Organisational capacity, leadership and management of Australian research centres of excellence
AuthorBarros de Barros, Fabiana
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr Fabiana Barros de Barros
Centres of Excellence (CoE) are increasingly adopted by governments world-wide as a mechanism for the funding of science, technology and innovation activities in the knowledge-based society. Behind the adoption of policies for the creation of CoE there are some key underlying strategic rationales, such as fostering scientific excellence, promoting relevance of research to societal problems and building scientific and technological capacities in areas deemed of national significance. Research on CoE is usually performed at the macro science and innovation policy level, and the associated trends of increased selectivity and concentration on the allocation of public funds (Hellstrom, 2013; Hellström, 2017; Orr, Jaeger, & Wespel, 2011) or assessing individual programs across different countries (Aksnes et al., 2012; Beerkens, 2009; Cremonini, Horlings, & Hessels, 2018; Hellstrom, 2011). There is a considerable gap in the literature of studies focused at the micro, organisational level. More specifically, there is a need to understand the fundamental nature of CoE in terms of the organisational capacity required to establish such centres. This study aims to contribute to addressing that gap. It draws upon the long-standing Australian experience in running CoE programs by investigating centres created in the framework of two major governmental programs – the Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence program, and the Cooperative Research Centres program. To investigate CoE organisational capacity, two well-validated frameworks were used as theoretical and analytical lenses: Toma’s (2010) ‘Building Organisational Capacity’ which supported identifying and understanding the nature of CoE key organisational elements; and Quinn et al. (2007) ‘Competing Values Framework’ which facilitated an in-depth exploration of key leadership and management roles. By means of an Interpretive Inquiry, a qualitative multi-method approach served to investigate the CoE organisational setting as the unity of analysis. A sample consisting of six active and long-standing Australian CoE was identified on the basis of a pre-defined, purposive selection criteria aimed at narrowing down the number and diversity of existing centres in a meaningful way. Data was collected through three methods – document analysis, face-to-face semi-structured interviews and observations carried out during site visits. Results allowed for identifying which elements are at the core of building organisational capacity of CoE, given their role in informing and shaping other elements. Findings suggest that symbolic elements such as ‘purpose’ and ‘culture’ play a crucial role in representing and conveying the organisational nature and profile of a CoE and are strongly perceived to influence all other aspects and capabilities of a CoE. Moreover, ‘culture’ has been found to be consistently harnessed as a mechanism to increase the cohesion and performance of CoE collaborative teams. Similarly, given its strong emphasis on collaboration, ‘Governance’ as an element is perceived to have a distinct function and significance depending on the centre orientation. The role of leadership and management (L&M) appears to be critical in building and maintaining CoE organisational capacity. This study shows that the appropriateness of organisational capacity and L&M approaches depends on the profile of a CoE which, in turn, is determined by the nature of the problem tackled and the purpose and use of knowledge and technology produced at the centre.
Keywordsresearch management; research leadership; innovation management; organisational capacity; centres of excellence; higher education
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