Presentation on theme: "Transforming the Culture of Scientific Institutions."— Presentation transcript:
Transforming the Culture of Scientific Institutions
Characteristic contradictory feature: For Indian S&T today time of both opportunity and serious problems. opportunity and serious problems. High levels of achievement by individuals/groups/sectors. individuals/groups/sectors. Simultaneously deep problems that need to be Simultaneously deep problems that need to be addressed. addressed.
General levels of achievement of the Indian diaspora (whose foundational training is in India) not matched overall by the achievement of Indian S&T. While several factors are relevant here it also points to institutional constraints and the general culture of Indian S&T institutions.
Concentrate in this presentation on some micro-level (individual research organisations/sub-groups in large organisations ) constraints on the Indian scene and some radical measures needed to overcome them. All the issues raised here may not apply to all the institutions. But they constitute some of the core negative practices of our S&T system.
Focus on a set of practices: Administrative Managerial/Governance Scientific Administration These practices are informed by a set of attitudes:
In administrative matters: Government funded EQUALS government department. Imposes on every aspect of daily life in an institution.
Some consequences: Some consequences: Scientific research is incidental to smooth functioning of the institution. Individual research work (as opposed to `projects’) simply a route to acquiring `personal benefits’ for the individual researcher. Increasingly, even routine requirements (like adequate funding to invite and host visiting scientists program) have to be bundled as `projects'.
Financial and administrative accountability is central while scientific accountability is pushed to the background. to the background. Mobility for research work seriously affected. Human resource management practices hooked to that of government.
In managerial/governance matters: High degree of hierarchy (based primarily on age/seniority) Consultation with all researchers not the norm but a luxury to be withdrawn/limited when necessary.
At the level of institutional executive authority (which includes senior scientists!) little or no accountability is deemed necessary (outside of narrowly defined financial/managerial responsibilities) – despite their overriding powers at all levels of functioning of the institution. functioning of the institution.
Reinforced by (a) Non-transparent functioning (reluctance/outright refusal by authority to reply in writing to written refusal by authority to reply in writing to writtenrequests/proposals/suggestions). (b) Unnecessary confidentiality. Consequently, key executive authority (like governing councils) of the institution has no collective memory
Impatience/mistrust of broad-based decision-making. Scientists are expected to be world-class in their work, they are treated condescendingly, almost like children, by the bureaucracy and executive authority on managerial matters.
Questions of evaluation: Hierarchy problems even more serious. Quality work often judged by those without any due expertise to make an appropriate evaluation. Scientific administration :
Perfunctory consultation with those best qualified to give a thorough evaluation. Personal seat-of-the- pants judgement can override expert evaluation. Who is consulted determined by seniority. Exercise of authority often demonstrated by attempting to hire those whose credentials do not convince others. Senior hierarchy dithers over appointments, etc. Ends up giving low-grade positions to high-quality candidates. Fails to recruit the best.
Non-transparent informal rules operate in evaluation for hiring and promotion. Lack of understanding of tools of evaluation by peers: letters of recommendation, citation data, peer acknowledgement through invitation for conference talks, seminars, etc.
Accountability: Lack of systematic, periodic, high-power reviews of the scientific work of institutes. Where reviews do happen, governing councils and the committees that they appoint and approve the work of, most importantly selection committees, are never held accountable. Their record is rarely reviewed.
Promoting a critical viewpoint: Widespread lack of peer review for `projects’. Scientific challenge and criticism is unwelcome. (I rub your back and you rub mine is considered `polite’ and is much preferred).
Consequences of these attitudes: (a) Any change in the way of doing things is difficult. Typical time-scale for promoting change in any of these matters – 10 to 15 years. On some issues t → infinity. (b) Obvious premium on not disturbing the waters.
(c) Younger generation is forced to bear the entire burden of generating `excellence’ without any corresponding share of determining policy. Treatment of high-achieving individuals is ungenerous. is ungenerous. (d) As a consequence of exclusion from decision-making, generations of younger scientists progress to higher levels without any serious knowledge of world-class scientific administration. Makes the existing senior leadership appear indispensable.
(e) No overall human resource management perspective. Career progression poorly or never monitored. Generates tension between different generations in the institution. Blocks better prospects for younger generations. (f ) Overall effect – demoralisation and the consequent drift away from cutting edge/central/frontier problems in science
. (g) As younger generation becomes increasingly competent by global standards, talent will continue to stay outside or go back outside even if they originally chose to work inside the country.
Several reasons for the persistence of these problems over several decades: Most underestimated (IMHO) – the reluctance and tardiness of two generations in the scientific community itself to promote reform and change. Nehru (Indian Science Congress) noted the presence of scientist-bureaucrats who could be as bad as bureaucrats themselves.
N.B. No scientist-administrator has ever resigned in protest against the hold of the bureaucracy on the administration of science and technology. Senior scientists from leading institutions who serve on the executive bodies of other institutions do little to promote change and the export of best practices in administration/management/scientific administration from their institution to others.
Unwillingness/inability to speak truth to power (political authority/bureaucracy) and definitely unable to effectively challenge/protest. The large NRI scientific community never effectively intervened in helping the improvement of scientific management/administration
Some urgent measures of reform: 1)Transparent functioning: Any written request/proposal/submission to any executive authority or committee at any level should receive a written reply with reasons for acceptance or rejection of the request/submission. Should consider the possibility of having an authority to whom a complaint can be preferred if this rule is violated.
Minutes of such committees (including governing councils/finance committees) that exercise executive authority should be routinely made fully available.
2) Broad-based decision-making: No executive authority of a scientific institution should be without the elected representation of the working scientists of that institution. No routine committee responsible for taking decisions/approving projects/allocating funds etc. should be without representation from scientists at all levels (particular younger scientists) in the relevant disciplines, sub- disciplines, etc.
3) An anti-bureaucracy commission/authority: A commission/authority charged with receiving suggestions/proposals/complaints regarding bureaucratic procedures, red tapism, etc. in all scientific departments and ministries. Commission/authority to consider these submissions Commission/authority to consider these submissions and reply (at least broadly) in open fashion to these and reply (at least broadly) in open fashion to these submissions regarding their acceptance or rejection. submissions regarding their acceptance or rejection.
4) Delink the remunerative and administrative aspects of scientific institutions from that of government of scientific institutions from that of government departments (apart from overall accountability). departments (apart from overall accountability). 5) Periodic mandatory high-power scientific review of all scientific institutions. Review should draw on best expertise world-wide. Review should also have access to minutes of all governing council meetings (bar security considerations), selection committee minutes, deliberations of other committees charged with other responsibilities etc.
6) Promotion of a wide-spread debate for open discussion of improving scientific discussion of improving scientific administration/governance of scientific institutions. administration/governance of scientific institutions. Particularly encourage younger scientists to suggest Particularly encourage younger scientists to suggest ways of changing the system. ways of changing the system. STOP telling them ``this is the way we do things around here.’’ Tolerate wide-spread experimentation and change.