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Looking Inside the Cooperative Research Center "Black Box": Understanding Why and How Some Research Centers and Stakeholder Perform Better Than Others

A Triple Helix 5 Paper Session proposed by:

Denis O. Gray, Ph.D., Moderator
Psychology in the Public Interest Program
North Carolina State University
Principal Investigator, NSF IUCRC Evaluation Project
Coordinator, Social Science Research, NSF STC for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes


Social science research on “research centers” goes back at least 30 years in the U.S., starting with early evaluations of NSF Materials Research Centers. Other NSF Center programs that have faced evaluative scrutiny include the Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers, the Engineering Research Centers, and the Science and Technology Centers. Surprisingly, most of these studies have been conducted at the program-level of analysis. This is, they have examined processes and outcomes for a whole program (e.g., IUCRC) while ignoring variation across centers and within centers (e.g., for participating firms) – a so-called “black box” approach to evaluation. While program-level evaluations provide some value, this approach fails to address two critical questions, “Why do some centers perform better than others?”; “Why do some center stakeholders receive more benefits than others?”

This paper session will show how one can move beyond “black box” evaluations by showcasing a series of methodologically diverse and sophisticated studies that have tried to link center, organizational and/or individual-level variation with important center and stakeholder outcomes. Session will be moderated by Dr. Denis O. Gray who will provide a brief overview of cooperative research centers, their evaluation and how factors operating at various levels of analysis (e.g., industry, organizational, center, individual) may affect center outcomes.

Individual papers will describe specific empirical research projects that attempted to “look inside the center black box” in order to better understand the mechanisms that make centers effective or ineffective. Specific papers to be presented as part of this session include: “Space of innovation: The influence of workforce space on innovation processes in university research centers” a multi-method study that examined how the physical layout of cooperative research center office and laboratory space affects collaboration and ultimately innovation; “Faculty satisfaction and organizational commitment with industry-university research centers” a path analytic study that examined which individual and organizational factors predict satisfaction and ultimately organizational commitment among faculty involved in centrers; “Research in Industry-University Research Centers: Managing Research Programs in NSF Science and Technology Centers” a primarily qualitative study of how different approaches to research strategic planning are used by cooperative research centers and the implications of these approaches; and “The role of industrial organizational boundary-spanners in the outcomes of industry-university cooperative research centers” an ambitious attempt to understand how industry representatives can and do affect the benefits their firms realize from their involvement in cooperative research centers. Implications for future research will be discussed.







Triple Helix Conference I Amsterdam, 1996 II New York, 1998 III Rio de Janeiro, 2000 IV Copenhagen, 2002 V Turin, 2005 VI Singapore, 2007 VII Glasgow, 2009 VIII Madrid, 2010 IX Stanford, 2011 X Indonesia, 2012 XI London, 2013
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