Having built and run significant research partnerships involving business, Government, Universities and other research providers, here are three important, but often overlooked, elements for success. In my experience working in, and with, senior leadership groups and from the Board level, sustainable and effective research collaborations need these three elements beyond all the other standard inputs.
Viva La Difference.
Whether it is a Business to University or University to Government, or any multi-party research collaboration, each participant organisation will have different motivations, needs and objectives. It is comforting to focus on the elements that align the organisations. At Science into Action, we find that clarifying, articulating and even celebrating the differences sets the collaboration off on the right path from day one. And the nice thing is that there are simple ways to achieve this.
Sweat the little things.
People always tell us not to sweat the small stuff, but if you want your research collaboration to become a self-sustaining partnership (the pinnacle!) or at the very least, go into a second round, at Science into Action we find the small stuff really does matter. Many multi-partner research collaborations achieve what they need to, however they don’t evolve into a second iteration despite the perceived success of the collaboration, and the desire of most participants. Once I peel away the layers of why, too often it is the lack of consistency in the simple things – joined up processes, supporting systems and even alignment of people management cycles. So, do sweat the little things - they matter.
Measure it for focus.
“You will need to operationalise collaboration for us… we don’t do it”.
In the words of a senior academic at the initiation meeting for a multi-year strategic university partnership with a Government entity, he made it clear that without a purposeful measure of collaboration, they would not focus on it. We know that Universities are structurally and organisationally focused on competing with each other rather than collaborating and at some levels it makes business sense. However, in this case we needed to “operationalise collaboration” to help the partnership succeed. It is possible, and we did it, producing some surprising and unexpected collaborations that led to better research outputs and business insights. This would not have occurred without the focus on “operational collaboration”. At Science into Action, we live by the adage that if you don’t measure and report on collaboration itself, you risk your focus drifting.
What has worked for you? Please share your insights into what you have found makes research collaborations successful (and sustainable).