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date: 03 February 2023

The Challenges of Planning for High-Impact Researchlocked

The Challenges of Planning for High-Impact Researchlocked

  • Brian L. FosterBrian L. FosterUniversity of Missouri


In major universities, research must be seen in many dimensions: the different disciplines, basic vs. applied, incremental vs. transformative, disciplinary or interdisciplinary, single researcher or collaborative, and much more. A fundamental difference that receives increasing attention is the distinction between incremental research vs. transformative research. Incremental research takes existing research results to the next step while transformative research opens up whole new ways of framing questions, often challenging what is “known,” and leading to new paths of knowledge creation that could lead to new academic disciplines or completely new approaches to practical issues/problems. Incremental research is critical to bring existing results to their most valuable ends. Transformative research has high impact in opening up new paths to important knowledge, but it poses daunting challenges in being unpredictable, long term, and high risk.

Providing appropriate infrastructure is critical for all kinds of research (e.g., facilities, lab space, special equipment, staff support). To assure sustained access to these resources, effective planning is necessary, which poses a significant challenge given the long-term, high-risk, and unpredictable nature of transformative research. To address these planning challenges, it is necessary to explore ways of creating an environment and resources that make successful transformative research more likely to happen rather than planning for incremental research. Such strategies include supporting uniquely powerful facilities that fit with academic strengths (e.g., a strong research reactor, radio-astronomy facility). Another is to maintain a supportive environment for interdisciplinary research. Yet another strategy is to orient performance evaluation away from productivity, which is the enemy of long-term, risky, unpredictable research. And lastly, it is critical to have a positive mindset for challenges to existing knowledge.


  • Applied Anthropology

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