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A research program coordinates several projects that share a common research goal. Such programs are commonly directed and funded by large organizations, such as universities, corporations, NGOs, and governments. Depending on an organization's needs and interests, research programs vary widely in terms of both their structures and objectives.
Research program managers primarily work to coordinate and supervise all of the projects involved and make sure they remain on task. Sponsored projects will typically also have their own immediate managers. This person is usually responsible for designing and carrying out the particular project.
In many cases, the relationship between a research program and a research project might be likened to that between a franchiser and a franchisee. The franchiser provides an established set of guidelines and a support system while the franchisee works hands-on to develop his or her own particular business. As within a franchise system, a research program´s overall success depends on that of its smaller constituents. Project leaders might interact with one another when the successful operation of any one project is contingent on another, or they might conduct their activities more independently. In either case, all projects are accountable to the overseeing program and its objectives.
Different kinds of organizations have different aims when developing new research programs. A for-profit company might launch a research program in order to learn more about its market, its competition, and opportunities for product or service development. These research programs are designed to discover market demands, to find ways of better meeting those demands, and to generally become more competitive. Corporate research programs are also frequently set up to examine spending and costs, to incorporate new technologies and organizational tools, and to prepare for a large operation such as an engineering project. A company might also develop research programs aimed at supporting social objectives — these might focus on helping the surrounding community or the company's own employees.
Socially-oriented research programs are also commonly initiated on the part of NGOs and governments. They might be aimed at economic or political development, improving services such as education or health care, fostering entrepreneurship in citizens, protecting the environment, integrating newcomers into a society, or any number of goals that the organization has set for itself. Governments also frequently fund research programs that promote growth in certain industries. A university can sometimes focus on research for its own sake — that is, for the sake of developing human knowledge. Cross-organizational funding and cooperation on research projects also can occur where interests overlap.