Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A research center is not another name for an ad-hoc committee, a study group, or even a regional research unit. It is a far more serious undertaking, a sort of a think tank specialized in one area or other of strategic research. Both the mission statement and the vision of such a center will depend not only on who provides the funds, but also on who is going to be in charge of the manning and running center operations. How much power each of these parties has in setting policy is not necessarily a comfortable or self-evident equation to solve. In this short post, I wish to think aloud about the prototypical relationship between the two.
There is an old saying that ‘he who pays the fiddler calls the tune’, and generally speaking, those who dispense the cash will have right of way to draw the general policy guidelines to be followed by the center. The sponsor may well be a governmental or intergovernmental agency or a large business operation. Assuming that it is the sponsor who has the final say on the overall direction of the center can be a bit of simplification. More and more, there is recognition that any agency, think tank, research center, profession, union, guild or trade must have an agreed-upon code of conduct which is akin to a constitution. Underlying many formalized scientific and social research bodies is a principle called social responsibility. This is true of physicians, nuclear scientists, physicists, businesses, as much as it is true of teachers, nurses, linguists, standardization watchdogs, consumer-protection agencies, and so on.
What social responsibility entails is a declared commitment to the social good or the common good. How we define the common good itself is very controversial, but at the very least, it has to be seen that the outcome of the work being conducted is not meant to hurt or endanger the values believed to be essential for the survival of humanity at large, without distinction between people on the basis of all those socioeconomic variables that set humans apart.
With specific reference to the social responsibility of a research center, it has to be clear that neither the sponsor nor the experts and administration of the center are in the business of doing work that does not lead to human benefit across the board. In other words, both the sponsor, the managers and subject-specific human resources have to agree from the very beginning that universally-agreed upon values will have to be adhered to as a matter of course.
In the case of education, those will values will include but should not be limited to the right to learn, the right to communicate, the right to use and speak one’s native language, the right to think, the right to express and criticize alternative viewpoints, the right to create, the right to innovate,
the right to be treated fairly and -- principally-- the duty to treat others fairly.
A final note
It may be that there are those who judge the integration of the common good as being a bit of a simplistic and idealized view of life, business, and the world. Here though, we are talking about a minimum of two drivers: the business driver, i.e., the sponsors, those who will pay for center infrastructure and human resources, and the knowledge workers and managers who run the big, strategic operations of the center. Unless a clear, documented, and satisfactory agreement is reached between the two from the very beginning, there is a possibility that the center might not be capable of delivering the goods it was set to deliver.


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Ali H. Raddaoui said...


Whilst I respect your views and understandings, I was hoping that you use the space provided here to comment upon the matter being discussed, rather than to draw attention to something that is totally unrelated, important though it may be. Anyone is entitled to create such spaces to advocate their viewpoints, but any space, blog, wiki, or web site has a goal of its own, and using it for purposes other than what it is intended for is the wrong thing to do. I will not delete your comment, but I hope you will refrain from misusing my blog in the future.

Thank you.