This article was first published on the Creativeworks London website on 12th January 2015.
In two weeks’ time I will be saying goodbye to the Creativeworks London family to take up my new position as Knowledge Quarter Project Manager at the British Library. The two roles share some likeness, most predominantly the examination and facilitation of the flow of knowledge, the exploration of connectivity throughout knowledge rich organisations and how these activities can impact the wider economy.
Having an opportunity to reflect upon the activities of Creativeworks London is refreshing, the past two and a half years have been a consistent stream of facilitation, events and awards. We have delivered over fifty events, funded just over a hundred collaborative research projects and engaged with thousands of creative businesses and academic researchers from all across London.
Being so deeply involved in the process of bringing people together and supporting many developing relationships perhaps gives me a unique perspective of the good, the bad and the unexpected challenges and outcomes of collaborative research projects, which I would like to share…
“Well, that was much like a deep, wide, bubbly, reassuring bath.” – Tweet from a creative business
In my experience the most evident benefit of research collaboration is having a space in which to explore ideas. A good company knows its market, a great company knows what its market is going to be, and collaborative research assists businesses in preparing for the next big thing in their sector. Often both businesses and academics are increasingly caught up in their own activities that the development of new research questions and methodologies, business ideas, intellectual property or products seems an impossibility, but the potential outcome of any collaboration can have far-reaching benefits for both parties and the wider creative economy.
Collaborative research does more than predict the future, it creates a new possible future contributing to innovations that open up whole new markets to SMEs. Universities are looking for more tangible experiences and a deeper understanding of current and future sectors and collaborative research provides them with a vehicle in which to achieve this.
“I understand how these things sometimes work slowly – but someone somewhere is sitting on this and I want them nudged!” – Email from a creative business
The biggest difference between the commercial world and academia is the timescale projects are run to and the quagmire of bureaucracy found within some academic institutions. While I would love to offer a quick solution and guidance on how to navigate these issues, they make up part of a greater challenge which can only be rectified with culture change at university level. But fear not! Initiatives such as Creativeworks London are striving to have these issues recognised by the institutions they plague. It will not be a battle that is won overnight but with the growing activity in the field of Knowledge Exchange the issues are becoming increasingly evident and a solution ever more urgent. If I can offer any advice it is that the unsung heroes of academia are the Knowledge Exchange and Business Development Managers. In my experience these wonderful people are very approachable and incredibly knowledgeable about their specific institution and the wider business community.
“I don’t understand why an academic would want to work with my company, what do I have to offer them?” – Email from a creative business
An unexpected issue I have witnessed has been a fear of working with academics and vice versa. Both sides of the partnership frequently share doubts about the value of their contribution. I explain to SMEs that the archetypical view of academia is extraordinarily outdated, and when we begin to explore potential research partners they are genuinely very excited about how enthused academics are about the possibility of their research having a wider impact.
Many academics have a well justified passion and pride in their work, they spend their career addressing challenging problems with potentially huge economic, societal and cultural impact. Having an opportunity to use their research, or develop new research to truly affect how a business operates or to ensure the success of a product is really the underlining principal to why academics are increasing engaging with SMEs.
So where do we go from here? What does the future hold for Knowledge Exchange?
I think we are seeing the unfolding of a larger story which isn’t about the knowledge that is held within departments, institutions and organisations, but that which is free flowing and developed by the conversations we have and the networks we populate. I hope to see the adoption and recognition of a multidisciplinary approach to Knowledge Exchange by academic institutions, pairing scientists with arts practitioners and doctors with linguists. I want to see STEM subjects embrace the arts and humanities to facilitate a new and exciting way in which to explore the bigger questions. Finally, and most importantly, I want to see Knowledge Exchange not as an afterthought or luxury, but as a process ingrained in business models and research activities, equally valued by all.