Collaboration with key or strategic stakeholders emerged as a common theme throughout the narratives that were highly rated. Collaboration involved working alongside the industry or research partner. The engagement narratives presented several different collaboration methods or strategies. These included:
- co-location of industry on campus
- embedded staff or staff exchange
- industry focused conferences and workshops
- development of university business units.
Co-location is where universities have encouraged or invited strategic industry partners to co-locate on campus.
Co-location was discussed across many of the engagement narratives. It was recognised by industry and universities alike as being an important and mutually beneficial engagement strategy.
There were many benefits to both parties from this strategy and these were outlined in a number of the narratives. Benefits described included:
- Geographic co-location allowed industry and researchers greater opportunities to focus on current challenges or latest technologies which could then lead to the development of new technologies.
- Co-location allowed for real-time, continuous exchange of ideas, expertise and knowledge between researchers and industry, ensuring a constant focus on the current problem or challenge.
- Co-location provided access to any specialist equipment that may have been needed to progress the research.
- Co-location fostered a more cooperative approach to research on current problems thus potentially leading to successful solutions for research end-users.
A number of universities highlighted the importance of co-location in their narratives and some of the strategies that were put in place to support this engagement activity. Key strategies included:
- Co-location was considered during the formal planning processes of universities and highlighted as being a part of organisational strategic plans.
- Many universities were actively seeking or inviting strategic stakeholders or research end-users to co-locate to their campuses.
- To ensure that co-location partnerships were beneficial, some universities indicated that as part of their planning process, they had developed a set of criteria for selecting long-term and short-term partners that were closely aligned with the areas of research.
- In a number of cases, where the university maintained more than one campus, each campus supported complementary external organisations that had been strategically invited, or sought, to co-locate in order to benefit from engagement opportunities between researchers and end-users.
The purpose of co-location was for the researchers and industry involved in the work to be located where much of the work or research was being conducted. This allowed access to the subject of the research and any specialist resources being used as well as the exchange of ideas and expertise. In some situations, this required the researchers to co-locate to where the industry partners carried out their work.
This was particularly apparent where the work or research involved health services. Being geographically co-located within health services allowed researchers to deliberately engage with end-users and share expertise, networks and infrastructure.
This was also the case with disciplines where the research being carried out was in remote areas.
Embedded staff or staff exchange
Another engagement strategy that enabled effective collaboration was embedding staff in an industry or area of research, or exchanging staff between industry and academia. This exchange or embedding of staff allowed not only for a transfer of knowledge and expertise but also a deeper understanding of the situation, or industry, that could later translate into successful outcomes for the research end-users.
Further benefits that were highlighted in the engagement narratives included:
- Industry staff that were embedded in an area of research brought real world perspective and experience to the academic environment.
- As it was often the industry end-users that drove the type of research being carried out, embedding industry staff provided a greater understanding of the challenges faced in the real word situations and helped direct more relevant and targeted solutions. Once these industry staff returned to their areas of work, they were able to translate the new found knowledge to their area of industry.
- Many narratives outlined where industry stakeholders held positions within the universities and were able to guide the content for that area of research.
A number of the narratives outlined examples where staff exchange or embedding involved the researchers or academic staff holding positions, or working, in the industry or area of work. Examples included:
- Research staff working in the relevant industry to supplement their academic record.
- Many of the UoAs involving health discussed where clinical or health professionals had appointments in clinical practice at affiliated hospitals and other relevant sites.
- Narratives also highlighted that many senior research and academic staff held significant positions on multiple industry boards.
This two-way affiliation greatly facilitated the transfer of expertise between the university and its industry partners.
Industry focused conferences and workshops
Workshops were a common theme across all UoAs; however, there were a number of examples where the workshop was a collaboration between a particular industry or area and their partner researchers. The purpose of these intensive, specific workshops was the transfer of knowledge, the dissemination of research results and the opportunity for external stakeholders and researchers to focus exclusively on the challenge or problem in a concerted effort. Other benefits included:
- Industry-focused conferences and workshops provided an ideal opportunity for sharing research and obtaining end-user feedback.
- Workshops for technology and research transfer were frequently organised alongside discipline conferences.
- These conferences were also an important part of industry’s role in commercialising the research that is developed collaboratively.
A number of universities indicated that they were actively involved in organising and also hosting many of these conferences and workshops as it was an important part of their overall engagement strategy with key end-users.
Development of university business units
As universities engage and collaborate more with industry and research-end users the work required to support this has increased. In recognition of this, a number of universities had established specialised business units to provide the skills required to support these projects and relationships. Some of the examples included:
- Engaging with research end-users through small, low risk projects where the business units provide the required project services.
- In some cases, this was in the form of a dedicated consulting arm of the university that provides advice to external stakeholders.
- This support of industry and industry projects often led to longer-term relationships with strategic partners.
These business units also provided a single point of contact for any potential external partners that may have wished to collaborate with the university.