Universities face significant opportunities and challenges in how they internally organise themselves and invest their…
A long-term collaboration between Swedish energy company Göteborg Energi (GE) & Chalmers University of Technology revolutionized how the organizations research and implement new energy related technologies. Despite many previous joint research ventures, GE started measuring the impact of those projects and implementing them was complicated. In 2010 GE & Chalmers formed a strategic partnership that focused on improving energy efficiency, sustainable housing, smart grid energy networks, and biogas production. The partnership also focused on developing new ways to speed up the implementation of projects completed during the 10-year partnership in society. Overall, the collaboration redefined how future collaborations would be organized and led to new energy related innovations.
An effective new take on university-corporation partnership
The overall goal of the partnership formed between GE and Chalmers University was to establish a sustainable society by uniting their respective projects and R&D teams. Most importantly, learning how to turn research into something practical and easy to implement would be useful in future joint ventures with other organizations. Success was found through a three-level collaboration structure created by the organizations that focused on fluid communication.
The project teams were organized in 3 specific levels with each level consisting of one team from Chalmers and GE working in conjunction. The first level is top management consisting of the GE CEO & the President of Chalmers with supporting staff that focus on keeping the vision of the project on track. At the second level, the management team focuses on communicating decisions from the top level to the first level and finding new project ideas. The project ideas created by GE’s management team are collaborated on with Chalmers’s Area of Advancement Energy (AoA Energy) department. AoA departments are interdisciplinary departments specializing in specific fields while still focusing on sustainable development. The third level consists of researchers who make improvements on the decisions made from the top and do the implementation of the projects.
The reason behind the success of the system is in participatory decision making. All levels are given a say on how to improve the project. GE further facilitated communication between levels by establishing so-called “research days”. Research days invite management, engineers, staff, marketing, and recruitment departments together to voice concerns and pitch new ideas. The collaborative relationship between the two organizations continued to be developed through various events hosted by GE at Chalmers University. The best example of GE’s networking efforts are the workshops at Chalmers where students find a solution to a real industrial case. The students who find the most efficient solution to an industrial problem have to possibility to do their master’s thesis at GE.
The results of a new way to collaborate
GE & Chalmers have both greatly benefited from the ongoing collaboration in both implementing their research and improving their internal processes. GE received detailed insight into new research areas regarding energy. GE also gained access to an array of highly qualified PhD students who already have experience in solving industrial problems through the workshops GE hosted at Chalmers University of Technology.
One of the most profound results of the joint operation is boost of interest from the third parties. Many of the projects undertaken by the collaborators received external funding from the European Commission and Swedish Energy Agency (e.g. Fossil Free Energy District & GoBiGas projects) Projects such as GoBiGas, which focused on turning forest waste into methane for use as vehicle fuel, would not be possible without funding from the Swedish Energy Agency. The collaboration was recognized by the Swedish Government for its societal impact. The Swedish government also acknowledged Chalmers’ AoA as a concept that greatly strengthened the university.
Can the strategy of Chalmers-Göteborg Energi for efficient research and implementation be transferred to other collaborations?
The key in effectively transferring their method to other projects is establishing a vision for a long-term collaboration. GE and Chalmers University signed a 10-year agreement with a 10-million-euro budget understanding that building a relationship takes time. Corporations and universities attempting to utilize their method need to understand that communication is crucial. Maintaining transparency about their individual goals and leaving room for equal discussion among all levels of the project is crucial in careful and effective planning of projects.
The blog is based on the article by Annemarie Wöhri, Jenny Forshufvud and Mats Rydehell originally published in UIIN Good Practice Series 2017 – Fostering University-Industry relationships, Entrepreneurial Universities and Collaborative Innovation.
Photo credit: Johan Bodell