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close this book Laying the foundation - The institution of knowledge in developing countries
close this folder Part III Institutional performance: what can be said, what should be leaned
View the document Chapter 8 Factors affecting institutional success
View the document Chapter 9 Elements for a research agenda

Chapter 9 Elements for a research agenda

Roberto Martinez Nogueira

What are the problem areas in defining a research agenda for the institutional development of Latin American organizations that generate and transfer scientific and technological knowledge? This chapter reflects on this question, identifying critical problems, asking important questions, and, finally, outlining a research agenda.


The Problem

The issue of institutional development is a growing concern. This is because organizational factors have been identified as critical to development, especially to the generation, transfer, and use of knowledge. Bearing this in mind, a number of observations and examples can be discussed and analyzed.

First, the central actors in the development process are organizations. Even if development is expressed through individual, group, or social actions, these actions are deployed in an organization, or will have an effect on an organization, be it the State, a private enterprise, a political party, a union, a university, or a research centre. Therefore, the quality and effectiveness of organizations are both the cause and effect of development.

This view implies that the institutional factor is hierarchical; it is the framework and the space that regulates and governs individual and group activity. In this way, any consideration of specific aspects of a society - such as economy, education, health, and scientific research - must include the framework and the space. Not only is this relevant from an analytical perspective, but it will also raise the problem of coherence between institutional frameworks and organizational models with the attributes and requirements of each level of action in society. In other words, it leads to the empirical question of the suitability, compatibility, and potential of organizational models with respect to current circumstances and future prospects. This is the central issue addressed in this chapter.

In recent years, the subject of institutional strengthening has become part of many national strategies and the focus of much international cooperation. Certainly, the institutional factor and efforts to bring about its development have always been present in the literature. Nonetheless, for several reasons, the subject has acquired a new urgency and relevance. Latin America is experiencing a process of radical transformation: development models are being reviewed, economies are being liberalized, and the role of the state is being reformulated. The effects of these transformations are being felt very unevenly throughout our society, and priority must be given to eradicating poverty, which grows more dramatic every day.

This panorama poses great challenges to research organizations. The ability to compete and be innovative has become an essential attribute for feasible development. Equally, sustainability to maintain development and equity is a requisite for the benefits of transformation to contribute eventually to eradicating poverty. All this notably affects the demands on research organizations and suggests that the mission of each institution, its strategies, its programs, and even the culture and procedures adopted must be examined.

Researchers in the 1960s introduced the concept of institution building. This line of thought was based on the assumption that development was a process of increasing complexity in which new activities would have to be performed by organizational structures that were differentiated within the framework of functional specialization. In this way, the creation of new organizations was both a consequence and one of the preconditions of the development process.

As a result of this line of thinking, action designed to promote development based on international financial resources, on policies executed by an activist state promoting them, and on economic and social planning was accompanied by a proliferation of new organizations. These organizations were different from their predecessors in their approach, in many of their attributes, and in the way in which they went about their work.

This phenomenon was of great importance. In addition to the traditional organizations - universities, science museums, experimental stations for agriculture, teacher-training centres - a new generation of scientific and technological institutions was created. Those who worked for them had precise definitions of their objectives and of their degree of independence or autonomy from central state administration. Their activities were grouped into programs and projects, they had sufficient resources including scientists and technicians who had been trained abroad, symbolic content, and external articulation that gave them social legitimacy. All these attributes were considered to be necessary and sufficient for them to be effective: this was the reason for all the attention given to design, resources, and the definition of activities. The context was not part of the analysis, which explains why institutional models were repeated all over Latin America, taking as their basic characteristics those features of institutions in developed countries that had apparently brought them success.

The new generation of institutions responded to a particular concept of what knowledge could contribute to development. Production would be rapid, and the results would be automatically incorporated into policy by decision-makers or transferred to the productive sector, thus creating legitimacy for the institutions. These organizations were both expressions of modernization and a part of their times, and it is within this context that we must explain how they were constituted and how and why they operated.

These organizations had to operate in a context that was not as receptive as had been predicted. Several problems recurred. The difference between initial expectations and actual achievement began to cause concern.

A common organizational response was a request for policies and incentives to stimulate demand, either through the creation of local captive markets or through protectionism. Another common response was to seek local financing from central revenues diverted specifically to sustain the organization. The first response was an attempt to secure transfer by restricting the choices of the end user. The second was to protect research and development from the changing winds of politics, economic contingencies, and even the demands of those who, supposedly, were to use the knowledge generated. Both mechanisms were shown to be inefficient in consolidating the capacity of these organizations to innovate, but both concentrated attention on the external aspects of the organization.

The evidence that demand did not arise automatically from supply and that the simple existence of specialist organizations did not guarantee either the generation of knowledge or its transfer led to doubt about policy, instruments, and mechanisms. As experience was gained, the importance of contextual articulation was increasingly plain: the legitimacy of the activities of the organizations remained fragile, and local support was insufficient to insure continuity and growth. Therefore, the conviction grew that organizations could be viewed as variables that explained problems and failures, either because they were too rigid or, sometimes, because they were too malleable. Bureaucratic inertia, the lack of flexibility in programs and in the execution of the organization's tasks, their inability to find resources to protect themselves from fluctuations in the world around them, and other considerations were all factors that continued despite substantial changes in their framework of operation. In addition, however - and apparently paradoxically - their vulnerability and dependence made them extremely sensitive to change and led to frequent changes of objectives and deterioration in efficiency and efficacy.

In imitation of experience in the financing of investment projects, attempts were made to increase effectiveness through programs that included actions designed to create and consolidate management capacity (for example, planning, management control, handling of resources, and so forth). However, integrated attempts to attack the overall problem were rare. All too often attempts to strengthen the organizations came to nothing when the program ended. With respect to research activities, the phenomenon was similar: financing was secured to execute the project, but it failed to reduce the extreme dependence and institutional fragility. In other words, attempts to resolve the problem were cyclical: institutional development was first identified with a set of attributes and qualities linked to design, resources, and the definition of activities. Then, the emphasis changed to performance of the functions of government and to organizational action. The sequence of disappointments and failures meant that an alternative concept progressively gained ground, based on strategic, procedural, and interactive aspects.

The cycle repeats, however imperfectly and slowly, a sequence in the theory of organizations. Since Weber (1947), many have advanced the argument that design and effectiveness are related. However, the identity of an ideal bureaucratic type with rationality of process and effectiveness has been discarded on the basis of overwhelming evidence. This evidence has also led to a questioning of later approaches that concentrated on functional specialization and structural differentiation, principles on which organizational systems for development were constructed from the 1950s on.

This evidence revealed the "disfunctionality" of organizations constructed on these principles, especially in certain contexts - turbulence and uncertainty - and technological and operational conditions - a low level of program activity. Therefore, other approaches began to gain ground in which context and technology dominated design and determined the most suitable processes, associating effectiveness with the appreciation of situations, and appropriateness to circumstance. Thus, progressively, the emphasis on design faded, and dynamic qualities of management and action took their place. Following this route, strategies, cultures, and the comportment of actors became the critical elements in ensuring effectiveness. So too, the concept of institutional or organizational development began to form:

· A desired state, a design with a set of attributes or stock of abilities that would together explain effectiveness; a broad concept that includes the achievement of objectives, efficiency in operations, flexibility and adaptability, and learning as a possibility to be exploited, with an active role in the modification of context; and

· A process by which attributes are acquired or consolidated on a permanent basis, with constant reconstruction of organizational capacity.

Following this notion, success is defined not only by survival or by performance, but also by the possibility of securing those achievements over time and making the institution sustainable. Achievements are, therefore, relative, being referred to a level of ambition governed by the uncertain.

This is useful for the orientation of research and defines the complexity of the problem. Nonetheless, it is not precise enough as a criterion for the evaluation of activity and should be enriched from outside the organization. That is, evaluation should not be limited to products and results, which refer to creativity, efficiency, and continuity of production, but should also include impact, social relevance, and use by other agents in society. These dimensions transcend the processes of conversion or production and refer to their consequences as well.


Central Questions

This sections deals with some questions raised in the literature, identifying subjects that may be pertinent to the design of the research agenda. First, because of the heterogeneity of research organizations, the various types must be described to understand the problem. An institution is made up of a set of elements: its legal or formal status, whether it is public or private, its central mission, its range of activities, and so forth. Its nature can be empirically identified. The literature agrees on this point, offering the following five types:

· Public institutions, specialized by sector or by discipline, with a wide range of activities (from basic research to the delivery of services), a relatively homogeneous clientele, specific demands, and regular mechanisms for the preservation and development of capacity through the training of human resources (these institutes are usually used for the resolution of conflict and for mediation among the levels of public policy);

· Universities, in which research is closely related to teaching, with a greater interest in basic and applied research, and lines of work that arise from the initiative of the researchers themselves (these are organizations with multiple objectives that are not highly concentrated in terms of subject or discipline);

· Private institutes, linked with the international academic community and depending on funds from external agencies (these institutes have more concentrated lines of work, a stronger focus on applied research, and a greater degree of autonomy);

· Service institutions, with a considerable capacity for identifying problems and generating demand for knowledge, but with limited resources for ongoing activity or systematic research; and

· Public institutions preparing policies and plans, conducting the research activities required for their work, in particular in the fields of education, health, and economics, with a low level of autonomy and responding to specific demands.

These organizational configurations prompt some interesting questions in designing research: Is the institution dependent or independent? Does it determine the type of activity that is most appropriate for the institution to carry out? These questions can be formulated in other terms: What attributes does an institution require for each type of research? The answer may reveal the nature of the relation between organizational attributes and research requirements that will secure greater efficiency and efficacy.

The hypothesis that the type of activity (such as basic, strategic, applied, or adaptive research, or development and validation of technologies) is the only variable that can explain organizational attributes is not entirely unfounded. Nonetheless, its basis seems largely to be part of the epistemological and methodological debate rather than part of the sociology of the production of knowledge. Further, it responds to a concept that production may be represented as a continuum. Various types of research differ with respect to the "distance" between their results and their effective use by the productive system. Therefore, they also differ in the application of criteria for validation and relevance of results, the specificity of demand, and the methods used to evaluate results and their immediate impact.

Much evidence suggests that putting research into an institutional context is very complex. Efficiency and efficacy are not the reasons why some forms of activity are most frequently found in a particular type of organization (for example, basic or scientific research is usually focused in universities), but the reproduction of a universal model based on the initiative of a research and teaching community. In many cases, the same type of research is conducted in many different contexts, which are not the result of rational allocation of institutional roles. The hypothesis that positioning is the result of an historical process that expresses objectives, strategies, and the interests of various areas of society, bringing about allocation of activities through specific organizations (or their abandonment) seems not only more reasonable, but also a much more powerful argument for directing research.

This process should have its own logic, and many possibilities can be considered. To the extent that technological development is increasingly dependent on scientific advance, strategic considerations, and competition, not only are the distances in the continuum reduced and the boundaries of each type of activity extended, but also scientific research is incorporated into social problems that may be outside the scope of the research institution's original purpose. Therefore, the institutions responsible for generating technology to meet a highly predictable demand in the productive sector often contain units for basic research or sciences to produce the necessary inputs for technological development. Such units include agricultural research institutes, atomic energy commissions, specific health programs, and the laboratories of the larger companies in both private and public sectors. This might indicate that a basic issue is the need to secure links between the results of the various activities undertaken.

In economic terms, logic will govern the allocation of activity within the institution. Cost of the products of research for the end user will be minimized, reducing uncertainty and transaction costs associated with transfer from one organization to another. This would explain the fact that the products of research that are most in demand in the productive sector are found in the most specialized contexts, isolating individual tasks to reduce the competition for resources and legitimacy.

In Chapter 4, Ardila introduces the economic nature of knowledge (the degree to which it can be appropriated) as an essential factor to explain the social context of research and, therefore, the strategies used to control the activity depending on the types of users, and to explain the predominantly private character of the activity. At the same time, the degree to which a technology can be appropriated is not sufficient to explain the quality or effectiveness of an organization. In the case of agricultural research, the stage at which institutes produce only the end product was highly effective, because the task was to adapt available technologies for use rather than to generate new ones. This suggests that strong external pressure is not sufficient for achieving high levels of effectiveness.

An examination of these questions may help to define the role of institutions. But for this purpose, it seems advisable to identify sets of organizations that go further than formal definition of the nature of an institution, a type of research, or specific discipline.

The mission and strategy of organizations

The basic documents refer to contexts and circumstances that organizations have had to face, emphasizing their importance in explaining

· The mission, strategic orientation, and definition of program activity, emphasizing restrictions and degrees of freedom to choose resources, programs, projects, structures, and methods; and

· The social needs to be satisfied and the end users of products, the source of demand, pressures, and the effort to give the institution legitimacy, obtain support, and secure a continuous flow of resources to guarantee survival and growth.

Urrutia (Chapter 5) says that the demand for economic research is determined by the level of technical development of the government sector and the universities and by the degree of social democratization. Ardila (Chapter i) asserts that institutional capacity in agricultural research is a function of the government and the size of the country. His analysis also mentions incidence of demand and markets as well as the offer of technology as the variables explaining institutional operations. The importance of policy definition is raised by Carrasquilla (Chapter 8).

To analyze the interaction between the structural situation and basic organizational definitions, we need to introduce the notion of context. Context has a long tradition in the literature on organizations, although it also has an ambiguous connotation. Context must be specified so that it identifies relations, definitions, restrictions, and opportunities (Scott 1993).

Except in the field of agricultural research, this issue has been little explored. Several studies have suggested the extraordinary importance of the social aspect of national research institutes in agriculture to explain their efficacy and their ability to transfer knowledge. They emphasize the importance of this in defining strategies for organizational change, such as decentralization and creating a context for the participation of local producers. The experience of INTA in Argentina is perhaps the most interesting example.

Some work refers to generic conditions experienced in different disciplines and types of activity. However, their usefulness is Iimited as factors affecting institutional profile, organizational development, and effectiveness. On the other hand, few studies identify and explain the factors that determine levels of effectiveness in relation to type of institution, disciplinary approach, research type, or organizational model. There are also few studies on specific organizations or groups of organizations with respect to the transactions in which they are involved and social articulation.

As a result, we must return to the organization as a unit for analysis and define context as interorganizational. For this purpose, a study must be made of the institutional framework, public policy regulating or affecting the institution, the legitimacy of its mission and tasks, the position of its products in the matrix of social transactions, the nature and behaviour of the networks that are involved in those transactions, the activities being exchanged, and so forth. (These points are included in the concept of competition used by Israel (1987).)

Looking at successes and failures helps us determine what strategic options and alternatives for social articulation are most appropriate for each context. At the same time, attention should be paid to interorganizational relations to identify complementary relations, collaboration, and competition, so that sets of organizations can be analyzed. For example, the development of networks in Latin America has become highly efficient in several fields, such as agricultural research, education, and tropical diseases (Chapters 4, 6, and 8).

Institutional models

The interaction between structure and effectiveness is determined by the organizational model adopted. In a given context, effectiveness results from adapting the institutional model to preserve institutional identity, to update its capacity, and to permit it to play an active part in the formation of the context itself. In other words, if the organization does not systematically examine its mission, design, and the way it functions in terms of adapting to its context, its effectiveness may easily decline, even if the model for its original creation was appropriate. For this reason, consideration must be given to the initial homogeneity of the Latin American models, the increasing ambiguity that they came to accept, the incremental changes they suffered, and the current need for a radical review because of changes in the context in which they operate.

The similarity and persistence with which Latin American countries have patched up their institutions is remarkable. It demonstrates the existence of a problem that is not confined to the organizations. The models result from processes of social innovation in response to contemporary challenges. Once their validity and efficacy have been accepted, these virtues am unquestioned (Olsen and March 1981). The demonstrative effect has played a central role, along with technical assistance and international funding. Structures, lines of programming, and methods of operation show a similarity that reveals problems of common interest and creates a degree of independence from conditions faced by specific organizations. Indeed, the scale of organization was also not sufficiently differentiated; the model was simply copied.

After the installation stage, tensions arose between expectations, requirements, possibilities, and results. Adjustments and adaptations were required, but these did not radically alter the models and gave rise to a growing ambiguity in the missions of the organizations and to inconsistencies in strategy, program planning, and administration. The preservation of the institution may have been matched by a decline in its effectiveness. This trend must be examined to determine how to end it or turn it into a productive process.

Some of the changes are a result of a long process of growth in the complexity of individual countries, illustrated by the emergence of new institutional actors and by the development of new agents. Many organizations arose as innovations to deal with specific problems, and, in some cases, they maintained a monopoly in the field for many years. This situation has changed radically. There has been a proliferation of private universities with high-quality programs in areas previously reserved for public institutions. Each country now has a number of government research centres that are competing for prestige and resources. There are also a number of companies in the private sector and associated organizations that play an active role in technological development. The initial mission of institutions has progressively lost its meaning.

Other changes have resulted from changes in policy and from international conditions. Structural adjustment, which has been affecting many countries in Latin America, has caused a rethinking of the role of the state; privatization of services and devolution of authority from the national to provincial and local administration has occurred. Further, the liberalization of economies and the impact of new technologies require innovation to preserve and increase competition. Scientific and technological organizations must keep apprised of the rapid innovations in technology and other fields. The new focus on poverty and social policy requires greater accuracy of information, analytical capacity, and operational ability. The scenario and priorities have changed bringing a corresponding need to reanalyze existing institutional models.

The new scenario puts management resources to the test, creates new tensions with regard to programs, and makes capacities, structures, and procedures obsolete. The changes in context are now the main reason for action in institutional development. This assumes a redefinition of missions and strategies, a deliberate search for niches of specialization, and attempts to develop competitive advantage. The redesign of institutions and the change in organizational culture must be a consequence of this review of strategy.

Social demand

All organizations need resources, legitimacy, and support. Survival and effectiveness are associated with satisfaction of some need or specific interest, and the institution will give pride of place to the groups on which it depends for these elements (Pfeffer and Salancick 1978). This leads to an analysis of the "force-field" in which an organization finds itself, of the demand for its products, and the strategies of the actors involved. These should be part of the research agenda.

The base documents analyze cases in which institutionalization was sustained for a relatively long period regardless of effectiveness. Many organizations found working methods and subjects for investigation that had little local demand, but they achieved a high level of production. This allowed them to enjoy a sense of internal appreciation of their mission, strategies, and programs that went unquestioned while resources were abundant and mechanisms protected the institutions from the demands of society. When this situation changed radically during the 1980s, the institutions were faced with a crisis that they have still not overcome.

This progression demonstrates the importance of factors related to the provision of resources and the satisfaction of demand. What is the interested public? For whom does the institution produce? What role does the institution play in redirecting the resources it requires (economic, support, legitimacy)? To what extent are the supposed final users dependent on the products of the organization? To what degree can these products be appropriated by society on a collective or individual basis? What is the impact of these issues on the effectiveness of the organization?

The base documents offer varied answers depending on the discipline studied, the nature of the institution, and the type of research it does. However, there are points of convergence from which a hypothesis can be formulated regarding the relation between an organization's external links and its internal attributes and the strategic behaviour of the actors. For example:

· The more easily a product can be appropriated, the greater the specific demand on the organization and, therefore, the more intense the pressure on the organization to concentrate its efforts to satisfy the demand;

· The greater the dependence of the end users on the products of the organization, the greater its deployment of power to control its operations; and

· Inversely, the greater the dependence of the organization on the provision of resources, support, and legitimacy by society, the higher the probability that society will have a strong influence on the lines of research followed and on the destination of the results.

The consequences are obvious, but paradoxical. A greater capacity to respond to demand might be accompanied by a loss of autonomy and, therefore, a long-term deterioration in the capacity of the institution to create and maintain levels of production. Research will also probably be oriented toward lines of work that are of most use to the suppliers of resources, diverting the organization from its mission. These examples show the complexity of the consequences for organizations of the demand for the products of research.

These issues are important in terms of operation. There is much discussion about mechanisms for funding based on private contributions, "contracting out," and joint ventures. These alternatives presuppose that progress has been made toward greater linkage between, production of knowledge and use, but, at the same time, there are new reasons to continue work on products that may not be immediately transferable to the productive sector.

The appropriate management of these complex relations is a central component of institutional development, because organizational effectiveness will, to a great extent, result from successful challenges of contingencies and restrictions. For this reason, diagnosis and action are required to obtain support and to generate demand that is more socially relevant to ensure the continuous flow of critical inputs to the organization, regularity in its operations, and social acceptance of its products. Pfeffer and Salancick (1978, p. 3) state:

Despite the importance of context for organizations, lime attention has been paid to these aspects, most authors have treated the subject of the use of resources, rather than their source. The theories of individual comportment in organizations and theories of motivation, leadership and inter-personal communication, as well as organizational design, have all emphasized the use of resources The central objective of many theories is the optimization of the product from given levels of resource. But questions as to how those resources are obtained remain unanswered or simply ignored.


Context not only generates conditions and restrictions, it also allows for decision-making that makes the impact of demand and pressure relative. Organizations can select the mix of their activities, define the areas and the sequence of various kinds of research, and tailor demand to suit their capabilities. Opportunities to exercise discretion are greater in the area of basic research and fewer for organizations dealing with products that are of more immediate use in policymaking or production. For specific demand, research inputs and processes may be multiple, another opportunity for discretionary judgement. There are many other examples: agricultural research institutes must supply validated technologies, but the institution will decide how far 'upstream" to go. Applied research can be designed to incorporate objectives intended to advance basic knowledge in fields such as economics, health, and education.

Organizations can also choose how they will operate and what they need. Here, making the right choices is the basis of effectiveness.

In brief, demand is not enough to explain all the activities under taken, because organizations have some degree of freedom to decide how to satisfy that demand. Thus, organizations can be classified according to the degree to which they are embedded in a given context. A looser connection gives them greater freedom to define lines of action, operating processes, and products. In this case, the effectiveness of structure and operations must be analyzed in conjunction with the strategies used by management to preserve the capacity to make decisions and maintain freedom from its clients.

Design and function

If organizations are "subjects" and their success is determined not simply by external forces and demand, other questions must be asked. A study of the ways in which institutions make use of their various degrees of freedom has many benefits: the consequences of alternative production processes within the same institution can be defined, efficiency can be measured, the effects of different strategies for the incorporation and use of factors can be illustrated, and their contribution to the accumulation of scientific capacity and effectiveness can be assessed. The following issues must be considered:

· Internal conversion processes (division of labour in the context of the technologies used and the controls imposed), namely, the technical dimensions of work and, therefore, operational efficiency; and

· Social dimensions (leadership, the culture of the organization, identity, integration, and motivation), supporting flexible, innovative, productive, and socially responsible attitudes.

Examining the degree of freedom to decide on the production process and define strategies for using resources leads us to the organization's activities themselves and the degree to which they are concentrated and specific. If we combine these two dimensions, a number of situations can be constructed, for example:

· High concentration of objectives and products, associated with low specificity in task structures and, therefore, in the profiles of members of the organization and action expected; or

· Low specificity in objectives, with a highly formal and specialized operating system.

A range of other situations is possible. Thus, analysis presents some specific challenges. What are the consequences of each of these situations on the external articulation of the organization? How do we reconcile different demands within the organization if there is a low concentration

of objectives? What impact does specificity have on the capacity to respond to demand and build alliances promoting legitimacy and guaranteeing a sustained flow of resources? What part does task specificity play in the effectiveness of research?

These questions are important. Unlike organizations that execute development programs and projects in which there is a visible goal or result as well as the technological process for achieving it, these factors are not clearly defined in research. Therefore, an understanding of the relation between specificity and productivity would be enriched by analysis of a particular impact in structurally different situations, namely, horizontal integration of disciplines or sequential articulation of types of research.

Consequences relate to the structure of the organization. Here, the organization is an artifact governed by an instrumental rationale. Therefore, we should examine the usefulness of each alternative in the allocation of tasks to particular units and the relation between them and the methods used to program, coordinate, and control the work.

The structure of our organizations varies widely. In some cases, it reflects divisions between disciplines (like universities and institutes for basic research). In other cases, especially those involved in the social sciences, structure is extremely fluid, often depending on the project in hand. It seems to be universally difficult, however, to assemble interdisciplinary groups to work toward common goals in an integrated manner, while preserving the complementary nature of individual contributions.

Research has little to offer in this area. The instruments for analysis of organizations are well enough developed to warrant fresh efforts in the generation of organizational technologies to solve problems of this kind. Case studies may allow comparison of different structural arrangements and their consequences with regard to tasks, product types, or relations with context in similar organizations.

The organization must have management. In this field, many questions need to be asked and many approaches, concepts, and technologies exist. As noted, the management of an organization can manipulate its structure, but often faces significant limitations as a result of inertia, political opposition, and regulation (Kaimovitz 1990). This also applies to day-to-day management: the director contributes "sense" to the mission and strategies of the organization and builds up cultures through his or her capacity to establish norms and symbolic universes, give them coherence, and administer them; the director's comportment is a critical variable in motivation.

However, in addition to giving "sense," the director can have an impact on productivity and effectiveness. There is a consensus in specialist literature regarding the attributes needed to direct a research organization successfully. The prime function of a director is integration - of the world within and the world outside, of work groups, of the contributions of different units and disciplines, of conflict and competition with collaboration, and of resources and procedures with specific tasks. How is this integration best provided? In what environment should management act? Research is needed on these questions, and interesting contributions could be obtained by comparing technologies and strategies used in specific types of organizations to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and feed the process of development of the institution.

One plausible suggestion is that the nature, origin, and condition of an organization's financial resources are associated with institutional strategy, product type, and operational characteristics. Two further considerations reinforce this notion. First, the financial crisis in research has led many institutions to try to diversify their sources of funds; they are resorting to unheard-of measures with various impacts on strategies, priorities, and activities. Second, institutions face growing acceptance of new criteria for funding based on competition and the sale of services, forcing them to become more aggressive in identifying their clients. In either case, knowing the consequences of alternative strategies is advisable in the search for more effective fundraising policies.

Studies of this kind could well include an investigation of the impact of funding on a project-by-project basis. This has been the practice of international cooperation agencies, and one that has been repeatedly questioned on the grounds that the contribution to the strengthening of institutions is small, or often actually negative. The alternatives (financing programs, endowments, and matching funds) should be evaluated and their impacts compared.

The uncertainty of financial support is an obstacle to institutional development. Such a theoretical statement needs to be supported by empirical verification. If an institution can rely on its sources of funding, its work may be less innovative and productivity may be low. An objective of any work in this area would be to establish the effects of one or another degree of certainty on the ability of organizations to increase their effectiveness.


The base documents show that organizations acquire social significance by forming groups of institutions that complement each other, as colleagues or competitors, facing challenges and taking advantage of opportunities together. The connections between institutions can be studied using one of two alternative strategies.

One way is through the study of networks, defined as spaces for regular interaction. Exchanges among the member organizations are nonhierarchical, relatively open, and of mutual benefit. Examples can be found in the fields of agricultural, education, and tropical disease research. Studies should establish the contribution of the networks to strengthening of the member institutions, the courses of action they adopt, the relative efficacy of each area in which exchange occurs, and the mechanisms promoting joint efforts and economies of scale. Work should also be done on the way in which participation in a network contributes to greater effectiveness of the organization and its impact at the national and international level.

The other strategy is through the study of organizational chains: groups of organizations with different missions, where the product of one organization is an input for the next. Here, dependence and competition can be identified, and the trend toward self-sufficiency may be illustrated by the tendency to take on additional functions to enable the chains to complete the cycle from basic research to transfer to users (or conversely, to concentrate exclusively on some parts of the cycle). Studies of the various stages of agricultural research and its transfer and use are good examples of this study method (Kaimovitz 1990). Another example is the study of the relation among donor agencies, research organizations, and the users of research products (such as in tropical disease, biotechnology, social, and economic research).

Processes of change

Research on institutional development should not focus on the development of organizational technology and management but on the impact of certain technologies on productivity, its place in society, learning, and effectiveness. There is, however, one field of study that should have an important effect in terms of operations: the experience of institutional development.

Research organizations in Latin America are being forced to review their missions, activities, structure, and management methods. Research is necessary regarding the assumptions behind their experiences, strategies adopted, the organizational dimensions adjusted, the agents involved, effectiveness of the changes introduced, and results and impact.

Haas (1990) and Martinez Nogueira (1990) offer models, concepts, and conclusions that are useful for formulating hypotheses. Organizations that have undergone change (total or partial, incremental or large scale, structural or functional, technical or cultural and behavioural) can be compared with those where there has been no change in times of turbulence, or where unplanned change has occurred as they adapt to external circumstances.


There has been little research on the evaluation of our organizations. Evaluation is conducted regularly only in agricultural research, where it concentrates on analysis of products, results, and impact. For exampe, the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), one of CGIAR's international centres, does an integrated review . of organizational aspects of national institutions for agricultural research. It uses proven methods and its experience enables it to make assessments in light of policy and the level of development of the country concerned.

The most common and reliable methods are those used to evaluate programs and projects. There are also instruments tailored to specific types of research and particular disciplines. This is not the case for integrated evaluation of organizations, evaluation that considers strategic management, conversion processes, resource structure, and products, results, and impact. Case studies can provide some information for refining the instruments of analysis for use on institutions.


The base documents show that research institutions have changed strategies over time, redirected their fields of work, faced various challenges, and achieved different levels of effectiveness. Changes in strategy are attributed to a variety of factors: economic or social pressures, advances in knowledge and changes in mission or the subjects to be broached (Chapter 8), and the life cycle of the technology (Chapter 4). Going beyond the simple identification of causes, however, the base documents all insist on the existence of an historical sequence in the development of organizations.

· The appearance of institutions tied to the requirements of production (Chapters 4 and 8) or national development projects with strong backing from political elites (Chapter 3), with important service components, little autonomy to develop individual lines of work (such as parasitology and microbiology in health, importation and acclimatization of species, and experimental management in agricultural research), and contributions from international cooperation through the participation of scientists in national development.

· Emphasis on the training of human resources, cooperation in the form of financial support, and the inclusion of research in multipurpose institutions (like large hospitals and ministries). The development of research accompanies increasing resources, the diversification of the institution, and the multiplication of its lines of work. It gains in complexity and relative autonomy.

· New institutions whose professed objectives are to produce knowledge to feed development processes, with a more integrated view of the problem to be attacked, a notable increase in the training of human resources, and consolidation of infrastructure and financial resources. The new lines of work are more focused, and objectives are more specific. Maturity brings diversification of work and some dilution of profile, which in turn weakens the original consensus.

· This situation is followed by efforts to rationalize costs and attempts to plan and program support action in a context in which demand changes substantially.

· The development of international networks strengthens external connections, offers access to new knowledge, and overcomes some of the limitations on small-scale operations, but without significant impact on local status.

· Efforts intended to redirect activities, emphasizing the establishment of links with the productive sector.

An overall view of this evolution hypothesizes the existence of a logic of development that, within a framework of increasing complexity, would show a recurrent tension between concentration and diversification. At first, there is concentration; as the organization becomes stronger, there is a tendency to diversify, which leads to crisis and a swing of the pendulum back to concentration - but only after a redefinition of the strategies and products to be adopted. What factors affect the cycle? What part does changes in demand for research products play? Might institutional frameworks be too narrow and inflexible to admit changes in the definition of the problems being researched?

The base documents concentrate on experiences in medium to large countries in Latin America that are relatively advanced in research. The cycle described here is probably not an accurate reflection of what occurs in other countries and institutions operating in less complex contexts. A linear view of development would lead to the hypothesis that the cycle would occur, although at noticeably longer intervals. Indeed, this was the assumption made in attempts to reproduce models borrowed from other contexts in Latin America. However, common sense and accumulated evidence suggest that the hypothesis is not plausible, but there is certainly a lack of work allowing proper understanding of the factors that do influence institutional development. New information must be acquired before the role of the institution, organizational models, and

operational strategies can be defined to meet needs and demand within the limits of available resources.

Just as we can identify a life cycle for research in Latin America, we can also establish some order in the development of individual institutions. The theory presupposes accumulation of resources, capacity, and connections. Complexity increases over time as a consequence of achieving mastery of the work in hand and of progressive attempts to minimize sources of uncertainty. This, in turn, leads to increased size, incorporation of new activities, attempts to build alliances with other agents, and the introduction of more variables into decision-making in management.

We have no similar appreciation of the process of deterioration. Therefore, attempts to reverse it have been weakly based on reflection, analysis, and intuition on the part of decision-makers. Currently, many organizations are deteriorating in terms of capacity, and their essential assets face destruction. This is especially true of organizations financed by the state and even those depending on international cooperation, which has not reached acceptable levels of sustainability.

It is easy to describe deterioration, but hard to determine the reasons for it. Usually, a financial crisis occurs at the same time as a crisis in legitimacy Existing structures and resources cannot withstand a change in priorities or demand, leadership is questioned, motivation is lost, and staff begin to leave. There was no warning of change and the established culture of the organization is too rigid to redirect strategy. Old alliances tie the organization to corporate interests, and the organization loses the independence it needs to adopt new strategies. An analysis of this situation may yield important lessons for the management of organizations in times of crisis.


A Research Agenda

The following outlines an agenda for research, constructed on the basis of comments made up to this point. All issues and avenues of research are not covered in the agenda. The intention is to define a research strategy with specific focus, identifying areas and means of execution that will have positive consequences for institutional development in science and technology organizations in Latin America. The objectives of the agenda are

· To achieve fuller knowledge of the processes of institutional development in organizations accumulating and deploying scientific and technological capacity;

· To identify critical variables as a basis for strengthening research organizations, providing elements for the definition of strategies, and improving linkages guaranteeing a steady stream of resources, support, and legitimacy in the future, coupled with an increase in effectiveness;

· To obtain sufficient information to develop technologies for the internal management of institutions; and

· To accumulate knowledge that can be transferred to institutions to enhance their internal management capacity.

A variety of users can benefit from research on institutional development studies: the science and technology community and directors of institutions; those responsible for public policy, especially for science and technology and institutional policy, and for sectors under study; and members of funding agencies and agencies for the formulation and implementation of policies and programs for technical and scientific cooperation.

The priority areas for research are frameworks and models for institutions; strategic management; operational management; and resources.

Frameworks and models

The specific objectives in this area would be to provide elements for the reformulation of frameworks within which research organizations operate and redefine profiles and strategies. The results of such studies would permit the identification of the "force field" around research organizations and the transactions in which they are involved; evaluation of the impact of alternative frameworks; the reconstruction and evaluation of strategies within individual frameworks; and the development of new institutional models.

Strategic management

Objectives in this line of research would be to advance understanding of the factors explaining organizational success and failure; to identify components of the effectiveness of institutions with regard to scientific, political, and administrative capacity; and to design alternative strategies as a function of identified factors to be used as inputs in decision-making.

Issues include life cycles (identification of critical stages and landmarks in evolution); options for each of these situations, including definition of terms, restrictions overcome, and opportunities taken; changes in institutional context; conception of subject of research; behaviour of relevant actors in their fields; capacity-building, the role of management, leadership, motivation, formation of staff, choice of work agenda; and the process of deterioration, illustrated by the loss of social relevance of the mission and activities, obsolescence or weakening of resources, isolation, and decline in quality of production.

Operations and the evaluation of operations

This area would focus on two topics: the intergration of the organization and evaluation of its activities. Its objectives would be to provide information about the "integrative" function of management, with respect to external factors and day-to-day work inside the organization; and to develop methods for evaluating research organizations.

Resource management

This line of work would focus on both human and research resources. It would be aimed at developing ways of managing resources to secure effectiveness in the organization. Among its results would be recommendations for funding agencies and national policy organizations concerning criteria, mechanisms, and modes of allocation of budget resources; and information on the structure of values and motivation of human resources as a basis for designing incentive systems.