Triangular Alliances – Academia, Government, & Business

Triangular Alliances – Academia, Government, & Business

Imagine the possibilities if universities such as University of Phoenix, with its sanctioned Research Centers, were able to partner with government and business, working together on innovative solutions as done in the past century. Consider only a handful of the domestic and social problems facing the USA today that the country’s leading scholars, progressive government programs, and enterprising businesses might attempt to solve—from contaminated water supplies, childhood starvation, opioid crisis, cyber-attacks, crumbling roads and infrastructure, climate change, depletion of natural resources, rising homelessness, unresolved immigration reform, underfunded public education, etc.—and the list goes on to highlight opportunities for the brightest of minds to build partnerships together in support of rebuilding this country for its present and future generations. Through this triangular alliance that developed successful, innovative programs in the past, universities could initiate this collaboration by calling together, appealing to those parties that would prefer to work together to develop solutions, rather than witness the continuing cultural decline that this country has experienced, a cultural decline that has been facilitated by recent years’ political divisions and political dysfunction.  

The importance of situating the USA and its record on innovation, it is beneficial to review early history in the USA’s role in advancing technology. In 1931, an MIT professor, Vannevar Bush, built what would become known as the first analog computer. With significant federal government support to build an infrastructure to support innovation, Bush was later involved in the Manhattan Project, in the building of the atomic bomb, and the efforts to build radar and air-defense systems. In 1945, President Roosevelt promoted the partnership of government with universities and business. In Walter Isaacson’s recent Times Magazine (Jan. 14, 2019) article, How American Loses its Edge, this researcher was struck by the genius of American innovation preceding and following World War II, when these three groups—government, academia, and business—became fused into a form of what Isaacson refers to as “an innovation triangle” (p. 18). 

The significant growth and prosperity that occurred following World War II can in large part be attributable to this unstoppable combination of the triangular alliances conceptual model. Through the brightest of minds, innovations in the science and technology became the “Endless Frontier.” When one considers the advancement of computing power, space explorations, advancement of alternative energy sources, harnessing the power of solar energy—and the list goes on and on—it is easy to envision the limitless power of how an innovation triangle of government, academia, and business, could support and promote the creation of millions of jobs to the betterment of USA society and to future generations.

The 2017 Atlantic Council Programs report summarizes past examples of federally funded research, within many universities, and continuance into corporate laboratories that made significant progress to promote and capitalize on American genius and innovation. However, federally funded research and development (R&D) has decreased significantly over the past few decades. In the mid to late 20th century, the USA had once been the world leader in research and development; in 2017, the USA ranked 12th in research and development efforts as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). From 1.2% of GDP in 1976, R&D shrunk to 0.8% in 2016, the lowest percentage of GDP since the middle of the 20th century (Atlantic Council, 2017).

Ellen Tauscher (2017) writes:

The United States faces threats from outside its borders, but also from within. While domestic issues including healthcare, immigration, and tax reform occupy the media, a more sinister threat exists underfoot. The political system that once created a strong, prosperous, and united nation now sows division. Election campaigns are now a lucrative industry for the wealthy and well-connected, while the elections have lost substance in favor of showmanship. Politicians are more consumed with their own re-election rather than looking after the interests of their constituents. Media organizations have become both enablers and promoters of America’s bad habit of treating politics as a reality show. Technology has created partisan echo chambers and undermined our ability to achieve political consensus. Without a United States strong to its core, its interests in the world will suffer. Our partners around the world see how America has lost its bearings within the changing world order (p. i).

Imagine the opportunities that could follow from the early seeds of innovation between these important three arenas—academia/university scholarship, government, and American business. Strong, non-partisan, visionary leaders—on behalf of the country’s best interests—need to invite and pull together willing participants to work together, around and outside of the political divisions the USA is experiencing today, to research, innovate, and develop solutions. Someone needs to step up, reinitiate, and promote the triangular alliance innovation philosophy across the three groups. Spoken as one research collaborator’s voice within a research center, universities might wish to lead the way by leveraging community space, step up with an appeal to interested local government agencies, and invite enterprising businesses to address, innovate, and regain what was once unstoppable in the USA.

Research. Develop. Create. Produce. Innovate.


Atlantic Council Programs Report (2017).

Isaacson, W. (Jan. 14, 2019). How America loses its edge. Time Magazine, 193(2), 17-19.

Tauscher, E.O. (2017) Forward: Whither America? A strategy for repairing America’s political culture. From: Raidt, J. (Nov. 2017). Atlantic Council Strategy Paper No. 13;


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