Improving the Management of Enterprise Engagement within an Irish University Research Institute: An Intellectual Capital Perspective

David Kirk
Technological University Dublin

Hannah Wilson
Liverpool John Moores University

Matthew Tucker
Liverpool John Moores University

Introduction and Aim

Universities and research institutes are coming under increased pressure to respond to the challenges of changing global business environments, technological advances, increasing demands for skills and funding pressures (Ankrah and Al-Tabbaa 2015; Cesaroni and Piccaluga 2016). For many, a vital component of their response had been a commitment to develop and strengthen an outward perspective embracing external engagement as an integral part of their mission and strategies (Abreu et al. 2008).

However, despite this strategic intention, interactions between universities and industry remain characteristically complex, ad hoc, multidimensional, transaction driven and individually led (Hughes 2006; CaƱibano and Sanchez 2008; Jeffrey 2009; Secundo et al. 2017) with the core activities of teaching and research often remaining the primary focus of university management (Goddard et al. 2016). This presents a challenge as to how organisations can best manage the process of enterprise engagement and how to identify the best areas to focus improvement on. Therefore, there remains a recognised need for improved engagement management approaches at organisational level (Higher Education Strategy Group 2011; Galan-Muros et al. 2013; Sheridan and Fallon 2015; Goddard et al. 2016).

In response and seeking to build on existing research and approaches (Bornemann and Sammer 2004; Marr 2008; Grimaldi et al. 2012; Grimaldi 2013), this paper provides an account of part of an ongoing research project that adopts an intellectual capital management approach to improve understanding of enterprise engagement within an Irish university based research institute and to provide a framework to improve decision making in relation to optimal enterprise engagement management improvements.

Research Methodology

The research was undertaken adopting an insider action research strategy which has been used increasingly within the education sector (Greene and Newfoundland 2014). As a deep interventionist approach, it aligned well with the motivation to discover new insight while making a tangible practical impact within the subject organisation through drawing on the many years of practical and contextual experience of the researcher. Through a series of iterative and participative inquiry cycles, the strategy offered a rich analysis of the organisational situation providing a better and deeper understanding of the nature of enterprise engagement in the subject institute.

The first inquiry cycle involved a series of ten semi-structured interviews of key internal stakeholders that included senior leadership, principle investigators, research team leaders and professional engagement support staff. Participants were chosen using purposive sampling and thematic analysis was employed to determine the key individual and organisational engagement enablers in the Institute. These were then categorised based on a tripartite classification of intellectual capital - human, organisational and relational.

The data from the first cycle precipitated the second inquiry cycle, which involved a structured research leadership team workshop to examine and evaluate the organisational enablers from the perspective of strategic relevance, interdependency and current organisational performance.

Using the results from the inquiry cycles, a priority framework for was created to help the research institute identify the most important organisational enablers to target for improvement which could support improved strategic enterprise engagement and its internal management.

Results and implications

The results of the research identified organisational capital as the key priority for improvement within research institute. Specifically, a positive organisational engagement culture and supportive environment were identified as the priority organisational enterprise engagement enablers with supportive processes and procedures and a team approach identified as priority areas for intervention offering the highest potential organisational benefit.


This research contributes to both theory and practice.

It contributes to the intellectual capital and enterprise engagement knowledge base by examining intellectual capital in praxis and through providing a better understanding of enterprise engagement enablers & drivers in an Irish higher education context.

It contributes to practice by providing a different perspective on internal enterprise engagement management through the use of an intellectual capital approach. Using this approach, it has resulted in the adoption of a framework that supports the research institute in navigating the complexity of enterprise engagement and in making informed decisions on interventions to improve overall quality of its enterprise engagement.