How to Unlock the Potential of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Model

Author: Arati Prabhakar


America faces a host of daunting problems that demand forward-looking solutions. Addressing these challenges will require us to unleash the full potential of our research and development community, leveraging new approaches to innovation that break through both technical and institutional barriers and initiate wholly new capabilities. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) model has resulted in exactly this kind of high-impact innovation in defense, intelligence, and energy. This model can be applied to other critical societal challenges such as climate, labor, or health. But an ARPA must have the right core elements if it is to create the fresh solutions the country needs.

The ARPA model is distinctly different from other federal agencies in mission, operations, and culture. ARPA organizations are part of a much broader ecosystem that spans from research to implementation. Their role is to create breakthrough, paradigm-shifting solutions and capabilities. In order to position a new ARPA for success, Congress, the Administration, and the agency’s founding leaders must understand the unique properties of an ARPA and the process by which ARPAs approach and manage risk to develop game-changing advances.

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About the Author

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Arati Prabhakar is the founder and CEO of Actuate, a nonprofit organization to research and demonstrate breakthrough solutions for societal challenges. Arati has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a partner at U.S. Venture Partners, and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). She holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University and an M.S. in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.