| Laying the foundation - The institution of knowledge in developing countries |
Latin America has undergone a marked transformation in the last few years, one that is characterized by a shift toward market-oriented economies, a new role for the state, and the opening up of markets to international trade. There have also been important changes at the international level, such as the globalization of economies and rapid technological development.
This, then, is a particularly appropriate moment for the publication of a book on institutional development in research centres. It is an opportune time to examine the potential and performance of research centres and to pose some key questions. How can they help Latin America to adapt to the new global order? How can they increase their efficiency and social impact?
The development of institutions has proven to be one of the most complex aspects of development strategy. Here we define institutional development as the process by which an institution makes the best use of available resources within the rules that govern it. Although much progress has been made in improving the design and implementation of investment and policy, efforts to enhance the performance of most agencies and state enterprises have met with less success.
Research centres are complex institutions that offer great management challenges. These centres differ from institutions whose products can be easily identified and quantified. It is difficult to measure and compare the products of research because they are heterogeneous and of such varied quality. The impact of research is also hard to define, because it usually becomes obvious only over time.
Other features of research institutions also contribute to their complexity. One of the most important is their tendency to have too many bosses and too few workers. Few things are more difficult to manage than an organization with a large group of prima donnas on staff.
Aside from this, it is not easy to make generalizations about institutional problems in research centres because they differ so much from each other. For example, a research centre engaged in agriculture is quite unlike one concerned with atomic energy or economics. That being said, scientific and technological organizations do share some important features, as the second part of this book illustrates.
The studies in this book cover a wide range of important cases and topics. They look at the political and professional context of research centres in different countries, with special emphasis on policy approaches, the availability of qualified researchers, remuneration, and opportunities for international networking and support.
This collection also deals with the demand for the products of research centres, an issue that is frequently overlooked because research is usually defined by the nature of its supply. Demand is analyzed in terms of the need of the public and private sectors for both pure and applied research. The analysis is linked to levels of development and to recent changes on the world stage. For instance, the move from open to closed economies has a major impact on most areas of science and technology.
The roles of both the public and private sectors are also explored. The Latin American tradition of confining research to state institutions is addressed, as are alternatives for greater private sector participation in the execution, funding, dissemination, and application of research. Many articles underline the crucial role of the state in promoting science and technology within the current context of decreased intervention.
This book makes a critical contribution to the literature with its discussion of institutional structures and efficiency, topics often missing from the literature on science and technology. With respect to structure, the sector. in which a research centre operates seems to make a difference. For example, centres specializing in social science can probably exist in relative isolation; whereas, those devoted to agricultural research benefit from linkages with national and international networks. The book also attempts to identify the techniques that have proven to be most successful at increasing the efficiency of institutions as complex and unique as research centres. Lastly, several chapters try to assess the impact of research centres on the overall development of Latin America.
Washington, DC, USA.