The Innovation Dilemma of Research Organization Size

Monday, 17 February 2014
Water Tower (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Jerald Hage , University of Maryland, College Park, MD

The advantages of large public research laboratories are self-evident:  tackling difficult problems and having expensive one of a kind scientific equipment such as linear accelerators, the Z machine, and that National Synchrotron Light Source, etc.  Some disadvantages, which are less evident, are revealed in a large study of 60 research projects across the six programmatic research areas of alternative energies, biology, chemistry, geophysical sciences, material sciences, and inter-disciplinary programs. A carefully constructed research environment instrument developed by Gretchen Jordan at Sandia National Laboratories was used to measure the time spent by 266 scientists on various activities in these projects. The six public research laboratories fit a natural log of size based on the number of scientists with three small, two medium and one large. Significant differences in the allocation of time by programmatic research area existed across six kinds of research activities with chemists only spending about 25% of their time in actual research vs. 44% time for material scientists.  An ANOVA analysis indicted that these differences were statistically significant (.001) as were differences by the log of size. Large laboratories significantly reduced the amount of time spent on research and professional activities.  Not only was there a reduction in the amount of time but there was also a reduction in how this time was allocated to various processes designed to increase innovation including time spent on creative research, on freedom to explore new ideas, on the ability to take risks and the amount of time the work is exciting.  Scientists in projects in the larger organizations report less time spent in each of these processes. Measures of four alternative ways for scientists to learn via the exchanges of information were also reduced by the size of the research laboratory.  A novel measure of scientific discontent was developed and found to be strongly and positively related to the log of size. The scientists in the larger laboratories also were less likely to perceived their managers as providing technical content and for their organizations to pursue strategies to increase innovation. Various tests of the face validity of the responses indicate that we can have some confidence in these findings.  Finally, one last finding about the impact of organizational size:  the less the cooperation and at all levels of the organization.