New games - new rules
Knowledge transfer, and specifically the transfer of innovation and intellectual property from colleges and universities to businesses and other communities, is a changed game. In many significant ways the context has changed, the skills and tools required have changed, and innovation practice has changed…
…but nobody has bothered to update the manual: to set out the new rules of the game!
This resource integrates current innovation theory, modern social media tools and current thinking on market behaviour or motivation, to provide a more effective model of knowledge transfer; a model that is capable of delivering more with less.
And though it draws on a range of current literature on those issues, it is by no means a theoretical text: it draws upon years of practical application of these rules. A number of years of practice, debate and, more significantly, evidence of real return on investment underpin this resource. This experience and reflection has been drawn together into a catch-all term of knowledge transfer 2.0 (KT 2.0). It’s designed to be a practical ‘how-to’ resource which provides strategic guidance, practical tools and tactical tips. Ultimately, it’s intended to increase the return on investment from knowledge transfer (KT).
Why we need a new model
The search to find a better model for KT stems from one simple practical problem: knowledge transfer is simply too inefficient as a process. The under-exploitation of the intellectual assets arising from universities has been widely reported. In the UK the Lambert, Saraga and Sainsbury reports have raised questions regarding the benefits to the national economy from university exploitation of intellectual property (IP).
The problems with the old model of transferring technology and expertise from the universities are simply stated: it failed to address three of the structural inefficiencies that slow the transfer of knowledge and IP. This relates to scalability, skill sets and scarcity:
The old model is not scalable – it can’t meet the demand
Activating, selecting and nurturing a range of IP opportunities to fruition is time and resource intensive. Therefore to grow capacity involved the expensive hire of more highly qualified or very experienced staff. It is not possible for universities to have enough people employed by the institution to drive forward the quantum of opportunities that a university can generate. It is neither practical nor affordable.
Engaging external collaborators is the only way scalability can be achieved. The question is how best to manage this.
The old model cannot provide all the right skillsets
Even if the knowledge transfer office (KTO) is well resourced, and has managed to break even on income over costs, it will never have the range of skill sets that are required to address every innovative opportunity that comes its way.
Knowledge transfer calls on a broad range of highly skilled players with both technical and business acumen, required to understand, appraise and realise opportunities. The number of domains, applications and markets that an individual opportunity might bring into play compound this problem exponentially.
This intersects with the first problem: an HEI cannot feasibly employ the number of people required to address every domain in its portfolio. Also different projects require different skill sets at different points in their development.
The old model is not affordable – it couldn’t overcome scarcity of resource
KT has failed to address these structural constraints in a shifting financial landscape. This bites at two levels: office funding and project funding.
At the office level, few institutions are able to run commercialisation and KT offices at break-even, never mind at a surplus (which will be all the more crucial in the current context). Even those that have outsourced aspects of this activity have generally done so to outfits that suffer from the very same problem – they can only increase capacity by taking on more expensive staff.At the project level, whilst the traditional routes for proof of concept (PoC) funding upon which KTOs have depended are becoming more difficult to obtain. This is likely to get worse as public funding for the translation of research gets scarcer.
So the model is inherently unable to touch the bulk of opportunities that the thousands of research active staff in a university will generate. Hence most knowledge transfer offices (KTOs) rarely go looking for new opportunities and struggle to deal with those they have in their caseload. This is just about to get worse too – just as more will be expected of the KTOs by way of income generation.
This is not only a problem for the commercial exploitation of IP and know-how assets. It also has a bearing on many of the university’s other goals, such as maximising dual funding income and driving the institution’s research quality and profile.
Accelerated IP exploitation has the potential to play to all of these agendas yet the current models underperform on all these accounts.
Here is the presentation that Brian McCaul gave to the AURIL 2011 conference: KT 2.0 for AURIL-2011. This gives a ‘brief’ introduction, with some background, to KT 2.0.