Collaborating with Policymakers

Written by Emma Kinloch, Impact and Engagement Manager, The Policy Institute

At the Policy Institute collaboration is at the heart of our work. We seek to provide the answers to the most pressing challenges faced by policymakers. Recently, we have been working on projects in partnership with organisations such as the London Ambulance Service on improving ambulance response times, the U.S. Department of Defense on maritime security, and Westminster City Council on air quality. It is mutually beneficial to collaborate on such projects. Working with partners who have first-hand experience of policy and practice challenges allows us to understand the real day-to-day constraints and obstacles they face and allows our research to be responsive. In addition, drawing on your partners’ networks can open new avenues which would previously have been difficult to reach without that connection. Conversely, collaboration allows partners to draw on academic evidence and the expert insights of research staff at King’s. Working with partners gives your work the greatest opportunity to have impact beyond academia. When academia and practice convene they create a piece of work that is more than the sum of its parts.

One way the Policy Institute can help you to think about partnerships in your research is through our online ‘Impact by Design’ training modules. Part I, ‘Understanding impact and embedding it into research’, will take you through the fundamentals of research impact. Additionally, it will provide you with practical tools such as an influence/interest matrix to assist you in mapping the key stakeholders who you will want to influence and possibly collaborate with. Part II, ‘Translating research into practice’, will help you think about how to best communicate your ideas and which channels will be the most appropriate to have the maximum impact with your work. The modules are available for self-enrolment now via Keats.

The Benefits of Collaboration

Written by Donald Lush, Careers Consultant 

Let’s tip this one on its head! Collaboration can too easily be seen as an obligation and a distraction, something that stops you working instead of making your research richer, more exciting and more rewarding.

So, start by thinking of yourself as valuable. Why? Because you are. As a research staff member you probably know more about your subject and research methods than anyone else.  Think about what it is you have to offer – be specific and try to create a short and simple statement to summarise it.  A book such as ‘What Colour Is Your Parachute?’ can really help here. Additionally, engaging in collaborations can be an excellent opportunity to enhance your career development and the scope of the impact of your research. Whether you are collaborating with academic colleagues or stakeholders in industry, collaboration can help you develop new knowledge and transferable skills and can promote your academic profile nationally and internationally. Academic collaborations can broaden the reach of your research to other disciplines and industry collaborations can lead to the application of your research in wider society, in turn strengthening its impact.

Successful collaboration is also a key ingredient in building strong teams. If you know what you’re about and can communicate it effectively you are much more likely to benefit from help from colleagues and much more likely to be able to help them. This facilitates teamwork in which everyone is able to play to their strengths and therefore makes the team more effective.

Fully collaborative teams achieve far more than one person can on their own. Collaboration across teams is also much more likely to lead to innovation, as fresh ideas from fresh perspectives are encouraged and developed.

Finally, a truly collaborative project is characterised by mutual respect, honesty and integrity. This means that team members are open to new ideas and tolerant of risk and even failure. Paradoxically, where risk and failure are permitted, the chances of it happening are reduced as honest and positive criticism strengthens the team’s thinking. The consequence is that new ideas blossom and energy is not wasted on blame or power struggles.

There is one potential downside – groupthink. This is where the group falls under the sway of one way of thinking and refuses all criticism. It can be very damaging to the team because it can’t absorb and act on information contrary to its established view. If you’re setting up a new collaboration make sure there is a structure that insists on giving dissent a voice and ensure that the devils advocates in the team are given space to share their thoughts but are not allowed to dominate.

For more on collaboration this is an excellent TED talk.

Networking for Collaborations

Written by Kate Murray, Careers Consultant

Finding the right person or people to collaborate with, whether in academia or industry, can be a challenging task. Networking with people you don’t know well or who have different backgrounds and strengths from yourself can often be an invaluable method of coming across potential collaborators who you might not have otherwise considered. Being able to network effectively is consequently a vital skill to have to identify potential collaborators, and to succeed in various other areas of your professional and personal life.

Daniel Glaser, Director of Science Gallery London at King’s College London, recently gave a sparkling talk helping researchers confront their fears about networking whether for academic or other purposes:

  • You have to talk to people in terms that they will understand and make sense of! Can you get them to be thinking about what you want them to say, before you even meet them?
  • Be proud of your specialism! By the time you’ve got to the end of your PhD or other research, perhaps only 100 people in the world will understand the real niche that you have created for yourself.  In effect, you are ‘being trained to be incomprehensible’, and that is something to be proud of!  Own your narrowness.  You have to learn the language of your research, to be a good researcher.
  • Try this exercise: work with another researcher, and get them to explain their research to you. Now, find someone else to explain your colleague’s research to.  Examine the language that you used in that description.  It is probably a whole lot simpler than your colleague would use themselves to describe their work.  Apply the same technique to yourself when you are trying to describe your research.
  • When you start networking, imagine the positive outcome that you are trying to get to. Then break down the process it will take to get there.  If you need help understanding this point, read Getting Things Done by David Allen which provides solutions for people to manage their time more effectively.
  • One way to start networking is to share your work online. Use publicly available images (eg slides) that are professionally produced, to help you look good; crucially, what you’re trying to do is to seek feedback from people.  If you’ve got something interesting to say, pop it onto YouTube!  Creating content is in effect sharing.
  • Find a talk in a domain you’re interested in (use KCL CareerConnect, or the Londonist, EventBrite or Meetup): go, and then talk to the people there. They must have something in common with you or they wouldn’t also be going to the talk.
  • Come up with an opening line (‘What brings you here?’; ‘What are you working on at the moment?’) and use it for everyone at the event that you can talk to. An achievable goal might be just talking to three people you didn’t know before you arrived.  Tag team with a friend and leave the event when you’ve achieved your goal.
  • Networking could, in fact, make your boss look good. If you go and talk sensibly with another academic, they will automatically be impressed that your research group (and by extension, your group leader) produces such good researchers.  Hence, PIs or supervisors should be pleased that you are finding opportunities to go and talk about your work.
  • Daniel will have coffee with anyone: including you! The Science Gallery will open summer 2018 and will be looking for ‘mediators’ to collaborate and engage with.  Get in touch.

Crowdhelix: Your Gateway to Industry Collaborations

Written by Dr Riam Kanso; co-Founder of Crowdhelix, a cross-border collaboration platform

As an early career researcher at Oxford and UCL, I had very little knowledge of the different ways in which academia and industry work together. The ‘publish or perish’ mentality put a considerable amount of pressure on academics like myself to focus on their specific projects for career advancement. Some of my colleagues eventually ended up taking positions with pharmaceutical or consultancy firms, but the impression was that they abandoned academia altogether, with diminishing chances of returning the longer they stayed without publishing. Many of my peers and I mistakenly assumed that you either had to be in one camp or the other.

Over the years it became clear that the landscape of cutting-edge collaborative research was complex, involving multiple players, and changing every day. Researchers from both academia and industry are joining forces to deliver pioneering research programmes, paving the way for innovative services and products. This is evidenced by the updated requirements of funding programmes such as the €80 billion European Union “Horizon 2020” programme; which actively encourages collaborative consortia that include universities, SMEs, and corporates.

To add to this, universities and academics are increasingly encouraged by government to collaborate with industry partners; which is reflected in research excellence and impact ratings, and subsequent funding decisions.

Similarly, companies are actively reaching out to universities in the spirit of open innovation; relying on the nuanced skillsets of academics to help develop their products and services. They are reaping the benefits of departing from a ‘closed innovation’ mindset, where the ‘secrets of the trade’ are kept confidential. One such company is HP, which leverages the expertise of leading academic labs to improve its technology. These cross-border collaborations can take the shape of consultancies, short projects, placements, and long collaborations; to name a few.

Given that there is a pressing need from both academics and industry to share skills, it is sometimes difficult to resolve the problem of “information asymmetry”.  For example, academics do not always know what projects are going on within companies, while companies do not have a clear picture of the skillsets available in a certain university research department. This is why my colleagues and I created Crowdhelix, a cross-border platform that connects industry and academia for collaborations on grant proposals and other projects.

So far, our members have been successful in obtaining 7% of the €80 billion Horizon 2020 budget, a number that continues to increase every day. One such example is Professor Rajiv Jalan and his team from University College London.  He now leads a €7.8 million project called ALIVER,  funded by the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The ALIVER consortium has developed a novel and innovative liver dialysis machine that will help the liver to naturally regenerate or, where that does not prove possible, to keep patients alive and healthy until a donated liver becomes available. Two universities, four hospitals, two foundations, and four industrial partners will work together to deliver this project. One of the industry partners is IBM; who were matched to this consortium via Crowdhelix.

In projects such is Professor Jalan’s above; relationships between researchers from academia and industry deepen and strengthen, paving the way for further collaborations. In some cases, academics can end up taking employment opportunities with industry, or engage on other collaborative projects with an R&D component.

As the chasm between academia and industry begins to close, an increasing number of opportunities will arise for researchers everywhere. It will be exciting to see what the future holds.

For researchers in King’s College London, please feel free to sign up to our platform for free, and potentially meet a future collaborator! Sign up for CrowdHelix here