Staff exchanges underpinning academic / business partnerships – good practice and a support programme for knowledge and technology transfer

It’s easy enough to read the words – but it’s the subtle insights that aren’t written down that really matter.  And that’s true about applying research to a real problem, about understanding the real priorities of your research partner, and about building a better research collaboration.

Exchanging staff between industry and university provides a way for researchers to work alongside their collaborators in a very different world, to understand that world and so to improve the way research is done and how well it is applied.  So the EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account at Cambridge University has launched “Knowledge Transfer Fellowships” to support staff exchange between industrial and university collaborators.  See ( for more details.  First deadline for expressions of interest is 11th April 2014.CBB

And you don’t have to explore uncharted territory in staff exchange.  At the seminar that launched the Fellowships, Charles Boulton presented the results from a study into practices that work at Cambridge.

Staff Exchange -why



He began by exploring who gets what out of staff exchanges before going on to discuss a range of good practices and ideas for maximising the chances of success.



Good secondments display a few key characteristics and supportive practices:

  • Senior championship, on both sides, with mutually understood objectives and a willingness to invest time maintaining the relationship in the deep-seated belief that secondment delivers benefits beyond the short-term project
  • Skilled middle management that support the secondment in practice, creating a supportive culture and balancing the short- and long-term deliverables
  • A shared understanding between academia and industry how both can expect to benefit and how both prefer to work
  • An umbrella governance structure, complete but not intrusive, covering IP, confidentiality and funding
  • Clear objectives, usually documented, but only informal metrics that drive constructive behaviour
  • Minimal focus on short-term value or on explicit assessment of value-for-money
  • An ‘orientation’ route for the secondee, explicitly planned or arising from mutual experience and a supportive culture
  • Defined and specific tasks, but with space (and maybe an explicit plan)  for broader benefits to be realised

 Staff Exchange KSF

He also described the characteristics of the effective secondee aiming to transfer knowledge between industry and academia: politically astute, flexible and competent enough to build the confidence of the host organisation. Then able to discern and to communicate the subtle insights that build a really deep and excellent research collaboration.

(If you’d like a copy of Charles’ presentation from the session, contact him at


Author: innovationcoaching

I consult and coach in innovation and its management, based in the UK but working nearly anywhere. This blog is just a few musings, observations and evolving thinking. I look forward to your comments

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