Technology Roadmapping as strategic tool for research management within TRIFOLD

Professor. Ralf Isenmann provides international expertise to implement the roadmapping approach in the Trifold project

Prof. Ralf Isenmann from Bremen University is recognized as international expert for technology roadmapping, a tool set used in the Trifold project. “The starting point is the focus area, that each partnering research center is defining individually” he says, “because each one has a different set of adressed research subjects and technologies being developed. CBBC for example has its focus in biotech, especially in agriculture. So we decided to frame the generic roadmapping in this area and to customize it to an organization-specific level – “biotech in agriculture” would be too broad to serve as a decision making support tool for CBBC’s research labs”.

Professor Isenmann’s contribution in Trifold is specifically to provide expertise in technology roadmapping to all six partnering Tunisian research centers and all issues around it. “Roadmapping is an excellent instrument for the management of technologies and innovations“ he says. “It has proven its usefulness in the last thirty years in many industries and application purposes including technology transfer and re-arranging respective organizational strategies.”

The roadmap is a tool, flexible in its applications. It helps to systematically develop a clear and visible strategy, integrating future developments of technologies as well as of market requirements and customers’ needs. “A roadmap visualizes a strategy, so it is a powerful instrument for communication, inside an organization as well as outside to any external stakeholders. Due to its tangible visualization, it looks compelling and attractive, while linking market drivers and customer’s needs with design, function and performance indicators of products and with technological solutions, capabilities and other resources needed”.

Roadmapping workshop in CERTE, Borj Cedria

Isenmann compares the process of creating a roadmap for a Tunisian research center with working on a spreadsheet. “You can think of a roadmap is a navigation plan or as an empty table with a number of columns and rows” he argues. “The question is which are the proper levels, the proper names of the rows. Any rows are indicating a perspective that you are looking into the future. Usually, you are just focusing on technologies and on market needs. Integrating this tow perspectives is a very important and crucial task” he points out.

Prof. Isenmann describes the methologogical integration to the other project workpackages in his most recent visits to the research centers in Tunis, Borj Cédria, Sfax and Médnine as a “four-step, fast-start approach”

  1. Give a general introduction to technology roadmapping with its basic principles and project-oriented process model to start and implement quickly
  2. Conduct customized roadmapping, fine-tune it to the specific needs and requirements of each center
  3. Provide management support along the initiated roadmaps
  4. Offer customized trainings and coaching through a fine-tuned series of capacity building modules.

After the implementation in this TRIFOLD project, Isenmann hopes that technology roadmapping might be understood by the Tunisian research managers as a powerful instrument, fully integrated then as an ongoing process linking roadmapping activities with general strategic planning. He says that he would love to see the roadmapping approach as part of any research project, technology development and start-up in all research centers in Tunisia.

 

 

 

Recent actions for the Trifold project

The overarching aim of Trifold is to support the six selected Tunisian research centers in improving their research valorization. Capacity development measures have been implemented to introduce changes to their internal processes in order to increase their transfer and innovation capabilities.

Improved research valorization will have a threefold impact to the national Tunisian innovation ecosystem:

  • In terms of the evaluation methodology to be used
  • In terms of new role models being piloted in some Tunisian research centers
  • and in terms of organizational developments and institutional settings.

Research scientists in CBBC (Centre of Biotechnology of Borj Cendria) introducing their valorization activities to David Wewetzer

In October, the Trifold team from the University of Bremen visited the partnering centers in Tunisia for another working meeting with different labs and to coach their activities and deeper analyse the needs of the institutions:

In CBBC Borj Cedria, Dr. Michael Boronowsky continued the training program based on the innoSpice process capability assessment which was conducted in summer 2017 and generated a detailed assessment report. Following the report’s recommendations, the team from ARTT gets insight into many details of how to develop an individual result into a marketable thematic platform. In addition to the training sessions, individual coaching was also provided.

Participants on the project exchanging ideas about their work plan in ARTT

Ms. Tanja Woronowicz and Prof. Ralf Isenmann, also a member of the University of Bremen, coached their colleagues in IRA Médenine and the centers CERTE and CERTEn in Borj Cedria. Prof. Isenmann introduced to them the methodological approach of technology roadmapping with its principles and benefits for strategic research planning . He customized a technology roadmapping according to the very specific needs and requirements of each institution. In November 2017, both met with the General Directors of CBS in Sfax and IRA Médenine to figure out their fields of potential collaboration via a cooperation roadmap.

David Wewetzer during a workshop about startups with participants from CBS (Centre of Biotechnology of Sfax)

Mr. David Wewetzer of the University of Bremen, during his last visits in November 2017 in Tunisia, provided consultancy services to support company communication of four start-ups at CBS.

 

 

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.

ENGAGE selected

Our finished European INTERREG 4C Project ENGAGE logois selected to represent the INTERREG 4C program (now INTERREG Europe) on the 25 years anniversary of the INTERREG program. The event will take place 15.-16.9.2015 in Luxembourg and ENGAGE will be presented during the “Project Slam”. The draft program of this event can be found here.

Among others the project was selected because of its “outstanding” and “cutting-edge” communication strategy with “high reach into politics”. Together with our regional partners from eventfive we were responsible for the planning and implementation of the project communication strategy.