“Transformative” Research Centers. X.ITE for a research integrated with development

March 14, 2017
Editorial Entrepreneurship
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The so called third mission of Universities has been a priority for Europe’s most innovative institutes since the latter half of the Nineties. Furthermore, in the last fifteen years this has become a proper mantra for Italian universities, which have put in place a TTO (Technology Transfer Office) and have experimented – with results that in truth are not yet satisfying – with modes for accelerating the process converting scientific research into technology (and know-how) and in turn technology into innovation with a high market potential, with both direct (spin-off) and indirect effects, which is to say that they benefit businesses as well as institutions (for instance, by licensing or selling patents, consultancy or other forms of spill-over).

This trend has enjoyed a diminished emphasis in the field of “soft sciences”, not considering –  unfortunately or luckily so, depending on the point of view – that “hard sciences” only produce the enabling foundations for innovation, and that innovation itself only becomes successful when embedded into applied, organizational and market frameworks that are as new and dynamic.

There is good news, though. Which is, we are now entering in a new era when it’s understood that scientific research in the field of social sciences – in marketing, management and business strategy, for instance – must have a faster and thicker transmission belt, if the third mission has to effectively be carried out. By overcoming obstacles and ideological encroachments, and by valuing ideas that often were their source of inspiration, the concept of an organic knowledge is being recovered for business and institutional contexts alike. So now the challenge is, how to turn this new knowledge produced by social sciences into something organic?

A possible answer is tied to the concept of transformative research.

Here at LUISS, the new X.ITE Research Center works by getting inspired by this concept and so it takes a stance as a knowledge transfer center.

X.ITE‘s research programs, as a matter of fact, are shared with a community made of business members that participate annually in a research storm, helping to identify search topics that are highly relevant for businesses. X.ITE researchers are ready to work on these through transformative research projects, besides the outputs from institutional research done by the Center and partly financed with fund raising (beginning with the fees paid by all community members).

The main objective of transformative research is to accompany the heads of organizations (whether it’s companies or institutions) along in the transformation process, starting with the one imposed by technological change, consistent with the Center’s focus on “behaviors and technologies”. These changes invest and modify individual as well as social behaviours and, as a consequence, intra- and inter-organizational relationships, with market relationships subjected to an extreme evolution both in terms of intensity and frequency (especially in competitive or institutionally contestable markets).

Transformative research operates through the shared and processual creation of new knowledge, to be translated into the skills and capabilities of reference organizations. And it mainly works according to ‘constructivist’ logic (the way Jean Piaget intended it), increasing the perception of the complexity of both context and technologies, while at the same time also increases a sense of empowerment and the perception of ‘control’ of those who has to lead change through this complexity.

In a nutshell, the future of Research Centers isn’t just to explore new disciplines, contributing to the development of new epistemological and methodological statutes; It is not just to produce application-oriented research, characterized by a high rate of enforceability of results that are business-oriented, or social and institutional governance. It is also, in fact (and perhaps most of all) linked to the goal of teaming up with the heads of companies and institutions alike, helping them transform and build new knowledge. This new knowledge is dictated by the use of (the unavoidable) new technologies and is necessary to understand and enhance the evolution of individual and social behaviors that arise from technological change in ever-tighter rhythms. The fact is, the ‘third mission’ era has also begun for those universities focusing on social sciences, and LUISS is there in a leadership position.