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What About Insourcing?

By Karla Cedano - UNAM -Institute for Renewable Energies
Head of the Laboratory of Innovation and Futures


Karla Cedano By Karla Cedano | Head of the Laboratory of Innovation and Futures - Tue, 03/07/2023 - 12:00

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Thirty years ago, at a baby shower, I was given an educational book for new parents that dealt with returning to the authoritarian models of the past. I have always considered that resorting exclusively to the argument of authority to put something into practice is an obsolete, poor, and extreme resource. I emphasize exclusively, because I believe that the system of authority exists in our society to make things easier. It establishes hierarchies and daily rules that allow us to coexist easily and prevent us from entering eternal dissertations while taking action.

For example, the traffic regulations establish that, in a roundabout, preference is given to those who are already in the roundabout and want to exit, over those who want to enter. If we spend a few minutes thinking about the reason for this "authoritarian rule," we understand that, otherwise, in a hypothetical case, we would have infinitely full roundabouts, where everyone who wants to enter the roundabout would prevent cars from leaving, paralyzing traffic. The norm is based on maintaining the vehicular flow and reducing traffic jams. We follow it by a principle of authority, supported by a series of strategies that meet a specific objective: Contribute to better transit conditions.

In science and technology, decision-making in an experiment or a project must be based on a rational process. There is no place for exclusively authoritarian decisions. A research center does not define its lines of research “just because,” or better said, it should not. The nature of the scientific process forces us to analyze the alternatives as objectively as possible, assign evaluation criteria and apply them to achieve a better understanding of reality, or a better solution to a given problem. Those who don't, either stop the advance of scientific knowledge or obstruct the flow of new technologies to the market, and in both cases, waste human and financial resources in their spheres of influence.

In innovation and technological development, it is customary to invest financial resources in techno-economic feasibility studies. These studies allow us to convene a group of specialists, propose evaluation criteria and provide relevant information. The concert of these three elements give us clarity about the feasibility of a project. The importance of objectivity in these studies is directly proportional to that of the project. If I want to put a decorative fountain in the corner of my garden that works with solar energy and I make the decision from authority ("because I command it"), most likely I will have a fountain that does not work because it sits in the shade most of the day. If I substitute authority for a feasibility study on using solar energy in my landscape decoration, I will have more informed alternatives that will work. Investing in quality feasibility studies is essential to apply resources efficiently and effectively. These feasibility studies, to be truly useful, must be carried out in consultation with experts from various disciplines, sectors, and backgrounds. Moreover, those techno-economic studies should include a social perspective. That is, we need proper socio-techno-economic feasibility studies to improve the decision-making process everywhere. No one is an expert in everything and that is why it is essential to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of academic sectors in the broadest sense of the word.

In my first interactions with research centers, in addition to realizing the extraordinary scientific-technological heritage that we have in those spaces for generating knowledge, I was surprised by how unknown this was for the vast majority of those who live here. Fortunately, the social and public communication tasks that have been undertaken in the last 25 years are bearing fruit. More and more people know that there is an academic community that seeks to better understand the world around us. However, few consider going to her when they have a problem to solve.

This distance is understandable. If I have a problem regarding water quality, for example, even though I know that there is an institute that is dedicated to water, I am hardly going to open the yellow pages, search for "water" and expect to find the name, telephone number, and contact information of the institute that I'm interested in. From the other end of the chain, something similar happens. Those who investigate water and want to test one of their solutions or methodologies in a practical case will not find interested parties in the yellow pages, or on the internet. Faced with this abyss of communication, academic spaces have been generating linkage units that serve as the first contact for those who approach a research center, or for those within the center who want to go out “into the real world.” These units, in turn, have established effective communication links with each other, with the intention of multiplying their attention capacity.

We continually hear Mexican businessmen and producers express their concern about the lack of consumption of local products. We know that it is important for regional economic development and to strengthen the social fabric, to generate a culture of consumption of Mexican products and services. In the same way, it is important to seek scientific-technological solutions among our local specialists. This contributes not only to the economy and the generation of quality human resources, but also to increasing the relevance of what is studied in research centers. Knowing the environment in greater depth with these society-academic interactions strengthens and brings both closer together.

The pieces that a successful innovation ecosystem requires are all in Mexico, from knowledge generators to integrators of practical solutions, including civil associations, service companies and liaison groups that have the function of integrating teams that solve real problems with unconventional approaches.

The next time we think about hiring the specialized services of foreign experts to carry out feasibility, or planning, or prospective studies, let's turn to our academic community. Let's approach these networking groups to find out who knows the subject and can solve the problem or advise the interested party so that they can have the best possible service in exchange for their investment. I bet that 9 times out of 10 we will find an expert of international stature within our borders. Insourcing Mexican talent will strengthen us all.

Photo by:   Karla Cedano

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