Collaborating with external organisations

Engaging with new collaborators can be an interesting challenge. As with many relationships, the foundations of collaborations will be built upon common interest and trust. Following many cliches, this is something that can take time to grow or demonstrate.

With the ever-changing world of research funding some organisations may not be eligible for funding based on geography, financial status or organisation type.  Broadly speaking, collaborators will be expected to provide some form of contribution (e.g. match funding) for participating in research projects.  For these reasons, some helpful reminders are provided below for adding stakeholders to research and knowledge exchange (RKE) activities.

1) Find common ground.

If you plan on contacting a stakeholder, ensure they are appropriate to join the project, and that the work would fit within their priorities. A common mistake is to contact a ‘big’ company, or multi-national organisation, without first identifying how the intended collaboration will fit within their priorities.

2) Get out there.

At times, serendipity can contribute to the forming of research collaborations. Publish to get your work known, attend open stakeholder events (e.g. KTN), and advertise your expertise and willingness to join collaborations (e.g. Konfer).

3) Haste makes waste.

Contacting a potential collaborator near a deadline, to apply pressure to join a consortium, may give the wrong impression. Given that many schemes require a form of match funding, ‘cold calling’ and essentially asking for money to join something that is of interest to you, may close more doors than are opened. Reach out, and if there is common interest (as number 1 above), establish ways to communicate further and perhaps arrange for future ways of collaboration. It may seem obvious but a common mistake is to be too informal, and too quick in writing a potential collaborator. Always start off formally in any correspondences and then judge from there.

4) Phone a friend.

You may already have a larger network than you realise. As well as contacts within your department, make use of colleagues throughout BU. If you contact RDS, you can be signposted to someone who can help you and who may already know the correct person to contact with established relationships. For some organisations, that receive hundreds of requests to collaborate every year, there may be agreements in place between BU and the stakeholder, so a named person will act as the conduit of communication in the first instance. If in doubt, ask BU colleagues.

5) Prepare a pitch.

Put what you wish to accomplish into writing. Ensure you put down what the future opportunities may be in joining a collaboration, put down your unique suitability to collaborate, and be sure to articulate the benefits of joining a collaboration. In short, this can be a quick pitch to collaborate, all in a short document. If you’ve sent this to the wrong person in an organisation, this can easily be shared.

Collaborating with industry: why it matters

These collaborations are important not only on a personal level to enhance your knowledge exchange profile, as a natural progression from your research – research in action, if you will – but also for BU and wider society.

Collaborations with external partners is a great way to demonstrate impact. This could be wide ranging from projects such as collaborative funding, to things like CPD and consultancy. A thing to remember is, that if somebody has paid for knowledge exchange, through direct funding or co-funding on an application, the odds are that they will use the work. This may be unlike any purely academic work that may never see the light of day beyond a journal paper.

On a personal level, you will develop a KE track record in working with industry that can help to bring your teaching to life and give further direction on your future research.

On an institutional level, all collaborations with external sources are tracked and contribute to BU’s annual returns. To explain further:

The Higher Education Business & Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey requires us to document all of our interactions with external sources, as the survey name suggests. As a result of this annual return, there is a mystical algorithm that uses this data and some other sources, to calculate our annual HEIF allocation. So, by BU maximising opportunities in working with external sources and documenting this work, we have a stronger return and thus could expect more HEIF funds to use across BU to strengthen our Knowledge Exchange provision – this could mean more HEIF project money is available!

The Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) is a relatively new addition to the Framework stool (with the Research Excellence and Teaching Excellence Frameworks being the other two legs). This Framework is set to be a regular return for institutions to complete as an aid to assess our own performance and provide continuous performance opportunities. The results of these returns are published to provide accessibility of world-leading research to external collaborators.

In short, by working with external collaborators, there are benefits to yourself on an individual level, benefits to BU and arguably more importantly, wider societal and/or economic benefits.