Academia-Industry Interface Improvement – Absorptive and Desorptive Capacities

Academia Industry Collaboration for innovation

Photo based on Petr Kratochvil under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=72981&picture=hands-holding-jigsaw&large=1)

Introduction

We, the Innovation Capability Center, are sub-titling our activities with the term “Improving the Academia/Science-Industry Interface” or “Improving the Science-Society Interface”. As we at least are talking about two different stakeholders and an interface between them, it is interesting to understand the diverse dimensions of this task. Think about an optimized flow of knowledge from a knowledge creator to a knowledge recipient that should lead to Innovation.

Absorptive Capacity

Photo by George Hodan under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=30522&picture=domino&large=1)

Photo by George Hodan under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=30522&picture=domino&large=1)

One dimension is the absorptive capacity of e.g. a company receiving knowledge form an university within a regional knowledge transfer. According to wikipedia absorptive capacity has been defined as “a firm’s ability to recognize the value of new information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends“. In principle the responsibility and active part for improvement in this case is on the side of the company. In the context of the science-industry interface this could mean, that science is producing valuable new knowledge, and the better the absorptive capacity of the company gets, the commercial success of the company is increasing.  A provoking question in this context is:  “does this work for all kind of knowledge that is generated at the academic side of the Interface?“. In fact this question is very difficult to answer. On the long run several examples can be found how basic research results have become very relevant for commercialization within a period of several years or even decades. We personally don’t think that even the highest absorptive capacity will help to turn every scientific result into an economic success. There is no invariance of the “kind and quality” of a result to become an innovation. But, at least companies need the capability to understand the implication of new research results for their own innovation processes.

Desorptive Capacity

Photo by Daniele Pellati under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=47378&picture=e-mc2&large=1)

Photo by Daniele Pellati under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=47378&picture=e-mc2&large=1)

Let’s think about the second dimension, with the responsibility and active part in improving the interface is on the side of academia. It has to be something opposite to the “absorptive capacity” maybe a “desorptive capacity”. And indeed in 2006, Lichtenthaler was defining the term desorptive capacity “which refers to a firm’s ability to identify technology transfer opportunities and to transfer technology to the recipient“. In our example the “firm” will be the university and its capability to produce results according to recognized acquirer needs and to hand over the results to them. This definition has two aspects. First

  • the capacity to understand technology transfer opportunities, including e.g.
    • the identification of suitable own research results,
    • adaptation of the own research to external opportunities,
    • an approach to analyze recipient needs etc.

and

  • the capability to handover results to the recipient including e.g.
    • form and quality of the released technology,
    • contractual issues with suitable agreements,
    • networks of potential recipients, investors, etc.

One may argue, that a higher desorptive capacity is increasingly violating the humboldtian model of the freedom of research.  This problem can arise when e.g. a research organization has no defined strategy on how much adaptation of the own research to external opportunities is needed for the operation of the organization. And in addition: to perform a better analysis of own research results for transfer, or to support the recipient to absorb the results more easily is not per se in conflict with the nature of the university! Instruments, like e.g. the ISO/IEC 15504 standard based model innoSPICE, can help to support research organizations to increase their “desorptive” capacity.

Conclusion

Collaboration between Academia and Industry shoulkd lead to Innovation

Photo by McLac2000 under Public Domain License (https://pixabay.com/de/puzzel-zusammenarbeit-partnerschaft-1020221/)

The motivation to write this article is based on the observation, that absorptive capacity currently has become a buzzword. We think that this term is a very convenient one for academia, as changes are not requested from them in a first step. For sure there is a need to improve absorption of new knowledge on the side of the companies or society. But in our opinion it is a mistake to understand absorptive capacity decoupled from desorptive capacity. There should be a common interest from academia, industry and even society to improve both capacities in a good Balance.

DAAD RAMSES Assessment Training

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Introduction

The innoSPICE training at Cairo University (CU) was continuing from 8.-12.11.2015. Focus of this training was the performance of an innoSPICE based activity assessment with trainees from the nursing faculty, dentistry and the administration of CU. Beside this initial evaluation, the preparation for the planned innoSPICE assessment pilot and process improvement at level of the nursing and dentistry faculty was discussed. To prepare these assessments, the trainees will perform an analysis and write a report of two existing activities in two departments of each faculty (to be selected), thereby developing a better understanding how far societal or commercial needs are considered in these activities:IMG_1906

  1. The development and submission of the faculty’s research plan and the
  2. linkage and transmission of national priorities discussed in national platforms to suitable transfer policies in the departments.

The analysis will have to identify the status quo and provide initial concepts for improvement within the selected departments:

  • the individual steps, the involved stakeholders and their responsibilities, the administrative procedures
  • current and potential barriers and challenges to respect and to integrate societal and commercial needs
  • potential suggestions for improvement, suitable actions, and required resources.

Based on this analysis – In a second step – the most relevant innoSPICE processes will be identified and mapped to the activities. This set of processes is forming the tailored process assessment model to be used in the innoSPICE departments’ assessment.

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Process Management in Industry 

Beside the RAMSES assessment training, Mr. Rainer Elvermann from cbprocess was invited. Mr. Elvermann is expert in professional process management with a strong background from engineering. He was presenting approaches to context based process management. In several practical examples, he showed how process orientation can support structuring and IMG_1949reduction of knowledge with the use of the right tools. Mr Elvermann also supported the Innovation Capability Center to discuss process orientation and its professional support on management level. The collaboration between University of Bremen and cbprocess was also a source of reference for the training program. As knowledge- and technology transfer is also founded on a proper function of the science industry interface, it was very helpful to have some insights from the management of a company on these topics. Rainer and his colleague Esther Funken participated in the full training and contributed to the discussions from their point of view.

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Result of Self Studies

The trainees presented their understanding to some processes. Several innoSPICE processes (Contact Development, Communication and Tendering) were explained to the IMG_1921audience and discussed. Each presentation explained the original process, provided a description of the process in own words and an example form the scientific domain of the presenter. The trainers supported in sharpening the argumentation and suggested slight improvements of the interpretation of the tasks. In general, it was a very valuable trainings unit, and the trainees were highly committed in understanding these elements of the model.

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IMG_1948Painting the Big Picture

Tanja Woronowicz of the Innovation Capability Center “painted” the big picture of the innoSPICE process reference model. In several visualizations she developed the story of the full innovation cycle turning ideas into economic added value. Her scheme connects the different phases of this cycle to the innoSPICE processes and stimulated active discussions with the trainees. This presentation was intended to support the self studies of the innoSPICE model, as the initial intention of all processes was given. Beside these important details, a very relevant aspect of the innoSPICE model was addressed: Processes can describe similar functions within an organization, but with a different granularity and perspective. E.g. the Technology Transfer Driver process IMG_1941category (TTD) is dealing with the operation of a professional knowledge- and technology transfer. Moreover, there is a Technology Transfer Management process in the Organizational Process Category (ORG). This process describes the strategic element of the implemented technology transfer driver processes. According to an organization’s needs and targets the processes of the TTD processes category are managed by this process – it can be understood as the control process of the innovation funnel . The Support Processes (SUP)  like Alternative Analysis, Decision Making, Measurement, Contact Development, Documentation etc. can be understood e.g. to support all processes of the primary process category. They ensure the integrity of the individual transfer processes and enforce defined procedures.  Like always, the full picture could be even more detailed – but at this stage, it is appropriate  to look at the relation of the most relevant processes.

This big picture was completed with an explanation of the different professional roles of innoSPICE  application, that also can be understood as career path for the trainees:

  • The innoSPICE coach is the quality management expert of knowledge- and technology transfer processes inside an organization and supports their day to day operation. He has a deep understanding of the continuous process improvement within the own organization.
  • The innoSPICE consultant is consulting  different types of organizations for the targeted improvement of specific innoSPICE processes. With a background in innovation management  and in transfer methods, he can help organizations to find suitable measures for effective change. He has the competence to guide an innoSPICE self assessment.
  • The innoSPICE assessor is able to measure the process capability of dedicated innoSPICE processes and has the accreditation to lead assessments. The competence of the innoSPICE assessor is based on a professional background in knowledge- and technology transfer, the innoSPICE process reference model and extensive assessment experience.

One of the targets for the RAMSES training program is to support the trainees to become an innoSPICE coach.

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The Assessment Training IMG_1944

During the training, a real assessment situation was taken to role playing for one process (Technology Tranfer Concept). Like in an full innoSPICE assessment, Tanja and Michael – the assessors – performed a targeted interview with two volunteering trainees. During this assessment role play, there was no discussion with the full audience about the general meaning of the different Base Practices,but the focus was just on the rating and evidence of the trainees. The “assessors” supported to find the right level of rating the different Base Practices. As the chosen assessment approach is based on a guided self evaluation, the final verdict was up to the trainees. It was a very positive experience not only for the assessed trainees and the audience, but also for the assessors which were very satisfied with the focussed and goal oriented discussion.

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Meeting with Prof. Amr Adly from the Electrical Power and Machines Department, the former executive director of STDF (right), Prof Mohamed Ewiss, principle investigator of the RAMSES project (middle), Mr. Rainer Elvermann from cbProcess (left) and Dr. Michael Boronowsky from the Innovation Capability Center.

Addressing the Management Level

Prof Mohamed Ewiss, principle investigator of the RAMSES project organized meeting to introduce Mr. Rainer Elvermann from cbProcess and his company to Prof. Amr Adly from the Electrical Power and Machines Department, councilor of Cairo university for post-graduate studies and research, former executive director of STDF to explore the cooperation of the automation system. Prof. Adly reported that even if Cairo University is an international scientifically highly ranked organization, there is a demand to have a better integration of industrial and societal needs into research activities. He welcomes and supports the ideas of the DAAD RAMSES project to raise the management capacity of CU and was positive about the training and assessment program based on the innoSPICE model. He provided the STDF Anual Report 2014 to give some ideas about the R&D environment in Egypt and Cairo University’s outstanding abilities.

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Prof. Gamal Esmat (Vice President for Graduate Studies and Research- right) and Prof. Mohamed Ewiss (Counsellor of Cairo University – middle) handing over the signed Memorandum of Understanding between Cairo University and University of Bremen to Dr. Michael Boronowsky Managing Director of the Innovation Capability Center – left)

 

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Prof. Abeer Eswi, Vice Dean of the Nursing Faculty in discussion with Rainer Elvermann.

In a meeting with Prof. Gamal Esmat  (Vice President for Graduate Studies and Research) the current state of the RAMSES project implementation was discussed. Dr. Boronowsky reported that the training will now start to practice inside the nursing and dentistry faculty and that the team prepares for an innoSPICE assessment in selected departments in the beginning of next year. This innoSPICE assessment will be performed by the Innovation Capability Team of the University Bremen. Mr. Boronowsky explained, that the current training of innoSPICE coaches is very valuable to support a sustainable process improvement inside the piloted faculties. He emphasized that is will be important to empower these trainees to be responsible for the internal technology transfer quality management at the end of the project.

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IMG_1953Tell us about innoSPICE

An important element of activation in this training unit were presentations of the innoSPICE approach by the trainees. The task given by the trainers was simple: “Present the innoSPICE approach to the colleagues of your faculty to inform them before an assessment takes place”. Goal of this task was to cross check, if the former training sessions provided a solid base for the second year of the IMG_1955project. There was a positive tension, but also the question on how much of the theoretical knowledge is already activated within the trainees. IMG_1957The trust in the capability of the trainees was fully justified and the trainers were very proud to see the great development the trainees after only one year. All presenters found their own interpretation about the needs and values of innoSPICE in the Egyptian innovation system. In several very unique talks a very convincing story was told. The positive finding for the trainers was that it not was just a copied, repeated version of the given lectures’ input. The knowledge about innoSPICE was activated and adapted in a very convincing way to the own needs. The trainers only had minor remarks and the positive spirit of this whole session was the motivating closure of this training. The IMG_1959first project year laid a solid foundation for the next project year that will aim to even more activate the trainees to support the improvement of knowledge- and technology transfer within their own faculties. At the end of the training the whole team was invited to a common dinner, with several informal discussions.

The project – the whole team – is on a promising path. We are happy to continue this very important mission.

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