The Spiral Model together with The Research Readiness Level - Tool for improved university-industry collaboration

Mats Rydehell
University of Skövde

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Richard Andersson
University of Skövde

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We have focused on two aspects of this problem: firstly, the understanding of the driving forces between the university and industrial partners, and also e.g. science parks, incubators, is unbalanced, and secondly, the activities to enhance the understanding of impact planning as a driving force for research strategy development is underdeveloped. There is a tendency that we optimise the innovation processes outside the university (taking care of values created) rather than stimulating the development of values in the research strategy itself.

The University of Skövde is one of Sweden’s smaller universities, which means that we have limited resources for research support but a very close collaboration within the university. Based on these prerequisites we have developed a strategy to support our researchers all the way from basic research to utilization and commercialization of the results by coordinating multiple support functions: Grants Office, Technology Transfer Office, Communications Office and University Library.

Importantly, this Model can be used for basic research as well as for applied research. We see ourselves as guiding the researchers along a spiral staircase, where projects are gaining complexity or getting closer to implementation as they move so to say “up the stairs”. However, whenever projects pass to the next level they need certain support (strategic planning, funding, communication, recruitment etc.) and by coordinating the support for the questions above we ensure that all activities are streamlined and adding value to each other.

In addition to meeting short-term needs regarding applications, advice, communication and administration, our ambition is to move the research groups towards a more strategic approach.

The Model take its starting point in the vision and goals of the research group, based on the UN Developing Goals and the challenges set out in these, and than formulated in goals for the research group into goals for individuals (done individually), the research group and goals related to societal impact. Goals for the group are set for 1, 6 and 15 years ahead, and a strategy is designed in six different areas.

From this we define the starting point: assets in the form of tangible as well as non-tangible assets. The first relates to materials, labs and related, while the second relates to human, relational and intellectual assets.

The next question is how we get from today’s situation to the desirable situation in the future. This is the strategy part, and a strategy is designed in six different areas.
− Research - scientific road map based on relevant external analysis;
− Financing - defining what kind of funding is needed when in relation to the goals;
− Valorisation - how we intend to use the research results to make a difference in society, including everything from education, open dissemination, academic publishing and commercialization.
− Communication - what we should communicate to whom and through which channels, including publishing strategic;
− Team building/recruitment - how we build the team that will take us towards the goals, including recruitment strategy;
− Collaboration - who we collaborate with in the future and why.

The complexity of the six strategic areas is different in every research group as well as for individual researchers. We meet researchers with different needs at different stages of their academic careers. Some are PhD students and others professors. In the same way, some research groups are newly started, while others are highly qualified and have critical mass in their group. In order for us to be able to provide the right support at the right time, it is important to understand where each researcher and research group is located in the strategic process. That is why we are creating a new tool we call Research Readiness Level. Inspiration comes from NASA's Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and other so-called "Readiness level models". The idea is that - together with the research group - we will define the "degree of maturity/ability" for each area according to the spiral model above, and thus define specific levels of support for the different parts adapted to the needs of each group. Based on this, action packages are designed on an individual basis.

Results and impact so far
In relation to University-Industry interaction we find the Model very good. No one wants to do research with no values. As impact is sometimes 10-15 years ahead, impact is not possible without collaboration. Realising this and that impact planning also creates better understanding for the collaborating partner, and better constitutes negotiation possibilities with external partners, the interests from the research groups is increasing.

The Spiral Model has been used in a number of research groups at University of Skövde, while the Research Readiness Level Model is rather new and only implemented in a few groups. In one group (Life Science) the model has achieved a new industry collaboration outside Sweden based on values in the group and analysis of the possible valorisation needs in industry. Another group has realised their role in relation to industry as more development related (applied research), and collaboration strategies related to life-long learning is under development.

By using this tool for support to the research groups, we can also more clearly link our support related to research advice, innovation advice, research communication support and collaboration support.