day one project


01.28.22 | 9 min read | Text byBen Reinhardt


Dominant research-funding paradigms constrain the outputs of America’s innovation systems. Federal research-funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) operate largely through milestone-scoped grants那无法激励high-risk research, impose highly burdensome reporting requirements, and are closely managed by the government. Philanthropically-funded research organizations are an excellent mechanism to experiment with different research management approaches. However, they are perennially underfunded and rarely have a path to long-term sustainability.

A single program with two pieces can address this issue:


其次,NSF借鉴了Kanjun Qiu和Michael Nielsen的想法,每年应拨出1亿美元,以赞助独立的研究组织,这些组织在很长一段时间内具有令人印象深刻的记录。对“获得”成功组织的这种承诺将通过两种方式补充第一部分的研究资金机会。首先,它将通过使慈善事业感觉自己的钱去,鼓励慈善参与towardssomething that won’t die the moment they stop funding it. Additionally, it will enable the federal government to leverage the institutional knowledge created by successful experiments in research funding and management.

如果成功的话,这两个部分的计划稍后可以由其他联邦机构复制。政府和国会应优先考虑该计划的资金,以表彰三个融合事实:一个,联邦在研发方面的支出(R&D)正在增加;第二,美国创新生态系统的运作不佳。第三,是管理研究的新机构结构的扩散(例如,专注的研究组织,私人高级研究项目机构(ARPAS),“科学天使”, etc. Swift action could use the increased budgets to empower new organizations to experiment with new ways of organizing R&D in order to address the current system’s sclerosis!


There is a growing consensus that there is a gap between the speed and efficiency of R&D projects closely managed by the government and R&D projects managed by the private sector.

联邦资金是美国研发生态系统的主要部分。但是,大多数联邦研究资金都带有一系列限制:专用指标,这些专用标志可以阻止研究人员花钱在他们认为最重要的事情上(例如设备或实验室自动化),繁重的报告要求,需要通过委员会获得所有建议,以及数十个小时的赠款写作,以令人震惊的少量钱。而且,studies have foundthat with a mandate to fund innovative research, federal funding decisions tend to be risk-averse.

As a result, in situations where there’s a head-to-head comparison between government-managed research and technology development and privately-managed counterparts, there’s little question which is more efficient.

This efficiency gap exists largely because privately-managed organizations often push control over research funds to the organization or level where the “research design” occurs. This yields powerful results. Former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency director Arati Prabhakar争论that this mechanism, in the form of empowering program managers, is a big part of why the ARPA model works. In the business world, coupling power (money) and responsibility (research design) is simply common sense. In the research world, the benefits of“嵌入自主权”are straightforward. Autonomy enables an organization or individual to react quickly to unexpected circumstances. Research is highly uncertain by nature. Coupling embedded autonomy with research design means that funding will be spent in the most useful way possible at a given moment based on knowledge gained as experimentation progresses — not in the way that a researcher想法would be most useful at the time they submitted their grant proposal.

认识到嵌入式自治能够实现强大,多样化的研究的力量,目前在非学术研究组织中发生了实验的爆炸。许多人太新了,无法取得明确的结果,但是非学术研究组织(包括HHMI Janelia,Dynamicland,Willow Garage和Promont SpaceX)创造了新领域,赢得了诺贝尔奖,并改变了整个行业的范式。但是,即使最成功的研究组织也很难筹集资金,除非有明确的商业案例,否则这会使公共事业的研究陷入困境。慈善家强烈以遗产为动机,因此他们想为可以持续的事情提供资金。结果,私人资助者常常不愿为产生公共良好研发的研究组织提供资金。

Understanding this problem suggests a potent new way of deploying the federal government’s R&D budget: partnering with philanthropists to build a diverse portfolio of research organizations with autonomy over their own budgets, and then providing long-term support to the most effective of those organizations.

In other words, the federal government should experiment with funding organizations rather than projects.



Plan of Action

The current Administration should launch a two-part program at NSF to test a research-funding system that prioritizes organizations over projects.

As Part One of this program, the NSF’s TIP Directorate should pilot a research-funding opportunity in which philanthropically matched grants fund a portfolio of independent research organizations instead of funding specific research initiatives. This pilot funding opportunity should be funded at $100 million per year for 10 years. The Directorate should target funding between 5 and 15 organizations this way,二次匹配philanthropic funds at values between 100% and 1000% depending on the number of participating philanthropic donors.

As Part Two of this program, NSF should set aside an additional $100 million per year to sponsor independent research organizations with impressive track records for extended periods of time. The Directorate should set a goal of identifying two organizations during the ten-year pilot that would be good candidates for this long-term funding, funding each at $50 million per year.

More detail on each of these program components is provided below.

Part One: Philanthropically matched grants

Partnering with private donors is key to the success of the proposed organization-focused funding opportunity. By funding only organizations that have already raised philanthropic dollars, the federal government will leverage philanthropists’ due diligence on screening applicants to ensure high-potential awardees. Similarly, the funding opportunity should employquadratic matching funding利用捐助者的信心作为向每个组织提供多少资金并减少能够从少数捐助者那里筹集大量资金的组织的偏见。

以这种方式利用慈善的意见come with the risk of biasing awards towards organizations working on particularly popular areas or that are particularly good at sales or marketing. The organization-focused funding opportunity could address this risk by establishing a parallel funding pathway whereby a large number of researchers can file a petition for an organization to be selected for funding.

The TIP Directorate obviously must impose additional criteria beyond the endorsements of the philanthropic and research communities. It will be tempting for the Directorate to prioritize funding organizations working on specific, high-interest technology areas or themes. But the goal of this program is to advance the long term health of the American innovation ecosystem. Often, tomorrow’s high-priority area is one that doesn’t even exist today. To that end, the Directorate should evaluate potential grantee organizations on their “counterfactual impact”: i.e., their capacity to do work that is disincentivized in other institutional structures.

The question of how best to evaluate success of the funding opportunity is a challenging one. It is notoriously hard to evaluate long-term research output. The whole point of this proposal is to move away from short-term metrics and rigid plans, but at the same time the government needs to be responsible to taxpayers. Metrics are the most straightforward way to evaluate outcomes. However, metrics are potentially counterproductive ways to evaluate new and experimental processes because existing metrics presume a specific way of organizing research. We therefore recommend that the TIP Directorate create a Notice of Funding Opportunity to hire an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit board whose job is to holistically evaluate funded organizations. The board should include people working in academia, industrial research, government research, and independent research organizations, as well as some “wildcards”. The board should collectively have deep experience performing and guiding high-uncertainty, long-term research and development.

The board would regularly (but not over-frequently) solicit opinions on output and impacts of funded organizations from the program’s philanthropic partners, members of the government, people working with the organizations, unaffiliated researchers, and members of the organizations themselves. At the end of each year, the board should give each organization an evaluation “report card” containing a holistic letter grade and an explanation for that grade. Organizations that receive an F should immediately be expelled from the funding program, as should organizations that receive a D for three years in a row.

Part Two: Invest deeply in demonstrated success

Kanjun Qiu and Michael Nielsen have proposed an important piece of the puzzle: In the same way that governments took over funding libraries once they were started by Gilded Age philanthropists, the government should take over funding immensely successful research organizations today.

At the five-year midpoint and ten-year endpoint of the pilot funding program, the evaluation board should identify any funded organizations that have produced outstanding output. The TIP Directorate should then select up to two of these candidates to receive indefinite government support, at a funding level of $50 million per organization per year. These indefinitely funded organizations would become a line item in the TIP’s budget, to be renewed every year except in extreme circumstances. The possibility of indefinite federal support as an “exit strategy” for philanthropic funders will encourage participation of additional philanthropic partners by providing (i) philanthropically funded organizations a pathway for becoming self-sustaining, and (ii) philanthropies with a clear opportunity to establish a legacy.

What qualifies as “outstanding output”? Like evaluating success, it’s a challenging question. We recommend using the same board-based grading scheme outlined above. Any organization that receives an A grade in two of the past five years or an A+ in any one of the past five years should be eligible for indefinite support. This approach will require grading to be very strict: for instance, an A+ should only be given to an organization that enables Nobel-prize-quality work.


Building portfolios of independent research organizations is an incredibly effective way of spending government research money. The total federal research budget is almost $160 billion per year. Less than 1% of that could make a massive difference for independent research organizations, most of which have budgets in the $10 million range. Funding especially promising independent research organizations with an additional $10 million or more per year would have a huge effect, empowering organizations that are already doing outstanding work to take their contributions to the next level.

Even the highest-performing private research organizations in the world — like Google DeepMind and HHMI Janelia Farm — have budgets in the range of $200 million per year. Sponsoring a select number of especially high-performing research organizations with an additional $100 million per year would hence have similarly transformative impacts. These large indefinite grants would also provide the major incentives needed to bring the world’s leading philanthropies to the table and to encourage the most cutting-edge independent research organizations to dedicate their talents to the public sector. The sum total of achieving these outcomes would still account for only a tiny fraction of the overall federal R&D budget.

Finally, we emphasize that the goal of this pilot program is not solely to establish an independent research organization portfolio in the TIP Directorate. It is also an opportunity to test a novel research-funding mechanism that could be replicated at numerous other federal agencies.

See all金博宝更改账户
What the CRS Report on Regional Innovation Ecosystems Gets Right and Misses

At the beginning of April, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a landmark report outlining the scope of federal investments in regional ecosystems, something we have written about at FAS in the past. This CRS report, ‘Regional Innovation: Federal Programs and Issues for Consideration,’ does an excellent job covering the scope and scale of our massive federal investment […]

04.17.23 | 13分钟阅读
read more
day one project
Aligning Regional Economic Development Plans with Federal Priorities

Economic innovation requires more sophisticated, focused, and better supported local economic planning. Here’s how to achieve it.

03.27.23 | 15 min read
read more
Cluster Development is the New Economic Development

我们不知道如果国会新年Resolutions like the rest of us, but it seems like at least one of their goals is to continue ‘Building Regional Innovation Economies.’ We can guess that much from that title – given to a House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Technology hearing at the end of December. […]

01.12.23 | 6 min read
read more
day one project
耕地联邦Transformative R&D: The Solution Oriented Innovation Liaison

Our innovation ecosystem needs more transformative research and engagement enterprises (TREEs), especially for societal challenges that have not historically benefitted from solution-oriented research.

01.10.23 | 11 min read
read more