Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, managed well, can lead to great research, using real data in the real world, can help companies in the most pragmatic of ways and can provide the key people involved with valuable career experience.
The key structure in KTP is the partnership: i) a business partner that needs knowledge, ii) an academic partner that has knowledge, and iii) the ‘Associate’ who transfers the knowledge. The core purpose of the KTP is configuring the basic research and applying it to the business needs. In the best cases this highlights more questions that drive more research, both applied and basic.
Jan Stringer, the regional adviser for KTPs set the stage, explaining how it all works and dispelling a few old myths. One of the huge advantages of the KTP scheme is its flexibility – if the programme needs to change for good research or commercial reasons then the flexibility is there to do so. So, although the objective of a KTP is the application of research, even in applied research this flexibility means that projects are more robust and there is a greater likelihood of the partners getting what they seek.
Jan’s primary role is to help each partner get what they want, whether that be the Associate shaping their career by getting the training and experience they want, the researcher getting their papers prioritised and written as well as helping the company derive commercial benefit from the knowledge transfer. And in some instances, Associates can work up a PhD during the partnership. There’s typically a specific budget for the professional development of the Associate.
The hit rate for winning KTP funding is upward of 80%. If you’ve already got a CASE or an i-CASE award the opportunity is even more compelling
The KTP model has developed over the years and a recent assessment by the Council for Industry and Higher Education CIHE found that it complies with all the principles of open innovation good practice. (www.ktponline.org.uk/cihe-ktp-study-report)
The KTP project aims to covers a range of technology readiness levels, sitting as a bridge between the basic research typically funded by the Research Councils and the pure development work funded by companies. It fits into that gap identified by so many as ‘the valley of death’.
Although technology makes up the majority of Jan Stringer’s KTP projects there are exceptions – like the religious studies academics helping a UK investment house to understand the requirements of Muslim customers.
KTP’s emerge by various routes; companies contacting researchers directly, companies contacting the TSB or by academics and potential associates seeking new ways to disseminate their research. But in each case, the best starting point is to contact Jan Stringer to discuss the fit and feasibility of the project and she is only too happy to help customise the project to meet the needs of the programme and the partners. (Jan can be contacted at email@example.com)
Professor Robert Mair (Head of civil and environmental engineering, Cambridge ) then provided an insight into the success of the KTP that he and his team have enjoyed working with CrossRail. Embedding fibre-optics during the construction of the massive shafts for tunnel excavation in London has enabled a better understanding of the design implications, design margins and hence the opportunities for saving millions of pounds in future developments. The KTP associates were embedded in the Crossrail project team and created invaluable date that is underpinning continuing research at Cambridge. As well as acquiring data that would otherwise be unavailable, the team has published four journal papers so far, generated considerable international interest, created the material for a spectacular IMPACT case study and further developed the strong relationships with Crossrail.
Finally, Dr Tariq Masood provided an Associate’s viewpoint based on his work between Cranfield, Loughborough and Rolls Royce. He described developing a service knowledge backbone that enabled Rolls Royce design engineers to use the massive amounts of operational data collected from the engines. He supervised a multinational team of software engineers from three different countries, working with people in RR and Cranfield, providing validation across different countries. He and the academic team generated two conference papers and two publications from the two year project.
Discussion ensued covering the availability of funds for professional development, travel and conferences (they do exist). It emerged that although one might imagine larger companies are better partners than SMEs, the focus of SMEs on a tight domain is often a help in maintaining momentum to embed the research in the company. SMEs also often offer a broader range of experiences for the Associate.
Professor Mair confirmed that the average of 0.5 days per week spent on a KTP collaboration is a realistic commitment, but pointed out that this is very much part of running an effective and interesting research project.
Fears about IP were raised, with Jan Stringer confirming that only if the publication needs of the academics are respected and the equitable management of IP is in place will the project go ahead. The KTP is always set up as a win for all partners with Jan helping to manage the projects so that partners get what they want.
The success of the programme as a whole is a testament to the flexibility and robustness of the KTP as a means of getting research disseminated, embedded and used.
(Thanks also to Dominik Deradjat for help preparing this post, and if you’d like a copy of the slides, please contact Charles Boulton, cb683 (at) cam.ac.uk)