ISE-CENTER a new generation organization
When summing up the first results of ISE-Center development, one should take into account that from the very beginning, the founders set themselves the ambiguous task of creating a «new generation» non-profit organization which would measure up to international standards and meet the current requirements of Russia's Third Sector. The intention was not just to set up a mechanism for implementing specific programs and projects, but also to work out a model that could eventually be used by other non-profit organizations in different spheres of social life.
Substantial risk had to be taken at the outset: many proven technologies and long-standing traditions of the 1990's were rejected in order to take a fresh look at basic issues, such as program decision-making, in-process project monitoring and performance evaluation, SWOT analysis, information support, strategic development plan, etc. It was vital to set the right priorities and abandon many attractive but non-core projects. The management assumed a more careful recruitment policy, giving up the «informal team» approach typical of the non-profit sector. This is why the ISE-Center, initiated in the autumn of 1999 as one of the programs of the Moscow Public Science Foundation (MPSF), in early 2002 became an independent organization with its own work philosophy and development path. While retaining and developing the MPSF research and education heritage accumulated over the past decade, the ISE-Center was immediately recognized as a new type of entity distinguished from its predecessors in some important ways.
To claim that the ISE-Center has accomplished its mission as formulated by the founders would be premature. In terms of managerial structure and work content, the organization is still in the formative stage. Nevertheless, it would be safe to state that the ISE-Center is developing in a dynamic and orderly way, avoiding any serious failures or crises. The ISE-Center has already found a proper place among Russian non-profit organizations. It is known to Moscow experts as well as to scholars and educators in other regions of Russia.
Today the ISE-Center has all the characteristics of a modern non-profit organization: competent and experienced staff, representative and efficient Board of Trustees, a broad base of qualified experts in various fields of knowledge, a network of partners in Russia and abroad, and a diversified financial base. We can boast an informative (and already quite popular) website, an extensive publications program, a responsive and efficient Financial Service. Of equal importance are the ISE-Center's regular contacts with a large number of public institutions, primarily with the Russian Federation Ministry of Education and the country's leading universities.
The core activity of the ISE-Center has been the Centers for Advanced Studies and Education (CASE) Program, which is currently approaching the end of its first stage (20002003). The process of establishing a network of regional Centers for Advanced Studies and Education, hosted by Russia's largest classical universities, is almost complete (launch of the ninth CASE in the Southern Federal District is expected in 2003). Two nation-wide competitions for individual and collective research grants have been held: of the almost two thousand applicants, more than three hundred were awarded grants. The Resource Center of the Program set up at the St. Petersburg State University has become operational. Another achievement is successful implementation of the first phase of CASE libraries acquisition, with each CASE receiving hundreds of volumes of modern Western literature.
The CASE program is distinguished for its complexity: it consists of many diverse components which are intended to be in constant interaction. It is a true example of a «new generation» charity program combining both grant-awarding and operational activities which encompass individual, collective and institutional grants, technical assistance and monitoring, networking and international cooperation. Another complicating feature is multiplicity of funding sources; what's more, this is one of the rare cases in Russia where budget funds are used (through the RF Ministry of Education) in addition to those of Western charity institutions (Carnegie Corporation, MacArthur Foundation and Open Society Institute). This unusual format certainly translates into additional workload for ISE-Center staff, but it also makes the Program unique.
However, neither technological complexity nor the diversity of content is an end in itself; instead, these features of the Program represent a deliberate attempt to perfect the most promising models for creating a strong University sector within the Russian social-science and humanities community. The Program aims to provide answers to crucial questions asked by those who think about the prospects of Russian science at the regional level. How can an institution integrate research with educational activities? How to consolidate the academic community, now rather scattered? What is the proper balance between fundamental and applied research? What types of research can be categorized as innovative under the present circumstances? Are Western techniques and methodologies applicable to the study of Russian realities? Should the main emphasis be placed on talented «outsiders» working individually, or large academic and educational institutions? Are Russian scholars ready to meet the challenge of globalizing research and education markets?
The list of questions could go on. Just a few years ago most answers sounded rather pessimistic or even apocalyptic. Today there seem to be grounds for cautious optimism. It's premature to talk about any real revival, but the signs of revitalized research activity in the regions are quite obvious. The CASE Program has been designed to encourage this revitalization, find the best possible mechanisms for developing innovative research activity within universities, and assist in formulating and implementing a national strategy in this sphere, which is vital for the future of Russian science.
Quite naturally, a number of additional modules were build around the CASE Program, each representing an individual project; still, those modules remain closely integrated with the ISE-Center's core activity. One of the most successful projects of 2002 was the «Intellectual Audit» of classical Russian universities, aimed to assess the current status and development potential of social sciences and humanities in those universities. The Intellectual Audit initially targeted the Ural, Voronezh and Tomsk Universities; five more universities hosting CASEs will be covered in the near future. The project has an obvious applied value, as it allows CASEs to identify their prospective areas of development. Another goal is to build up a set of technologies that would help Russian universities design their own social science and humanities research strategies. Is seems reasonable to expect that project results will be in demand not just within the CASE Program but in the Russian educational community at large.
Another promising ISE-Center project is the Independent Training Materials Certification Committee (ITMCC). The project involves comprehensive assessment of more than seven hundred text books, training manuals and course materials created over the past few years by the country's leading universities with the financial support of the National Training Foundation and the Open Society Institute. The best materials will be brought together in discipline-specific educational packages and recommended for introduction into Russian schools of higher learning. As is also true of the «Intellectual Audit», the ITMCC project has both immediate and longer-term objectives: one expected outcome is a truly independent training materials assessment procedure which is of vital importance for Russia's education system.
Another important initiative of the ISE-Center is the permanent Education Donors' Forum (EDF). Started as an informal discussion hub of a few Western and Russian organizations operating in the field, in the course of one year EDF turned into an effective mechanism for information exchange, standardization and, at times, coordination of work programs by major research and educational donors. There are all necessary conditions for this initiative to succeed.
The creation of ISE-Center coincided with the beginning of a new phase in the development of Russian science and education. The years-long trend of diminishing public funding in this area has been arrested. For the first time in years both federal and regional governments have moved away from gap filling practices and began to look for an optimal strategy for the research and education sector, which would become a key component of a general socio-economic development strategy. For the first time in the past decade the issues concerning science and education were placed for broad public debate. For the first time a practical approach was taken to integrating Russian scholars into the international academic and educational community. As one among many non-profit organizations in the area of research and education, the ISE-Center is prepared to play its proper role in implementing the tasks of this new stage.
Andrey V. Kortunov,
President of the Independent Non-profit Organization «ISE-Center (Information. Scholarship. Education.)»