White House urges “open innovation”

An interesting memo on “science and technology priorities for the Fiscal Year 2011 budget” has gone out from the White House to all federal departments and agencies.

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and John Holdren, head of science and technology policy, tell agencies to redirect spending from low priority areas to the administration’s “four practical challenges” – economic recovery, energy and climate change, healthcare and national security.

They should also focus on programmes that improve research productivity, strengthen education, build national infrastructure and enhance US space capabilities.

A fascinating passage of the memo urges agencies “to take advantage of today’s open innovation model – in which the whole chain from research to application does not have to take place within a single lab, agency or firm – and become highly open to ideas from many players, at all stages.”

That would mean transforming the closed mindset of many government departments and labs. Orszag and Holdren say they should “empower their scientists to have ongoing contact with people who know what’s involved in making and using things…”

“Open innovation” is a fashionable concept in science and technology policy circles. It would be excellent if the Obama administration could really make it happen within the US government.

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Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.

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