Every organization can benefit from an internal group that focuses on promoting and creating game-changing innovations.1 To avoid falling behind, organizations must look to the future while also improving performance and practices in the present. Here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), we’re working hard to build the foundation for an advanced research infrastructure that can uncover breakthrough innovations so that our schools, educators, and students once again lead the world.
Before joining the team at ED, I spent 22 years in different Department of Defense (DoD) research settings, working closely with a variety of civilian research agencies. What I learned leading projects at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is that most research (both public and private) is stove-piped into two categories: basic and applied. Basic research seeks new knowledge and understanding, while applied research — as the name suggests — takes existing knowledge (i.e., the results of basic research) and creates new applications for it. Applied research can improve performance incrementally by leveraging the results of already-established basic research. This is an important and essential function. But by definition, the impact of applied research is limited by the horizon of current knowledge, which means it is not well-suited to producing dramatic breakthroughs.