Department of
Sociology

Center for
Innovation

About the Center for Innovation

The Center defines innovation as problem solving. Given the number of crises that face this country and the world, there is no more important agenda for a research center than being able to increase the rate of innovation, providing solutions to national and global problems. A common form of problem solving is developing products and processes. To facilitate this, the Center has been concentrating on the problems of innovation in science and technology, which provide the basic and applied ideas that can lead to innovative products and processes. A less common form of problem solving is institutional innovation, which is defined as developing new delivery systems to solve particular societal and institutional problems. The two kinds of delivery systems that the Center is currently working on (1) the idea innovation network that connects science to products that produce positive trade balances, provide employment, and tax income for the government; and (2) the health care delivery system so that it reduces health care costs, increases the quality of care, and improves the duration of life.

How can this be done? The central strategy of the Center is to build the theory of innovation based on the following equation:

Knowledge + Learning = New knowledge or innovation or adaptation

The theory focuses on how to increase the diversity of knowledge and the extent of learning so that one can solve problems or adapt to context more effectively. This knowledge production function can be used at five levels, but the majority of our work focuses on the first three levels: research teams, research organizations and high tech sectors, both economic and non-economic (health). Archimedes once said that if you could place a lever in the correct place, you could move the world. The sociological lever is how to produce new knowledge.

Given this strategy the major emphasis consists of writing a post-modern theory of social evolution that corrects for the typical errors found in most social evolutionary theories, whether those of the mind or of society. Most assume steady progress, ignore the fact that old ways of doing things might still be relevant and worse yet, have some preferred country or mind as the ideal rather than recognizing each has problems. Indeed, the issue of partial adaptiveness represents a major corrective to most of this literature. For an outline of this book project, select Theories of a Post-Modern Social Evolution.

Over many years, the Center has been particular interested in the problem of how to measure and evaluate radical innovation and from a variety of perspectives. In particular, too much emphasis has been placed on economic measures rather than sociological ones. A good example of how this can be corrected comes from our study of the social benefits from investments in the new products produced by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Another important advance was made with a grant from the National Science Foundation to measure the health benefits in four specific disease areas at the National Institutes of Health. The long-term objective of the Center for Innovation is to develop a new measure of innovation progress to be called the Gross Domestic Benefits from Innovation. For more information on theories and methods of evaluating innovation, select this category below.

Closely connected to evaluating innovation lies another thrust of the Center, explaining how organizations have difficulty in being innovative. A key reason represents the failure of organizations to evolve towards more complexity. The practical problems created by failures to evolve are discussed in a recent book Restoring the Innovative Edge: Driving the evolution of science and technology by Stanford Press. Click here for more information and ordering details. For more information select the third category below.

With the arrival of Wilbur Hadden as a senior research scientist in the Center for Innovation, a whole new research program is being added. The objective of this program is to study institutional and organizational change and how it can reduce inequalities of health care both nationally and internationally and most particularly reduce health care costs and mortality. A working relationship has been established with the School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool, U.K.

Returning to the equation above, a key element in it is the concept of learning, defined as understanding what works and does not work or as detecting errors. Being able to locate the factors that increase learning and barriers that prevent learning is an important part of the research of the Center. One approach to this problem is to study how the use of LQAS methodology increases the probability of institutionalizing and sustaining social change. The studies of India and Uganda’s health care interventions shed a lot of light on both factors that increase learning and barriers to learning in developing countries.

The research programs in the Center for Innovation are:

Updated 7 December 2016