult.  For this reasons many research capabilities either restrict themselves to only selected branches of science, or they retain the barriers between the various sciences and never really get to an integrated scientific capability that spans across the boundaries of the sciences.  In the complex and highly connected societies we live in that is becoming an increasingly untenable situation.  We need to be able to integrate the sciences to be able to provide relevant and useful new knowledge, utilising the best that science offers. Using science in an integrated way  unlocks most value in situations like this.  We need to keep in mind that

  • All the sciences share a common goal to search for the “truth”, or “facts”, or “evidence.  This common goal provides the background against which we are able to identify a number of similarities.
  • There are some legitimate differences between the sciences that we cannot remove by forcing one approach on all the branches of science.

Accomplishing this is not easy. However, there are two sets of features that are common to all branches of the sciences.  They can be used in all branches of science to ensure that we are able to integrate our scientific work across the traditional branches of the sciences.  They are

  • The scientific productiveness features:  These are the features of science that facilitate its success in knowledge generation.  Knowledge can be generated in a number of ways, but these science has illustrated over the centuries that where these features are present and used appropriately they facilitate a level of success that is not otherwise possible.
  • The Scientific Capability Features:  These are the features that describe the way to go about knowledge generation utilising the scientific productivity features.

We have used these two for integrated scientific work in a number of cross-disciplinary applications (mostly to solve complex real life problems in strategic management decision making).  They have proven themselves to add value in the rigor, quality and relevance of cross-disciplinary scientific work.

Setting Up a Network of Action Research to Overcome Systemic and Cultural Issues

The world is changing faster than systems can keep up. This is seen in business, industry, education, health care, banking etc. The basic problem faced by managers is much the same across all of these ways of doing business: the owners and managers believe they see where the company needs to move but have difficulty explaining or motivating current staff to make the necessary changes. Sometimes management are up against cultural issues, and while they fully understand since they also come from those cultures, it is even more difficult because the change goes to the very fiber of their countries or ideals and yet are necessary if their organization is to survive. An example of this is seen in education in the Arab world where spokespeople such as her Majesty, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince H.H. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain actively pursue a dramatic change in education away from graduates who want and expect the government to hire them and to take care of them for the rest of their lives as has been the case for a very long time. In much of the world the government has always been the best employer and now economic pressures insist on a change to an entrepreneurial society, one that creates economic growth in the new knowledge based economic environment. Using this example, we see several complex layers of issues that need to be tackled simultaneously in order to bring about systemic change. These layers include:

  1. producing a cultural mind shift from being taken care of by the government to fast-paced entrepreneurial endeavors
  2. encouraging a shift from seeking only safety to being willing to take risks
  3. needing to incorporate the “soft” skills required in modern business into the standard curriculum
  4. providing professional development for teachers so that they can model these new skills, ones that they don’t currently have or understand
  5. finding the time to release all the staff for this training and this retooling while still continuing the work that is going on
  6. finding a way so that the change is embraced by the people rather than engendering resentment

As is true with most complex issues, facing these issues directly makes many experienced leaders and managers quail under the likelihood of potential failure. We have all seen reform efforts gone bad. Every new idea that does not get implemented properly, leaves behind it a residue of resentment and skepticism, eventually souring the entire culture of our working world. Many Western environments have seen this already, with employee morale dropping dramatically and productivity coming to a halt upon announcement of mergers, reorganization, etc.

The good news is that networked participatory action research (PAR) can overcome many, if not all, of these challenges. This article lays out the general format that can be used by leadership, in tandem with a good PAR facilitation, to develop teams of staff who will study the issues and develop solutions, taking ownership of the changes required by the complex situation rather than subtlety opposing all change.

How do you begin? The first step for management is to work what personal incentives can be used to encourage people to take on the extra work that is being asked of them. This is a common problem for businesses, nonprofits, and public administrators, who generally expect that this kind of work should just be done under the normal auspices of a person’s employment. We have found that incentives bring success and without them complex reforms of this nature are much more likely to experience a failure rate of somewhere around 50%. Here’s why. This PAR process will require that these teams work outside of their normal business day to gather data, have meetings to discuss actions and measurement, implement new steps, and measure their success. Consider them pilot projects in each of your major hubs of activity. If you were paying consultants to work out a pilot for you, you would pay them. In this case your own staff should be treated with the same respect you would give those consultants. The change in their attitude will seem remarkable. When you are asking them to step up as experts in what they do and help you redesign their own working environment to better meet the needs of outside pressures to change, to pilot new ideas, and you show them respect by paying them extra for their extra work, they are much more likely to give it their full attention.

What are you asking them to do? To participate regularly in an action research project and to write up the results in a final report that will be available to you for publication. This involves a discovery cycle where they analyze what needs to change in order to make your vision come true, present ideas as to which steps can be taken and measure the outcomes of those first steps, and then to come back and reflect with you on what they are finding. This will then start another round of discovery, measurable action, and reflection, a process which continues until you see real and sustainable change. In this manner they will take ownership of the changes you need them to make, feel transformed in their new roles, and, over time, you will be amazed at how much can be done, and what positive attitudes will develop. The requirement for a final report is a necessary capstone to this kind of change process. We have found that the two elements that create success are the incentives and the requirement for a final report that will be published. The first shows respect, the second sets a high professional standard.

What is the structure and timetable of this activity? Picture a central hub, with smaller circles attached to it through lines, and more lines making a web between the smaller circles. That is the general design of networked participatory action research to address complex change. First, small working groups are formed in each of the hubs of activity that need to address the change. For instance in education, you would bring together working teams that included Principals and key teachers from schools where the reform needed to be put in action. In business, the decisions of the online on where the reform needs to be put in action. So, if you’re strategic plan requires a retooling in some fashion across several working groups, you ask the heads of those working groups to select two or three partners and they form what we will call the local participatory action team.

Once these small teams are formed, (becoming the smaller circles in our imaginary diagram) you bring them together on a regular basis, facilitate their understanding of action research, their understanding of the challenges your wider organization faces, and what is expected of their individual subgroups. Then their team goes back to their area and proceedings with a cycle of action research. This includes discovering what is the currently in the way of the change and measuring it. Then they come back to the hub for another day’s work as you facilitate their next steps which include designing and planning the implementation that will begin to create the change you desire. Because they are held to a standard that requires later reporting, each step along the way as measured, and as the process continues as they grow in their professional understanding of the scientific approach to problem solving and change.

The timetable starts with management assigning the work to their managers and the managers choosing their teams, then these teams or hubs of activity come together with the facilitator to learn about action research and to plan the rest of the change effort. The will be meeting as a larger group for one full day about every two months for approximately one year after the first meeting. In total, and including initial planning and final celebration, the facilitated group meets for 8 – 10 working days. The teams will put in about three times that much effort in their local context. We have studied groups using this design and have found consistently transformational results – both from the teams in the hubs of activity and in the total organization as a whole. Generally a year of facilitated activity and another year where the people involved in the initial teams disseminate what they have learned and engender change in their local environments will demonstrate remarkable differences. The following quotes participants at the end of this design demonstrate the results you might expect in your organization.

The cycles of participatory action research have certainly given us exciting results. Motivation in our organization is an ongoing research topic, and we realize that we have a duty to pass on this information to the entire community. We all need to raise our expectations as to our ability to achieve better results, but we have proven to ourselves that we are up to the task.

The action research process has pushed all of us to continue to refine our practice of acquiring usable information. As we went through this cyclical process, we gained clarity on the data needed to be most helpful to those we work with and our employers. Everyone assisted by seeking information and we created an environment where all were successful. The process supported us and caused us to grow beyond out wildest dreams. While at time frustrating, it also creates an effective model for successful implementation of change.

Future articles will discuss the facilitation issues and other specifics of the design.

Creating A Website To Sell Products Online

Creating a website to sell a product online is a task that might seem simple, but there are several entanglements that could hamper your success.

One of the main problems with creating a website to sell a product online is that you will need to have a competent webmaster to set up your website. You will need to find someone with experience, who can help you be visible.

Finding an experienced webmaster isn’t that difficult, but it can be very expensive to have a website built for online success.

One of the ways to offset the expense of creating a website, is to use replicated websites. Replicated websites used in your niche market can be used very successfully. These websites can be obtained for a fraction of the cost of having a website built for you.

You can also go to ClickBank and you’ll find several vendors that sell replicated websites in your target market. Some of the vendors will want a one time fee; others will want a recurring monthly fee for using the replicated website. Use your best judgement to determine what is best for you.

There is another option with regard to solving the problem of creating a website to sell products online, and that is that you can partner with an affiliate marketer and market the affiliates products or services. There are many prosperous affiliate marketers online, who have not created a website to sell online goods or services, yet they are prosperous because they have partnered with someone who know how to build a website and the affiliate has tested the copy and the websites images, to determine which copy and images performs best.

This model of partnering with an online partner is similar to being a franchise owner. In a regular brick and mortar business as a franchise owner, you do not have to “create, ” a product or service, you only need to follow a proven pattern to become successful.

The franchisor has done all the “heavy lifting” in order to get the business started. This is the exact model used to become an affiliate marketer. The affiliate has done all the start-up work needed for you to become a successful affiliate. In essence by being an affiliate, you are tucked in a safe haven for online marketers. By being an affiliate you are not saddle with all the hassles that the creator of the products must address. Concerns like finding the best product to create. Or, finding good marketing strategies. Then there is the problem of transporting the product or service to the market If the product is a tangible product, this creates more of a challenge to get the product to the market. Finally, how do you receive payments for your product from the customers?

These are all concerns that need addressing before you can become a successful online marketer. As stated earlier, affiliate marketing offers comfort from all of the above mentioned problems. However, there are still two major problems that the average marketers must address.

Number one, is promoting the affiliates website. It’s one thing to join an affiliate program to sell their products or services online, but it takes competent skill level to properly promote your website online. It can be quite costly to advertise a website online. Many marketers give up their online business, because they can’t get traffic to their affiliate website. Often they run out of money trying to promote these online websites. Google AdWords advertising, MSN, and other pay per click advertising can be costly. Many other affiliate marketing strategies are costly. Methods like magazine advertising or post card marketing can put you in “the red, ” quickly.

Let’s look at an example of how you can easily spend your way into oblivion by trying to promote a website. The cost to advertise via pay per click could easily cost you $200 – $500 per month if you are hoping to get in the top 5 for ad posting with Google. Ad clicks hover around one dollar per click and you are wanting to get 200 to 500 clicks, per word then you will spend anywhere from $200 – $500 per month.

Other methods of advertising could be costly as well. For example, advertising your site by using ezine ads in a good converting ezine, could easily cost you $200. 00 to $600. 00 per 50, 000 readers.

Voice broadcasting cost roughly, $30. 00 to advertise to 3000 prospects. Multiply these numbers by 7 times in order to reach roughly 20, 000 prospects, and you are out of over $200. 00.

The point here is that good paid traffic is very expensive. That leads us to the number two problem with affiliate websites. That problem is that the owner of the affiliate program, pays to little in commission to the affiliates. Typically, the commission pay, pays out anywhere from 40 to 60 percent for the affiliate product being offered. The problem is that if your conversion rate isn’t converting high enough, then your cost to advertise your website will keep your website business from being a profitable online business, due to much overhead.

Finally, creating a website to sell products online is both challenging and rewarding. Getting a product or service that is needed, yet unique would be ideal. Also getting a product that pays enough commissions to overcome debts caused from promoting the product or service, and render a profit, would be ideal.