Insights for Researchers from the Dowling Review

This is a very personal reading of the Dowling Review of Business-University Research Collaborations (www.raeng.org.uk/policy/dowling-review) published in July. In it I try to extract insights and lessons that researchers might find useful as they plan, manage and deliver their research in collaboration with industry and derive some suggestions for the future of our seminar series.

The question asked by the Minister for State was “how we can better support relationships between UK businesses and the UK’s world-leading university researchers” and hence the recommendations are tightly targeted on the key stakeholders; Government, Innovate UK, Research Councils, Funding Councils, Universities, Business, the Intellectual Property Office, and the Technology Transfer Offices (summary on pp77 ff of the Review). But although not specifically targeted, there are useful hints for researchers working with industry and looking for ways to improve their collaboration efforts.

If you thought the world looked complex in this domain, you’re right. Much of the Review’s discussion is about the complexity of the interactions between players and the support systems available. Recommendations focus on making support easier to understand and access and creating a system that makes it more effective overall.

There is also a call to make success in business-university collaboration more significant in recognition and career progression within academia (Recommendations 2 and 3).

One of the most significant recommendations lies deep within the Review and is prompted by the points that collaboration requires people to trust each other, and research collaboration requires particular trust. Furthermore, the review notes (para 48) how “when academics and businesses work together over many years, it becomes possible for the academics to truly understand the needs of the business and to identify new avenues for collaboration and opportunities for research to support the business, beyond those that the business itself may have recognised as being relevant.” And the importance of multidisciplinarity is also recognised.

Recommendation 18 (Para 109) calls for “pump-priming funds on a competitive basis to enable strong relationships between individuals in academia and industry to transition into group collaborations with critical mass, substantial industry funding and a long-term horizon.” This would help some of the best practice we have seen within CUED where projects have spawned adjacent collaborations. The networks of researchers have enjoyed very fruitful and long-term relationships that have led to outstanding papers and valuable commercial results. The keys to success here are a focus on a long-term relationship, the evolution from projects to trusted partners and the benefits of multidisciplinarity.

This recommendation could enable the creation of partnerships which maximise the returns and minimise the risks for both parties; the industrialists looking for dramatic outcomes and the academics choosing a career-defining research agenda.

The Review also has some very interesting data sets, including, for example, Figure 4 “Academics’ motivations for collaborating with business”

Fig 4

The complexity of the system is discussed, including a useful summary of the various participants.

Box2a

Box2b

Other interesting information includes the answers to the questions “What are the key success factors for building productive, long-term research partnerships between business and academia?”; see Figure 11 reproduced below

Fig11

.. and also an assessment of the most frequently cited barriers to success mentioned in the evidence provided to the Review.

Fig12

Then there are ideas in the Review that we might be able to pick up within the Collaboration Skills Initiative.

For example, one of the Reviews recommendations encourages spreading news of success in industry-business collaboration.

R7. Greater awareness of role models whose career progression has been helped by spending time in and/or working with business should inspire and encourage others to consider a similar path. Funding bodies and universities should do more to promote examples of researchers who have derived particular benefit from collaborating with industry.

And it led me to wonder what we might do locally in Cambridge to follow this advice?

One example of good practice highlighted is that of Interface in Scotland – see http://www.interface-online.org.uk/ and we will explore what we might learn from their example.

The Doctoral Training Centres are suggested as an opportunity to build collaboration skills for the future so we will disseminate our programme this year explicitly to the DTCs in the University.

Intellectual Property is obviously an issue where there is space for guidance at all levels. For further help about patents and an easy introduction see http://www.ipo.gov.uk/blogs/equip/. The Review also discusses the Lambert framework for IP contracting and notes that 80% of those who use it regard it as useful, but only 10-15% (by value) of collaborations are based on Lambert-like arrangements. Therefore in the forthcoming seminar series we will touch on the potential use of the Lambert framework.

For similar reasons we will discuss the KTP Scheme (Knowledge Transfer Partnerships) and how it can best be used to support collaboration.

If there are other topics you’d like to hear about in the coming year then please contact us.

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