University support for ongoing collaboration between researchers and industry and other external partners was instrumental in the successful translation of research to impacts beyond academia. In particular, universities provided support for:
- engaging with government
- long-term relationships
- formalisation of research agreements
- industry partnerships.
Support for engagement
Universities provided support for a range of research engagement activities, targeting different types of stakeholders, at different levels. The purpose of these engagement activities was to share research and expertise and to build a base for collaboration. The types of stakeholders were as many and varied across the disciplines as the impact examples (see impact section). They included industry partners, community organisations, and governments at all levels. For example, universities provided support by:
- Engaging with prospective industry partners through high-level business forums or workshops aimed at industry leaders. These kinds of events introduced industry leaders and key decision makers to the university, and provided an opportunity for the university to showcase its research capability and achievements, and introduce its leading researchers.
- Using social media, and the media more broadly, and public seminars to reach out to community groups and the general public to obtain grassroots engagement on a particular topic.
- Supporting targeted research-based workshops and specialised training courses, which in some cases provided an avenue for the development of research findings from the ground up, or fostered community partnerships over the long term.
Universities explained that these types of engagements enabled stakeholder groups to develop a familiarity with and understanding of the university, to feel included and valued as partners (or potential partners) in the research mission, and to share ideas.
Engaging with government
Universities facilitated engagements with different levels of government as an important mechanism for their researchers to address a range of social, economic and environmental challenges. Engaging with governments at the local, state and federal levels provided strategic direction and funding through partnerships and/or ongoing collaborations. For example:
- Universities supported the participation of their leading researchers in government committees and reference groups. Comprising government representatives and a range of other experts including industry or community organisations, as well as researchers, these committees or groups met to discuss core policy issues and identify knowledge gaps related to research challenges for Australian and other research end-users.
- Local councils held similar events at a grassroots level where councillors, community groups and researchers highlighted and discussed issues that directly impacted local communities.
- In some cases, engaging with government lead to government funding for the commercialisation of research outcomes, where universities otherwise may not have been able to obtain the necessary investment and support.
Universities played a significant role in supporting long-term relationships with stakeholders and research end-users. Long-term relationships were an important avenue for building complementary research capacity and industry experience that drove research translation and facilitated the delivery of research impacts. Long-term relationships were also important for developing the capacity of external partners to work with researchers, to understand the research and to be able to make more effective use of it.
The most common example of university support for long-term relationships with external partners was staff exchange or placement schemes where staff from external partner organisations (such as industry, government and community organisations) were actively encouraged and supported to work within universities and research groups.
Formalisation of research agreements
The formalisation of research agreements between universities and external partners was highlighted as an important collaborative tool in many highly rated approach to impact studies. These agreements, such as Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with community organisations or joint ventures with industry partners, brought together both practical and research expertise to achieve a mutual goal. In addition:
- Through formal agreements with universities, end-users and stakeholders came together to create technical and cost efficiencies.
- Universities also explained that after a formal agreement was made, universities and stakeholders continued to foster these relationships beyond the length of the agreement. For example, through ongoing regular meetings and discussion groups, which focused on new or related challenges, leading to the achievement of impacts beyond the original mutual goal.
Industry partnerships were important across a number of disciplines, particularly in the science and engineering disciplines, but also in other disciplines such as creative industries partnerships in the creative arts disciplines. Benefits of these partnerships included:
- Universities played a key role in facilitating industry partnerships, particularly through negotiating comprehensive, cooperative agreements with industry partners, which could be highly complex.
- Industry partnerships allowed researchers to gain first-hand industry knowledge, such as the value chain of an industry.
- Partnerships with industry also enabled large-scale application or delivery of research outcomes, particularly where industry partners had large-scale production equipment, distribution networks, infrastructure, customers and other critical resources.
- Once created, these partnerships also encouraged collaboration with other external stakeholders, at local, national and international levels.