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Ways to foster external engagement and enable an innovation mindset


Universities face significant opportunities and challenges in how they internally organise themselves and invest their often limited resources to maximize innovation and external engagement. It  is essential for organisations to develop robust structures to create a more coordinated approach and construct deliberate mechanisms to grow a culture of innovation and elevate personal relationships to more strategic ones. Drawing on UIIN events and programs, including the 2022 UIIN Conference and findings from the Institutional Accelerator Programs, below are some useful insights to guide you in enhancing external engagement:

  1. Establishing a dedicated external engagement team

    Many universities and companies have a dedicated team responsible for maintaining an overview of the internal and external ecosystem and growing partnerships. Such teams are staffed with natural networkers with relevant sectoral knowledge whose role is to get to know people in target industries/sectors, keep up to date with trends and what is going on with partners and identify opportunities. This team also functions as super connectors across the university to keep up-to-date with all areas of research and global engagement to support the various institutions and faculties. The engagement team can be seen as “navigators” who will signpost their colleagues to the correct body/faculty or set conversations in motion to aid collaboration/partnership initiatives.

  2. Managing data and connections

    It is vital that structures for tracking, compiling and sharing data are developed, for example through using relationship management systems. This is necessary to keep track of the multiple relationships/interactions that the University may have with one singular organisation. Such an approach will prevent duplication of efforts, aid efficiency, and enable identification of strategic opportunities. It is important to highlight across the university the benefits that can be gained from sharing connections and becoming more strategic in engaging with external partners.

  3. Showcasing and rewarding success

    Sharing success stories related to external engagement and recognising collaboration initiatives can greatly help promote an engaged and entrepreneurial culture. The benefits of collaboration with external stakeholders can be showcased through case studies, impact stories, and videos. It is also necessary for staff involved in collaboration to be recognised for the time and effort that goes into establishing relationships and then delivering on potential projects together. Introducing incentives and ways to reward external engagement activities as part of career progression and performance management will greatly support an enhanced culture of innovation.

  4. Encouraging diversity

    Changing mindsets cannot solely be a top-down process; it has to come from multiple avenues including recruitment and onboarding. Hiring people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, including experience in industry or entrepreneurship, can lead to employees that are passionate about collaboration and innovation. This should apply across different parts of the university, covering leadership, academics and professional staff. In addition, similar standards can be applied when working with external stakeholders –  particularly those working closely or positioned with university teams should be encouraged to adopt an innovation mindset.

Do you want insights and tips on how to enhance your university’s external engagement approach or innovation mindset? Join the next cohort of the UIIN institutional programs, where you will be guided through a structured process to develop your own evidence-based strategies and roadmaps, and learn from and engage with peer universities. Applications are currently open. You can apply for the strategic partnerships, pathway to impact or entrepreneurial universities programs, running from mid- October 2022 to February 2023.

Learn more by clicking here or contact Dr Sarah Jaber (UIIN’s Manager of Business Development) via email, for more information.

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