On academics and practitioners working together

Last Friday, I published a blog post with some thoughts on the potential and limitations of using technology to support assisted living, in the home. This is a matter that is very much in mind, lately, due to some events with ageing relatives. It is also very much on Tim’s mind – who is a regular reader and commenter here on the blog, and who shared his own recent (and very frustrating) experience, trying to secure support for his mother. Do check his thoughtful comment on last week’s post – and add yours, if you see fit.

At the end of his comment, Tim said:

I am not sure that to address this issue, the answer is to leave it purely to academics and researchers. When research involves Social Issues, a member of the research team should not be an academic but a practising, experienced and professional practitioner in the area being researched. That way, science and society can work together to produce better, practical and needed solutions.

Tim’s suggestion for mixed teams of academics and practitioners is music to my ears. I feel passionately about doing work that benefits society, and I am convinced that the surest way to achieve that is to collaborate with stakeholders outside of academia. Working with practitioners can lead to better questions, more creative approaches and, importantly, more impact. It also serves the important purpose of clarifying meanings, and, thus, avoid misunderstandings.

In fact, I even researched (with Sarah Quinton, Paul Jackson and Sally Dibb) university-industry collaboration in the context of digital research projects. The findings were reported in a paper entitled “The co-production of value in digital, university–industry R&D collaborative projects”, which was published in the journal Industrial Marketing Management. We also wrote a short summary for the LSE Impact Blog.

Our research identified a range of factors that support or hinder research collaboration:

Image source

Though, at the end of the day, it all started with knowing and understanding each other. For instance, we found that all participants valued the opportunity to obtain a different perspective on a particular problem. However, it was also evident that each party had a poor understanding of what the other valued. Here is an excerpt from the paper:

“The industry participants, for example, believed that universities are motivated by the opportunity to see how industry works, to validate theoretical concepts and source teaching materials. For academics, however, the ability to demonstrate the policy and practical impacts of their research was a primary concern. 

(…)

The academic participants perceived industry partners as motivated by the desire to gain access to specialist academic expertise. They expressed concerns that in some cases, commercial organizations use the partnerships to gain access to know-how at little or no cost. Yet industry participants claimed that their aims were to obtain some sort of operational advantage that could be translated into additional profit or other tangible measures of success”.

Some time ago I had the idea of creating a podcast where I would bring together academics and practitioners to explore a question together. The idea was that, by exploring a question that was of interest to the two parties, they would come to appreciate each other’s perspective and identify opportunities for collaboration. I even secured a little bit of money to fund a short season (six episodes), and started approaching some potential guests. Though, then, Covid-19 happened and, suddenly, everyone was too busy to take on new projects. 

Maybe I could revisit it now? On the one hand, there is a certain atmosphere of “new beginnings’ in the air. On the other hand, part of me is also wondering whether my appreciation of podcasts is skewing my perception of how much this would interest and enthuse others. Any views?

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