2012 Week 5 – Competing schedules

We’ve just kicked off the Design Development phase of a project I’ll generally describe as a $100 million research facility. This is an investment my a major institution in the future of scientific exploration and in the path of a goal to foster more and more effective interdisciplinary research.

We find ourselves operating in two domains here.

One is the physical world of getting a project done, which involves commitments to budgets, schedules, collaborators, governments and institutions. This is a typical and familiar domain.

The other is a very fascinating emergent state of scientific research in which the language of our client and our client’s endeavor is shifting from things to people, from the language of lab standards and specifications to the language of activities, behaviors, and cultures.

That is, the domain of interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and translational research is new. We are in a transitional territory that my eventually turn out to be a transformational condition, an evolving practice that may become a new approach to scientific discovery and application.

We are in a very privileged context, one that we’ve been in many times before but not in this field of work. The context is one in which there is the trust and belief that a new building will be a primary actor in the transformation of the institution and the way it works, and in which the processes and disciplines of defining and designing that facility will be the catalytic agent in the transformation of the people currently in the organization and in the way that they work.

We kicked off the process of developing the design program, then, with a meeting of about 30 PhDs and institutional administrators. We provided a background on the project, outlined a process we’d use to engage them and learn from them, and then opened the meeting to discussion.

Reviewing the visual listening notes from that meeting is fascinating. They revealed a group of people fully ready to engage and unfolded a significant number of subjects indicating a need for a deep dive into exploration, learning, and organizational and operational conceptualizing and testing before ever getting to a programmatic definition and design concepts.

Our design team, however,  is already in the stream of the work of this phase. This is their responsibility to the client and to the firm, to move directly on a path to decisions that will define a physical facility and get it built. But we also carry the responsibility of calibrating a $100 million investment with a yet-to-be-determined organizational design, operating profile, professional culture, inter-organizational relationships and other considerations and characteristics typical of transformational states, and a facility that is expected to be the place where discovery and development will transform a major institution and the community that it serves.

How, then will we reconciling these competing demands? That’s the next task, next week.

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