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23rd June 2021
Blog: Summary of Connecting Capability in Knowledge Exchange Conference

As many of our work plans in the last months were affected by the pandemic, our second conference took place shortly after the first one. This presented us with several challenges but gave us the impetus to make it as relevant and valuable as possible. As the Connecting Capability Programme (CCF) progresses, we can now build on lessons learned and our increasing knowledge.

The conference was organised in 3 sessions and brought together a diverse range of professionals to provide a reflection on vital aspects of our recent work such as: Collaboration amongst HEIs, partnering with industry and the drivers and motivations for Universities to deliver to a large-scale programme.

Day 1 focused on collaboration and the barriers and enablers while connecting Higher Education Institutions.

The session was chaired by Jess Pavlos from SOAS who provided a brief overview of the Bloomsbury SET partnership, followed by presentations:

i) Alex Anderson from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine highlighted the importance of taking time to understand academics motivations and expectations, and to establish meaningful connections. She reflected on the benefits of collaboration for individuals that extend beyond academics, including Knowledge Exchange (KE) professionals, project teams and Institutions. She ended by reminding us the programme gave us the opportunity to “create something greater than we could have achieved alone”

ii) Dr Aygen Kurt-Dickson from London School of Economics and Political Science gave her personal view on how using the formal Bloomsbury SET platform, KE professionals were able to broker new partnerships through informal ways. She raised several questions about the importance of Institutions’ commitment to sustain relationships, incentivization and the challenges for working with different subject areas and Institutions, including diverse knowledge and understanding of the programme focused areas, language and culture. In her view, having KE professionals leading the programme and having flexibility to guide activities in a new direction has made it “a professional, as well as a scientific endeavor”

iii) Hithen Thakrar from the MedTech SuperConnector explained the programme activities, including their Ventura Accelerator mentoring programme, presenting measurable impact with a wide range of success factors from personal, to programme, institutional and structural levels.

The final Q&A session addressed issues such as the value of interdisciplinary collaborations and benefits brought from Arts, Humanities and Social Science to the consortium; institutional commitment to KE activities; sustainability of the programmes and projects; taking into consideration that technology development takes time and it is difficult to know when return will be made. The overall message is that there is an appetite to continue these collaborations and CCF funding has helped to make a better case for Knowledge Exchange.

Day 2 looked at the development of knowledge exchange ecosystems with special attention to universities partnering with industry.

The session was chaired by Dr Frank Heemskerk who has wide experience in working on different sides and understands what is required to build sustainable partnerships; good communication, trust and building a structure in the partnership are key elements for success. Three different perspectives followed:

i) An academic viewpoint was presented by Dr Virginia Marugan-Hernandez from the Royal Veterinary College who spoke about her experience in the BSET project and spoke about how CCF funding helped the establishment of new collaboration with an industrial partner and the added-value for bringing additional expertise from LSHTM;

ii) Dr Beth Brunton from MSD Animal Health, explained that the success of their partnership is due to several factors, but mainly the strong motivation within the team to accomplish their goals;

iii) Eduardo Pontes from Zoetis reminded us there are millions of researchers available in the world, even large companies with bigger teams of scientists can tap into this wider pool of knowledge. He presented several financial metrics to show the value collaborations are bringing to society and industry in general, and pointed out this can be a conservative model since it does not include technologies that haven’t been commercialized, but might have become research tools or enabling technologies, impacting on the company’s ability to commercialize products. The misconception that industry expects every single collaboration to result in a product in the market is not realistic. From their perspective, they want research collaboration to feed information, technologies, enabling disease models, or other outputs; into their pipelines to help accelerate product development.

The final Q&A session explored further views on issues on building sustainable partnerships to align interests, understand processes and cultures, engage with other stakeholders, and to bring benefits to all partners.

Day 3 explored different aspects in the delivery of large-scale knowledge exchange programmes, with particular emphasis on the Research England CCFs programmes. With presentations from:

i) Dr Ray Kent from the Royal Veterinary College introduced the aims of CCF to enhance the effectiveness of the research knowledge base to deliver commercial and business applications to the economy and wider society, by incentivizing Universities to respond to new opportunities, to share expertise in KE and commercialization, and good practice;

ii) Tomas Coates Ulrichsen from the University of Cambridge gave a keynote presentation,  reviewing emerging policy priorities to position UK as a leader in Science and Technology, levelling up different regional inequalities and raising productivity and innovation activity. New trends are emerging, including greater emphasis on mission/challenge-led programmes and regional investments and interventions. Commenting on UK Research & Development Roadmap aims, his view is that CCFs are addressing barriers such as the shortage of people with relevant knowledge and skills in research translation and entrepreneurialship. He ended his presentation with some reflections from the ‘Innovation during a crisis’ report and key insights and issues emerging from the Oxford UIDP Summit 2019 ‘Developing University-Industry Partnerships Fit for the Future’;

iii) Dr Kirsty Cochrane from University of Essex showed the impressive reach and impact of EIRA. She shared her views on the complexity for managing a programme with a novel combination of partners, with a central and localized delivery teams, approaches and interventions. She also explored the ways they want to work in the future building on best practice and regular communication, and streamlining some aspects to make management simpler, without losing impact. Their sustainability development plan involves new products, employment opportunities, leverage funding and business investment, with a regional and economic impact of the programme;

iv) Dr Beverley Vaughan from University of Oxford gave her reflections on UK_Spine that has a different perspective with a ‘levelling out’ agenda across the UK, including devolved nations and partners outside HEI. By connecting expertise, knowledge, capability and physical offering across these intuitions to deliver expertise in health ageing and drug discovery through early stage of clinical trials. The programme delivered projects across the innovation pipeline. They found out that some of these projects were at earlier stages than anticipated and showed a few examples to respond to this such as: by connecting with others with better access to industry partners; and exploring novel funding models for clinical trials, such as committed philanthropy. Her final reflection on their success is based on three aspects: problem solving (ways of working); better understanding of community (wider business, economic and patient groups) and people and places (networks and teams).

The final Q&A discussed: the value of planning, establishing a shared goal and managing expectations at early stages; the diversity of starting points and outputs; challenges in recruiting teams with relevant skills; flexibility to adapt; the diverse contribution from CCFs to the economy; limitations in the timeframe to achieve impact and the continuation of collaboration beyond funding.

These discussions brought new insights on ways KE can play a key role in facilitating the translation of research to benefit to wider society.

Image: Screenshot of panel discussion with Dr Ray Kent, Tomas Coates Ulrichsen, Dr Kirstie Cochrane and Dr Beverley Vaughan. 

Dr Adélia de Paula, Knowledge Exchange Officer