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Social Innovation: The Lab Without Walls

Steinmetz’s technology-driven science is anathema to many academic scientists.

Steinmetz’s innovation also led to the “lab without walls,” which is America’s specific, and major, contribution to very large scientific and technological programs. The first of these, conceived and managed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s former law partner, Basil O’Connor, was the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (March of Dimes), which tackled polio in the early 1930s. This project continued for more than twenty-five years and brought together in a planned, step-by-step effort a large number of scientists from half a dozen disciplines, in a dozen different locations across the country, each working on his own project but within a central strategy and under overall direction.

This then established the pattern for the great World War II projects: the RADAR lab, the Lincoln Laboratory, and, most massive of them all, the Manhattan Project for atomic energy. Similarly, NASA organized a “research lab without walls” when this country decided, after Sputnik, to put a man on the moon. Steinmetz’s technology-driven science is still highly controversial. Still, it is the organization we immediately reach for whenever a new scientific problem emerges, for example, when AIDS suddenly became a major medical problem in 1984-85.

ACTION POINT: Terrorism is a major social problem confronting the civilized world. How can this problem be turned into a “Manhattan” type R and D project?

The Ecological Vision

* Source: The Daily Drucker by Peter F. Drucker

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