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Dr. Federica Rossi on Promoting University-Industry Collaborations through Projects


Dr. Federica Rossi is a Senior Lecturer in Business Economics at Birkbeck, University of London. Federica is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy as well as a member of the British Academy of Management. She is Deputy Director of Birkbeck’s Centre for Innovation Management Research and is affiliated with the Centre for Public Policy Evaluation (CAPP) of Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia.

Federica’s current research examines how universities can support business innovation, the role of universities as drivers of economic development and growth, intellectual property rights and innovation, and policies in support of business innovation. She has also been studying the impact of knowledge transfer activities, and metrics for performance measurement in knowledge transfer and innovation. Federica recently joined UIIN’s Scientific Board. In this interview, she speaks about several projects that she is involved in with a multidisciplinary team of collaborators.

Dr. Rossi, can you briefly introduce your team at Birkbeck?

We are a team of four members comprising Muthu De Silva, Ainurul Rosli, Nick Yip and I. Together, we have collaborated on several research projects to better understand and promote the phenomenon of knowledge co-creation, particularly between university and business.

Muthu is a lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation and is based at Birkbeck College, University of London. Ainurul is a Senior Lecturer in entrepreneurship and business strategy at University of Westminster while Nick, based at the University of East Anglia, is a lecturer in Marketing. Together we have a multidisciplinary wealth of knowledge both in applied and theoretical thinking in management and business studies.

Our team also has some practical experience of working with business. Muthu has worked closely with InnovateUK, the Intellectual Property Office and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to contribute to the UK’s policy landscape. Ainurul has been involved in several consultancy works, and worked closely with entrepreneurs and start ups to help them grow. Nick held several operational and management positions for 20 years in the service industry including the rail, cruise and airlines before moving to academia. I have advised international organizations like OECD, Eurostat and WIPO. Thus, we have complementary competencies to allow better knowledge co-creation and this benefits the understanding of university-industry collaborations. Our projects and findings are reported on our website.

What are your main fields of practice and interest?

Our multidisciplinary expertise and research area covers a broad spectrum of the social sciences centered on what drives successful knowledge co-creation between universities and businesses and between companies. These include research in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship, strategy, economics, value creation, service and marketing. Collectively and individually, we have published our work in several high quality journals spanning across several disciplines including “Research Policy”, “Journal of Organisational Behaviour”, “International Small Business Journal”, “Studies in Higher Education”, “Industrial Marketing Management”, “Technological Forecasting and Social Change”, “Cambridge Journal of Economics” and “Journal of Business Research”. We have also been featured on Helicè, the Triple Helix Association quarterly publication where we discussed the impact of university-industry collaborations.

Which projects are you currently involved in?

The team has several projects that are running concurrently. Our main project at this point is a British Academy of Management (BAM) grant project entitled “Developing impact measures of university-industry collaborations using text mining: evidence from Knowledge Transfer Partnerships in the UK”.

This project aims to analyse the impact of university-industry collaborations (UICs), using case studies as a base of evidence.  We are systematically analysing 415 case studies on the impact of UICs funded through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) scheme in the UK. In particular, we use text-mining techniques in order to measure several facets of impact, and we link these impact measures to business and university characteristics. One work in progress analyses how different types of proximity between university and business support different kinds of impact. Another work in progress uses sentiment analysis to explore the relationship between perceived risk, effective evaluation and perceived benefits of university-business collaboration projects and we are looking forward to investigate further several other thought-provoking questions related to UICs.

This project follows other successful projects that we have embarked on including a project supported by a BA/Leverhulme grant where we studied the “Drivers and impact of knowledge co-creation between universities and small and medium-sized enterprises” and another BAM grant project “Broadening the evidence base on knowledge transfer partnerships (KTP) in the social sciences”.  These successful projects resulted in several publications and conference papers. For example, a paper forthcoming in the International Small Business Journal identifies the project management factors that allow university-business collaborations to produce long-lasting impact. The paper has already generated a lot of interest.

What are the most important success factors and the biggest barriers to overcome in making the projects successful?

First, listening to one another and working as a team in order to flesh out the critical aspects of our arguments. Because we are a diverse team comprising four individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences, getting to the point of understanding where the cross and multi-disciplinary strengths lie was particularly useful in steering the projects.

Second, the integration of ideas was equally important in order to navigate the research projects in terms of its rigour and relevance. Some of the data we analysed were qualitative in nature and the interpretive positions often had to be calibrated and recalibrated to ensure scientific rigour. Therefore, being able to integrate ideas from different perspectives was key to accomplishing a successful but more importantly a meaningful project that impacts on the university-industry partnerships.

Third, being open to new ideas and new methods and being willing to step out of our disciplinary and methodological comfort zones has helped us to produce more original work and to initiate interesting and productive collaborations with researchers in other fields like computer science and statistics.

With regards to the barriers, we often faced challenges in terms of academic disagreements and lack of own institutional support. For the former, these frequently occurred at the beginning of new projects but were dealt with accordingly. We did find these debates extremely useful as we discovered different thinking and research according to the areas that we were familiar with. As for the latter, there were challenges to multidisciplinary and cross-university collaborations as our own institutions have different arrangements particularly in relation to intellectual property (IP) agreements. This has led us to some stumbling blocks which we had to overcome.

What are the expected outputs and impact of the projects?

With regards to our current project, we expect to provide the following:

  1. A methodology report illustrating how to use text mining to develop and measure impact constructs in order to systematically analyse case studies describing the impact of UICs.
  2. A report highlighting what factors drive greater impact (according to the theoretical constructs developed in the project) emerging from the 415 case studies.
  3. One academic paper focusing on the determinants of impact and one focusing on the success/failures of SMEs-academic knowledge co-creation.

We believe strongly that this project will inform and impact our understanding of university-industry relations on several levels. For example, we hope to identify how firms can manage their resources to generate more meaningful impact, and to demonstrate ways to better measure impact. This is critical as most gathered qualitative data is often difficult to analyse and our research provides alternative approaches to the analysis of textual data, in particular text mining, that can lead to new tools to systematically analyse narrative reconstructions of the impact of UICs. The possibilities offered by these tools to analyse case studies describing the impact of UICs are so far largely unexplored.


More information

Further details about the projects mentioned in the article can be found at The Hub of Knowledge Co-creation, which promotes greater understanding of what drives the success and impact of co-creation projects, particularly those involving universities and businesses, and aims to facilitate the transition towards more accurate and comprehensive indicators of knowledge co-creation impact.


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