I have spent a whole career in this valley. My long journey started, as many do, with deep disciplinary training in an area with translational value – in my case biophysics of colloids and liposomal drug delivery. Some set out in the valley to reap more immediate impact in application or development of an idea into something applied. In both cases, it is a classic journey fraught with risk and high in reward if you make it out. Making it out of the valley of death can take many forms but often the biggest prize for some is surviving the trek in translating ideas into technology development or commercialization.
Regardless of the exit route, access to the idea from a diverse perspective may be key to adoption of an idea, a principle, practice or policy. For many of our most complex problems, ‘grand challenges’ in the parlance of the day, the solutions will need to be implemented across diverse, social-cultural boundaries. Even more significant is the recognition that markets of use and the adoptive communities of need know no boundaries associated with skin color, race, religion or political beliefs. There is an increasing demand of inclusivity for those who want access to the latest technology and to level the playing field for access to the latest medicine, or electronics or other resources that can nurture diverse social needs.
As scientists and technologists, we often think about the journey in the valley as a navigable journey in terms of trying to define an unmet technology need, translate that into a solution set that describes a target product profile and then magic! It may be that the social-cultural diversity of our teams to better understand and analyze the human dimensions of technology solutions are needed. The magic is described by some who take this journey whether they are CEOs of start ups, early investors in technology development, or the many stakeholders in the boat gliding down the valley river as one that may rely more on the people in the boat with an oar in the water that the idea engine driving the boat.
Could integration of diverse teams and the intentional social cultural modeling of technology adoption be the last leg in the valley of death? At the Martin Luther King Day celebration in Fort Collins, Dave Williams spoke eloquently about the need for equity in access to technology for all people as a fundamental principle of diversity and to reverse current racial tensions in our country.
Our most recent initiatives have included investments in creating a more diverse research team bases from which to integrate thinking and practices that will nourish wider access to all people to our ideas against the worlds most complex and challenging problems. One of our Catalyst for Innovative Partnership (CIP) teams is focused on access to energy in Africa and the implementation of village smart microgrids that would enable rural electrification. They are making great progress in both integrating social-cultural modeling into the project and working with the Rawandan government, university and industry to bring solutions forward. Another program we have initiated is a new VRP Fellowship program that will seek to build diversity through our graduate school researchers, helping build our next generation of critical thinkers and research leaders. These are a few experiments underway to explore diversity as a navigation tool in the idea to technology valley of death.