ITRA Model

IT Research Academy (ITRA) is a National Programme aimed at building a national resource for advancing the quality and quantity of R&D in Information and Communications Technologies and Electronics (IT) and its applications at a steadily growing number of academic and research institutions, while strengthening academic culture of IT based problem solving and societal development. While the research component of this RFP is targeted primarily at the institutions that grant PhD degrees, or are soon to start doing that, other institutions may also have roles to play. The core areas of IT lie in the various engineering disciplines that involve handling of information, notably computer science and engineering, and electrical engineering, although applications may come from almost any discipline in, and importantly, beyond engineering.

Quality is measured in terms of the following four parts: the R&D work itself, aimed at developing skills of problem formulation and solving, as reflected in commonly used metrics (publications, etc.); impact of the R&D on enhancing curriculum and instruction; programs for developing sensitivity to society, so the researchers tend towards routinely spotting societal problems and developing an urge for solving them as targets of their R&D work; and making an impact on society at large through entrepreneurial activity or other ways of transferring technologies and knowledge developed in the R&D work.

ITRA plans to enhance the quality of the ITRA institutions (to be referred to as IIs in the sequel) through R&D, by closely interacting teams of researchers and institutions that have expertise in specific IT research areas, or in the use of IT in other engineering and non-engineering domains. To realize effective interaction among increasing number of institutions, ITRA plans to network these existing institutions as a pyramid. All IIs will be academic institutions or Government Supported Research Laboratories. They will form the nodes of a pyramid. These IIs will closely collaborate with non-academic institutions, such as research labs, industry, Government organizations and NGOs, the latter typically adding or extending the capabilities of the IIs in translating their R&D into societal impact, e.g., through technology transfer to industry, startups, etc. As is well recognized, such translation of technical innovation into societal impact requires much more than the innovation itself. Thus, the participation of non-academic institutions is central to achieving the objectives of the Request For Proposal (RFP). However, this role will be played by them through collaboration with the IIs in the pyramid as the primary target of ITRA is enhancement of the quality of academic/research institutions. A critical other component of the ITRA teams will be the presence of world class scientists, technologists, industrialists, etc., as central players and an integral part of the team, who will mentor the rest of the team from the proposal stage through the actual activities, including planning, publications, these supervision, and general professional guidance.

Team Structure

Each problem P in the focus area identified as important (Sec. 2) will be addressed by a set of pyramids. The problems will be divided into subproblems, and work on each subproblem S will be undertaken by N (N being one or more) interacting pyramids IP(s). The value of N will depend on the size/requirements of S. A more ambitious S may call for a larger number of IPs. Each IP will begin with an initial set of research groups, led by a Lead Institution (LIN) at the root level, with the next level formed by Partner Institutions (PINs), forming a two-level pyramid, called a pyralet. A LIN will distribute and carry out the project work jointly with its PINs, in the process bringing up the quality of the PINs. At the end of a cycle of 1.5-2 years after becoming an II, each PIN will be required to add a layer of 2-3 new PINs of its own for whom it will act as LIN.

The pyramid will thus grow in chunks, each chunk being the new layer of PINs added at the bottom, thus expanding the pyramid. The expansion will be done as soon as a PIN is ready, typically every 1.5-2 year cycle. An II may appear in multiple pyramids, associated with different focus areas, represented by II’s different research groups. Those IIs with a broader research program will indeed tend to appear in the ITRA pyramids more frequently.

An II will typically improve its quality in a focus area with help from its LIN, its parent node in the pyramid, while helping raise the quality of its own PINs, its children nodes in the layer below. It is therefore envisioned that the entire pyramid will rise in quality with time, while layers of new PINs are added at the bottom. The rate at which the PINs are added to the pyramid will itself grow directly with the number of institutions in the pyramid, i.e., the pyramid size will grow exponentially.

The focus areas will either be disciplines within IT itself, or aimed at applying IT to an important problem domain X, referred to as IT-in-X. ITRA will help initiate IPs for each S, by selecting a set of seed pyralets for each S, based on a single proposal jointly submitted by the team. The primary responsibility, accountability and rewards for the improvement in the quality of PINs in a pyralet will primarily flow through the PIN itself, its LIN and the mentors. However, collaboration within a team is preferred to be broader, to take advantage of the complementarities in the strengths of all IIs in the team. The teams will be established through initial grants. Future layers will be added during the same grant, through renewals of these grants or new grants.

ITRA will proactively and continuously work with the IIs to identify the needs and opportunities for achieving greater efficiency. ITRA will arrange for the necessary resources and mechanisms and pyramid-wide access to them.

Achievements by teams will be recognized through a variety of awards: starting from the quality of their proposals; to quality work done at the level of individuals, institutions and teams; at different stages during the work; with respect to all four ITRA quality metrics mentioned earlier. Note that one of the award is about the quality of the proposed work plan itself – a proposal selected for support may, in addition, be selected for Foresight award if it presents promising, relevant, out-of-the-box ideas.

The central roles of mentors may be complemented by involving other accomplished researchers and pertinent others as Adjunct Faculty as and when needs or opportunities arise.

ITRA will itself act as a central repository of the major advances (results, solutions, technologies, etc.) made by ITRA teams over time. As ITRA covers more and more focus areas, it should be in a position to serve as a knowledge source and a think tank for IT, and IT-enabled problem solving in an increasing number of domains.