The Promise and Perils of Transformative Research | Science of Science Policy

The report from out TR Workshop is now hot off the presses!

The Promise and Perils of Transformative Research | Science of Science Policy.


Executive Summary

In March of 2012, researchers from a range of fields met at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, VA to discuss the meaning and implications of ‘transformative research’ (TR). Prepped by a prior examination of the TR literature – and in some cases, having contributed to previous TR reports – participants reflected on NSF thinking about transformative research. They also sought to identify options for whether, to what ends, and under what circumstances TR might best be promoted in the future.

This paper distills conclusions reached through two days of discussion and the subsequent collaborative process of creating this report. It surveys the landscape with an eye toward presenting options to help policy makers at NSF and at other federal agencies respond to challenges they face in seeking to promote transformative research.

Workshop conversations cluster under the four headings of the history and definitions, promotion, evaluation, and integration of TR:

1. History and Definitions: The National Science Board’s 2007 report (NSB-07-32) on transformative research called for more effort directed at defining TR. The present report offers additional context and clarity regarding meanings of the term. But it also argues that there are virtues in leaving the term open to multiple interpretations.

2. Promotion: The report welcomes new mechanisms for promoting TR, such as NSF ‘CREATIV’ grants. It embraces additional means for promoting TR, such as increased emphasis on interdisciplinary research, and explores how different interpretations of how TR occurs imply different strategies for promoting TR. It also calls for increased attention to the broader societal impacts of TR at the levels of policy, of NSF programs, and of individual research projects.

3. Evaluation: The report emphasizes the need to develop means for evaluating attempts to promote TR. It also concludes that research should be directed toward evaluating transformative research at the project level.

4. Integration: The report suggests that consideration of the broader societal impacts of TR be fully integrated with transformative research itself. Attention to the broader impacts of TR should inform the development of policies and programs designed to promote TR, for instance through the creation of mechanisms such as an Advisory Committee for Transformative Research (ACTR). 

This was a fun report to write and I hope it will have some impact on science policy, not only at NSF. It will also likely open us up for all kinds of criticism! This is a good venue for all kinds of responses. Comments are welcome.

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