Academic-Business Liaison and Engagement [ABLE]

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Faculty of Business and Law


Significant research is produced in the academic sector, often without recourse to industry or practitioner requirements. Leveraging the research output of academia can only be effectively maximised by collaborative, contextual approaches to its design and interpretation, and where both researchers and practitioners consider each other's requirements.

So far, generally poor levels of engagement between academics and practitioners has done little to enhance competitiveness and industrial performance. To counteract this, effective academic -business engagement requires the development of a greater understanding of the knowledge needs of the business communities by academia, the awareness and greater understanding of the knowledge available from Universities, and the provision of a framework for collaboration, particularly identifying cross-disciplinary opportunities leveraging the wide knowledge base that exists.

Engagement is considered from the following perspectives: context, content and processes. The context relates to the operating environment that the firm is in and the alignment of the firm's goals and objective with that environment. This means that firms can adopt both formal and informal approaches to the demands of the operating environment by engaging in formal or informal business-academia collaboration. The content refers to the programme of action areas selected as part of the collaboration framework. Finally, the process refers to how the collaboration is handled - its organization and coordination, as well as motivation and incentives.

The importance of interdisciplinary collaboration between academia and practitioners is reflected in the range of activities to encourage and facilitate it.

A significant number of businesses will be identified that have potential for greater competitive advantage. Collaboration will involve functional forum activities. These include forums on marketing, HR, Innovation and SME's, engagement fellowships and placements, engagement workshops/distinguished professorial addresses and a high profile series of distinguished addresses from high profile national and international business leaders. Finally, a Business Summit will provide a focus to bring together all those involved in the activities. A major high profile academic and/or business leader will be the keynote speaker(s) at this event.

Planned Impact

The proposed project will be of direct benefit to the private sector by providing a process throughwhich local business can engage with academic institutions. The approach aims to provide a major opportunity for academic-business engagement by delivering targeted knowledge exchange between firms and the University in a structured and coherent manner. The impacts upon the selected placement firms are to include increased revenues, market share and new competences, as a result of engagement with academia. IoD South West and its 3,500 members will gain benefit through being seen as the conduit for KE activity between industry and academia as will the Bristol& Bath Science Park. All parties will benefit from gaining greater awareness of each other's requirements.

Policy makers and public sector agencies will gain benefit from the resultant assessment of the selection process for KE partners and outcome of subsequent placements. High value learning will be gained from development of a methodology to identify firms with a high propensity to benefit from knowledge exchange between institutions through placements. Whilst the firm assessment process is planned to include an assessment of existing process, capabilities, a knowledge audit and direct interviewing of firm members. It is expected that context of the placement will guide the actual activity and lead to emergent outcomes. The resultant process will be captured as part of the phase reporting, leading to impact assessment and process critique as part of the final phase review. The output will be a guide for future targeted KE placement activity, leading to greater value delivery from agencies funding such activities.
This approach is highly relevant to beneficiaries as academic and business engagement has often been less than effective. Industry will gain access to university knowledge which may lead to them achieving sustainable competitive advantage. Likewise, academia will benefit from access to local business and potential sponsors for research. The work supports the core aims of the IoD and Business West [information and advice] and BBSP [innovation support] to help their respective businesses to succeed.
Impacts arising will include enhanced growth and competitive advantage gained from KE activities arising as a direct result of the project. Nationally, the proposed work has potential for cross-sector impact as demonstration of successful approach to KE through reciprocal placements could lead to a national programme of KE Placement Fellowships.
The novel approach proposed to transfer knowledge between academic institutions and business will help foster UK competitiveness.
KE Placements may lead to rapid changes in process or strategic approach. The timescale to realise benefits through to the bottom line of the target businesses can only be appreciated through analysis of quarterly and annual comparative performance data. It may be a number of years before substantial gains may be apparent, particularly where business expand and invest. As such, the impact review will examine qualitative judgements for impact assessment from managers and academic staff in addition to comparative analysis of returns.
In addition to the new skills developed, as a direct result of KE activity, private sector firms and the IoD will develop an understanding and the skill set to engage with academia. This will include an understanding of the different methods of engagement, such as research, KTP, CPD etc. Staff within all parties will develop skills to develop high value inter- organisational KE activity.
The process of engagement will be monitored and reviewed through a combination of observation and in-depth interviews. The purpose of this will be to review the progress and effectiveness of the activities on an ongoing basis in order to make adjustments to the programme as it progresses and to publish the learning on academic/practioner engagement as it emerges.


10 25 50
Description The main finding related to the need for Universities to become a focal point of practice-relevant enterprise growth and development training and advice. Firms need specific detail and guidance on how to engage and draw on academic thinking from a wide range of disciplines. This project created a mechanism for knowledge exchange and interaction with a wide range of practitioners.

• Confirmed the need for firms to access knowledge in areas of rapidly growing and changing disciplines
• Confirmed that amongst small firms there needs to be a more informal, personal system for brokering the connection with Universities - the development of trust and relationships during the series showed that this is possible
• The findings indicated that a clearer positioning of the universities' offering and expertise was needed.
• Academics often lack the impetus for involvement with business

Specific Economic and societal findings:

Competitiveness - It is clear that there was a demonstrable contribution to organisations that were involved in this project. The main area of contribution was around economic competitiveness. An important finding is that engagement should be on a thematic basis rather than a generic one - accordingly we established a series of thematic groups such as HR, Marketing, Leadership and Innovation, where local businesses could join a thematic forum that is most appropriate for them. The project led to the establishment of a business supplement to the local newspaper and firms associated with the programme regularly feature in this.
Academics are now engaged with a number of firms helping bridge from one sector to another through the application of business models theory/competitiveness approaches, to construct a value proposition and explore means of value capture with the firms and their potential markets.
Facilitating University Access - there is an acceptance that academic business engagement is vital for the competitiveness of the UK. This project fostered valuable links, bridging the gap between theory and practice. The significant contact list within a variety of business sectors for academics to approach for future engagement activity, is on-going and growing, and provides the basis on which to invite other like-minded firms to discipline and sector-specific events.
Contribution to practice: The business fora activities were tailored to provide businesses with practical applications for theoretical concepts covered. Informal and formal feedback suggested that forum attendees are already applying the new knowledge learnt to their business activities. Further engagement activities were developed with existing networks in the region: the Bristol & Bath Science Park; Bath Marketing Network and the South West Marketing Leaders Group (comprising Bristol Media and the Chartered Institute of Marketing).The activity with the South West Marketing Leaders Group, in relation to co-creation of value between clients and agencies, has developed into a series of three workshops delivered to around 70 advertising and marketing professionals (paid for by the delegates). It is hoped that this work will develop further and perhaps provide an Impact Case Study for the next REF.

UWE strategy recognises the key link between education and business. Participating firms are now in contact with the University's new Employability and Enterprise service and engaged in sandwich placements. This in turn has led to Employability and Enterprise staff working with faculty staff to embed meaningful work related activity into all courses.

On the MBA, enterprise has been integrated into the programme through the MBA Management Consultancy Dissertation. Enterprise-orientated staff ensure that only the best students go to the SMEs to undertake consultancy projects for them. Examples of projects from the 2013/14 cohort are:

• SMEs and larger businesses
• Academics at the conferences at which the findings were presented
• Attendees at the business events in Bristol where business owners and managers were present
Further work has taken place in 2017/8 with the establishment of a Business Engagement Centre
Exploitation Route The placement led to the placement academic undertaking a project funded by an innovation voucher. The outcome of that work reported back to Universities South West: Gross Value Added (GVA) to the business attributable to the project* £100,000. One job was created and 2 jobs safeguarded. The initial contact and relationship was only built because of time spent in the company's site. The second piece of work involved a colleague undertaking a case study with an SME and this work has helped developed a close relationship with the firm which we hope will lead to future projects.

This project also led to proposals for an Institute for Entrepreneurship and Growth at the University and, in part, to the rejuvenation of the Bristol Leadership Centre, being launched in November 2014.

The finding that academics often lacked the impetus for involvement has now been addressed, whereby all academics in the faculty of business and law have been surveyed with regard to their willingness and ability to be engaged with industry. Training courses in networking etc. have been provided for those that want to be more engaged but feel that there are barriers or lack of skillset to doing so.

Challenges in making projects work more effectively are being actively addressed with the appointment of a Director of Professional and Executive Development and the enhancement and focusing of this activity throughout the university .

There were also some unexpected outcomes. The application for an ABS Small Business Charter award was an unexpected impact of this project and arose from a recognition that the business offering by the university was coherent and strong - and was recognised accordingly by an active and engaged business sector.

Based on the findings that academics have a large part to play in engagement and often are reluctant to do so, we have been successful in being awarded an ESRC research seminar series on more effective engagement as part of a business modelling approach

The ABLE project has also helped to progress a strategic partnership for the Business School with The Leadership Trust Foundation, an SME and partner organisation for the leadership forum. This partnership is in the early stages of development but will lead to distinct offerings for executive education and a Knowledge Transfer Partnership that will help The Trust with product development and innovation. As part of this partnership, Professor Sharon Turnbull (the lead for one of the leadership events) has been appointed as a Visiting Professor to the newly established Bristol Leadership Centre.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Four forums were set up for: Marketing, Leadership, Innovation and Human Resource Management. The feedback for all of the forums was extremely positive, with 95% of respondents rating them 'Good' or 'Excellent'. Marketing Forums - Led by a Professor of Marketing. The format involved an introduction to the topic, often involving a guest speaker and then smaller group discussions relevant to the participants' particular contexts. They ran for two hours, scheduled between 4 & 6 pm. Three forums were held with over 30 businesses/organisations and academic staff participating. An important feature of the forums was to get feedback from participants on the 'hot' marketing topics that are of concern to them. The forums covered the following topics: Strategic planning for business growth; Collaboration for innovation: Co-creating value with customers; Making the most of social media. Leadership Forums - Led by an associate professor in leadership. There were two leadership events held within this project, held in the evening between 4 and 6pm in the centre of Bristol. The first was a forum on 'Worldly Leadership' led by an invited Professor from The Leadership Trust Foundation. The second was a forum on 'Leadership and Diversity' led by a local diversity campaigner. Both topics were popular and the events were well attended by nearly 40 SME senior leaders. Innovation Forums - Led by an associate professor in innovation. There were four innovation events held in partnership with the Bristol and Bath Science Park (BBSP). BBSP provided the venue, which was particularly appropriate, as BBSP acts as an accelerator unit for science and technology businesses, many of which attended the forums. The interactive events were run at lunchtime, over two hours, providing an opportunity for attendees to network following the session. The events covered a number of pertinent topics such as open innovation, social innovation and the harnessing social media for innovation and were led by leading academics from the field of innovation management: Professor Stephen Roper, Enterprise Research Centre, Warwick University; Professor Alex Nicholls, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; Professor John Bessant, University of Exeter Business School; and Dr Chris Archer- Brown, University of Bath School of Management. The forums were extremely well received with attendance from over 60 local businesses and 16 academics. HRM Forum - Led by an UWE Bristol HR Academic. The first of the HRM forums was held with the topic of 'Talent Attraction and Retention' and the key speakers were senior HR executives from BT. The event was run over 2 hours from 6.00 to 8.00pm on campus, and was well attended by nearly 30 organizations and academics.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description Further Engagement Events arranged 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Approx 25 business leaders attended an event focusing on family business
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2017,2018