Examining effective research and development
September 9, 2009 -- Things were much different in the research and development world when Professor of Management Ron Purser finished his doctoral research 20 years ago.
Then, deliberations happened face-to-face among co-workers -- video conferencing was a distant dream. In his dissertation, Purser found that collegiality and consensus building were important to successful development outcomes. Now he will revisit the topic to examine how improved technology has affected communication in research and development functions.
"Before, we found that a lack of knowledge was a key problem for many groups," Purser said. "It could be now that there's almost too much information. It may be a double-edged sword. It's easier for people to connect, but at the same time, the quality of life or time to think things through is reduced."
Purser, along with five colleagues from the Sociotechnical Systems Roundtable (SSR), a national group of organizational theorists and practitioners, will begin the study in October to examine effective virtual organization in research and design.
Purser and the group will follow four companies through the research and development process to see how virtual communications affects research and development efforts and how it can be used effectively. Purser's research will focus on the Alzheimer's Disease Centers, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, Electronic Arts Inc., and Cal Tech's Micro and Nanophonetics Laboratory.
The SSR will use case studies to examine how conducting research and communicating through virtual means affects the quality of deliberations during the development phase. By examining efforts across unique groups, Purser and the group will be able to paint a more accurate picture of research and development in the 21st century. "We're trying to understand what effect virtuality has on the way people work on research and development," Purser said.
The group earned a $200,000 grant to conduct the research from the National Science Foundation's Virtual Organizations as Sociotechnical Systems program, which seeks to advance the understanding of effective virtual organizations and how they can enhance scientific, engineering and educational innovation.
The SSR's research has significant implications for science research, which has become more multi-institutional as technology has improved. The findings could prove useful for companies who rely on outsourcing in their development efforts, or universities who collaborate on scientific research.
"We know what constitutes successful research and development face-to-face, but there's not a whole lot of information about virtual research and development," Purser said. "We'll find some projects that are lagging or over cost and see what's going on. Then we'll be able to come up with best practices for virtual research and development."
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