Australian Universities, like their counterparts globally, have recognised for a long time the importance of collaboration in research. Furthermore, there is a growing appetite for collaboration with a broad range of industry partners which produces new kinds of opportunities for all stakeholders. This week’s guest blog is by Dr Peter Rogers , Co-Director of Macquarie University’s Climate Futures.
In 2012 Climate Futures at Macquarie University ran a series of collaboration workshops that sought to strengthen partnerships and identify gaps in research. Our aim was to provide a safe, informal environment for stakeholders across government agencies, emergency services, non-government organisations and charities and the general public to come together and explore each other’s wants and needs. This year we wanted to extend these conversations to develop strategic collaborations based on the 2012 National Research Investment Plan. Our goal? To identify areas of the plan into which we can build new partnerships and specific projects that fill the gaps in research, policy and practice. By opening up a free forum we wanted to build on our conversations, to deliver tangible outcomes and real improvements on a range of important issues.
So on August 30th this year we brought together a select group from across our network and gave each person five minutes, no more than two PowerPoint slides and asked them to tell us who they are, what are their capabilities and what projects are they either working on now or would they like to get up and running.
The Morning Session
This session was developed to provide a dynamic, fast-paced introduction to the capabilities and research interests of Climate Futures members and our external partners. We invited Roadmenders resident collaboration expert, Jelenko Dragisic, to bookend the day with some advice to set the tone and steer our efforts to productive ground before opening the floor to the delegates.
The objectives of the session were to:
• build capacity within Climate Futures;
• strengthen existing partnerships, while facilitating the identification of new partnerships;
• connect our members with government, non-government and industry partners around identified research gaps
The Afternoon Session
The session was been developed to advance the conversation and brought research officers from Macquarie in to offer advice on traditional funding sources, such as the ARC Linkage grant. It also gave the opportunity for structured roundtable discussions that provided an opportunity for the informal networking discussions to get grounded in some targeted engagement activities for both our Climate Futures members and our external partners.
We were excited to have both established researchers and new staff together with long-standing research partners but also new faces from contacts we’ve nurtured more recently. What we found was a surprising range of engagement with the NSRP’s across traditional boundaries, but given the breadth of those priorities people were not always sure of how to use them to their best ability. If guidance of this type is to prove useful in generating collaborations then extensive knowledge of the targeted funding schemes that sit underneath the priorities is critical for dovetailing the needs of practitioners and the skills of researchers into project funding applications.
We also found that both within our own organisation and those external to us we have a number of natural fits. By this I don’t mean to say that we necessarily found immediately a project that clicked for everyone present, though some project proposals are now starting to bubble on the stove and emails are bombing back and forth in a sharing of contacts and information. What I mean is that for almost every proposal pitched in our round-tables the members of that team the membrane of the smaller group were able to offer something, and often not what thy might have first expected. Sometimes it was a contact, others it was a source of evidence. Some people identified a gap or oversight on research or policy initiative that were relevant; yet others could then provide access to data, to locations, to research populations or to organisations that would want to be involved in a project. Perhaps the most exciting was when new collaborations became self-evident in the compatible skills researchers or practitioners could contribute to a project team.
In my personal opinion, and reflecting on my efforts to contribute to resilience research and disaster management policy, I have found a great willingness to collaborate often stymied by organisational barriers and institutionalised working practices that are resistant to change; often even when there is a desire for change and an identified need for change (trust me the academy often suffers from the same problems). In the five minute forum these barriers melted away into enthusiasm for sharing what we can all do to help each other contribute. I made links across organisational boundaries and learned about areas of research outside my discipline, often from practitioners who were thrilled to talk about their passions as well as the demands of day-to-day work in the field, in the trenches and on the front-lines. Such conversations reassure me that we are doing the right thing in setting up such endeavours as the five minute forum and I find myself neck-deep in draft projects that new contacts will, hopefully, be working with me to focus, finesse and finalise in the coming weeks and months.
As always, whilst the day was a resounding success in many ways, we have yet to see exactly how many of these fledgling relationships will produce competitive funding applications – no less how many applications result in the cash on the barrel head often required to push on – but there is no doubt that all of us are enriched by such an open engagement.
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