Dr Tim Rudd leads Livelab, and is also Principal Lecturer in the Education Research Centre at the Univerisity of Brighton. He is researching and publishing work related to education technology, social justice and alternative pedagogies and discourse. We asked Tim lots of questions about collaboration and partnership with third and public sectors, and indeed many of his tips were passed on through the recent #ECRchat that we hosted. You can find out more about what we mean by third and public sectors in our earlier blogpost about that chat. Read on here for sound advice on partnerships and impact.
What are the main drivers of collaboration and partnership with third and public sectors?
There are a number of drivers that make collaborations and partnerships with third and public sectors increasingly important. These include reduced budgets and funding from research councils and funders, and also a more specific and limited focus on what they will fund. Decreased funding for universities means that there are fewer internally funded or supported research opportunities, and also an increased emphasis on the financial viability of research and research centres in the current economic climate. There is also an increased emphasis on both the impact of research and the wider research environment for Universities, and new partnerships and networks can lead to work that has greater impact and significance on the ground.
What are the advantages of collaboration and partnership with third and public sectors?
Such partnerships can:
- Provide alternative funding streams
- Expose you and your research to new audiences
- Support a wider profile for research and researchers and provide a basis for further partnerships
- Pave the way to greater and more tangible impacts on the ground
These sorts of collaborations can and do work and they can have a significant long term and beneficial effect. Those which seek to challenge existing assumptions and provide insights into new approaches and practices for delivering benefits on the ground are particularly effective.
What about the disadvantages and pitfalls, for researchers?
There can be a number of issues that may arise, depending on the organisation and the work, such as issues over intellectual property rights (IPR): some research undertaken with third/public sector organisations may not see the light of day. Funding from third/public sectors is often not as extensive as that offered by research councils. It may not cover full economic costs, as set out by the University/research office, so you may need to discuss with your research office whether the partnerships have other ‘value’ that makes them worth pursuing.
In other cases what appears to be potential research may well be little more than project and programme evaluation. Whilst this may not necessarily mean the data is not useful, it may not be perceived of being as highly regarded as more robust or original research. And third or public sector organisations may have their own agendas in developing partnerships, which may not immediately be obvious, such as that they seek endorsement from an academic or an academic institution for projects and programme already undertaken, which may throw up some pragmatic and ethical dilemmas!
How do you recommend researchers go about managing competing needs & priorities with their partners in these sectors, such as the academic need for publications and the third sector need practical outcomes or clear policy implications?
Some contract requirements can be stringent and don’t allow for any subsequent use of data for academic purposes, so be aware of how much room for negotiation there will be, once the contract is signed (and maybe try to negotiate beforehand). Have contracts checked by an appropriately qualified professional in your research office or at your university. Where possible, try to negotiate rights to use data and to publish academic articles based on data and evidence that arising from partnerships/collaborations. See if there are possibilities to publish reports and other publications in partnership, especially those that will help to achieve or demonstrate impact. Clarify roles in a dissemination and communications strategy, and involve your own Departmental/University Communications team in your plan. And finally, try to clearly demonstrate any impacts on policy or practice that arise from the collaboration: these will be important to your university as well as your partners.
Is there a recipe for success for this kind of collaboration? What ingredients do you need?
There is no single recipe for success. Different third/public sector organisations will have different agendas, funding levels, motives and processes and regulations for working with researchers and research organisations, so familiarise yourself with the organisation’s aims, motives and processes from the outset. If you develop a partnership then ensure that you have a clear understanding of the nature and scope of the partnership and what may be possible in terms of fulfilling your own academic agenda, as well as that of the third /public sector.
Some tips on good practice when collaborating include:
- Think of establishing longer term and ongoing partnerships
- Create shared aims and outcomes for your work, such as changes to practice or better outcomes for target populations. New models, programmes and resources may improve practice and outcomes in the field
- Build into your plans the potential for scale-up, nationally and internationally, and for widespread dissemination, in order to achieve impact
- Be clear about outputs, timelines and deliverables, and avoid project creep not agreed in contracts, or without additional contract negotiation
- Attempt to coordinate communication strategies between the commissioning organisation and the University
Finally, I recommend that you be prepared to work on a quicker timescale than might otherwise be expected in the academic world, and be flexible over what can be delivered and by when, if possible.
Thanks very much, Dr Tim Rudd. Don’t forget to join Piirus or update your existing profile with us, if you’d like to make new connections and widen your reach to find new research partners.