How Innovation Communities can deliver more effective research

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Blog Article by Dr Peter Simpson, Director, N8 – originally published in Efficiency Exchange, July 2015  

Successful interfaces between the third sector, business, and academia are becoming critical in research programmes. N8 director Peter Simpson describes how cross-sectoral ‘innovation communities’ can enable collaboration, producing more effective research and a wide range of other benefits.

Innovation is a team sport. Looking at a problem from multiple perspectives can help us to reach a better answer, quicker.

Taking this philosophy as a basis, we at the N8 Research Partnership have been taking collaborations forward that involve multiple disciplines, multiple institutions, the public and voluntary sectors, and businesses – with the aim of building “Innovation Communities”.

Co-production of research

Closer working between academics and non-academic research user groups – so called ‘co-production’ of research – is one approach that we are using for developing knowledge and insights. This is enabling us to address, for example, community and urban living challenges.

‘Making Knowledge That Matters’ is an ESRC-funded programme which addresses how academics, and non-academics, can collaborate better, to address big challenges facing society. The programme seeks to identify and demonstrate how research can both be intellectually excellent, and have public benefit.

All the research that is funded in this programme involves partnerships between researchers and groups and individuals within the policy community, the voluntary sector, and business . For example, a series of learning workshops have explored how the use of a ‘CityLab’ shared space for collaboration could be beneficial across Leeds.

The N8 Policing Research Partnership (N8 PRP) is another interesting co-production initiative. The N8 PRP incorporates academic experts from many disciplines – for example criminology, law, sociology, social policy, psychology, politics, business studies, management, technology, geography, urban studies, theology and cultural studies – brought together by their shared commitment to knowledge exchange, and research co-production, that impacts on real world policing.

As well as academics across our eight universities, this partnership programme  – part-funded by HEFCE – involves 11 police forces and offices of the Police and Crime Commissioners, all across the north of England, as well as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the College of Policing. N8 PRP provides a platform for the partners to identify major policing issues together, and then to co-develop research and knowledge exchange activities that strengthen the evidence base and support innovation within policing.

Partnering with industry

Collaborative research with industry, too, is undergoing a sea change. I spent the past 16 years working within the pharmaceutical sector, as it underwent a revolution in its thought processes. Pharmaceutical companies have moved from a protectionist IP and knowledge approach, to a much more open, collaborative approach – sharing skills and tools externally while looking for ideas from wherever they may be found. This new mindset proving to be a good foundation for stronger partnership with academia.

Across other industries, too, historical expectation, of industry providing funding that enables academics to work independently, has evolved into a much closer interaction. This brings mutual benefits: academics get to work on real-world problems with improved access to the insight of the business partner, and industry can see relevant and timely impact from academic collaboration.

Through N8’s Industry Innovation Forum (N8 IIF) programme, we have seen the direct, tangible benefits of this.