Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Academia-Industry collaboration

I spent this summer in Japan (http://evainjapan.tumblr.com) at the University of Tokyo where I had received a place in the CMSI Summer Internship Program. This program enabled me to carry out two months of research in Professor Hiromichi Kimura’s group, the Pharmaco-Business Innovation Laboratory.
My task was to look at academia-industry collaborations in the Europe and Japan and try to find out what could be learned for Japanese programs aimed at encouraging these collaborations. I decided to try my design research methodology [1] on this. As programs to encourage academia-industry collaboration are deeply rooted in the local context I decided to focus on teasing out the best process of developing such a program instead of trying to copy something that works somewhere as best practice.
However, first I had to find a way  to describe the situation in Japan and Europe. To this end I developed two frameworks. The first is mapping different collaboration mechanisms according to the interrelatedness of the stakeholders [2] and the role of intellectual property [3]. A second framework maps government programs according to whether they are specifically targeted at a single project or have a general capacity-building scope as well as whether they are enabling or motivating. By enabling I understood creating condition which make collaborations possible in the first place – this includes e.g. “valley of death funding” to mature the scientific discovery to a stage that makes it interesting for industry. Motivating on the other hand is more about creating opportunities and creating incentives to choose collaborative work over other opportunities. As a proof of concept exercise I applied these frameworks to the UK and Japan. It was interesting to see some clear differences regarding which collaboration mechanisms are commonly employed in both countries.
However for an analysis of how context is related to collaboration mechanisms and programs to encourage collaboration it is necessary to carry out an in-depth comparison of selected countries. Thus the two frameworks were complemented by a set of dimensions to characterize different countries. I based this on an OECD model for entrepreneurship [4] and used it to identify candidates for further analysis.

[1]   E.M. Hempe, T. Dickerson, A. Holland, and P.J. Clarkson, “Framework for Design Research in Health and Care Services,” Exploring Services Science,  Geneva: Springer, 2010, pp. 125--135.
[2]   J.D. Thompson, Organizations in action: social science bases of administrative theory, Transaction Publishers, 2003.
[3]   E. Von Hippel and G. Von Krogh, “Free revealing and the private-collective model for innovation incentives,” R&D Management,  vol. 36, 2006, pp. 295–306.
[4]   N. Ahmad and A.N. Hoffmann, “A framework for addressing and measuring entrepreneurship,” OECD Statistics Working Papers, 2008.

I wrote this up in more detail and hope to publish it soon. When I do I will post the link here, if you’d like to have a look beforehand just email me. 

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Design obstacles and capacity

One of the questions that arose during my PhD was “Which characteristics allow an organization to do good design?” I like the notion of capacity, according to Wikitionary “ability to perform a task; power to learn; potential/ faculty for growth and development.” So which characteristics make up design capacity? There are some concepts in the literature, such as organizational readiness or absorptive capacity but I found them all in one way or the other limited.

I found it helpful to turn the question on its head and ask: “What are obstacles to being able to practice good design?” And I found that these have a hierarchy (although it can change). Change is impossible if there is no agreement on that something needs changing. If people agree that things need to change but do not have the authority to carry out the change, the project also dies. If we have both agreement and authority but cannot agree on a common goal, the change project might kick off but probably die on the way. Another major obstacle which will usually impede lasting change is fear. Change always triggers fear and there will be people who do not embrace the change and are worried. If these worries and anxieties are not addressed and dealt with, the change will only happen on the surface and things will revert to type pretty quickly. Finally change can also be inhibited by a lack of knowledge to underpin the revamped service. This is usually a lack of awareness of research and evidence and/ or the inability to internalize this knowledge. Finally if everything else is given, if we agree that something has to change, have the people in power on board, know the goal of the change, have addressed everyone’s fears and know how the changed service should look like our project might still fail if we do not have the skills to carry out the change process.

So what does this tell us about design capacity? Well, firstly we need to be able to reach agreement. This is fundamentally about values, which can be implicit or explicit. We thus we need a way to articulate and reflect on our values and engage in a discussion about them. Thus the first element of organizational capacity is an open culture with the necessary skills to have these reflections and discussions. Secondly design capacity consists of supportive power structures. Many organizations which are successful in doing good design have flat hierarchies which means it is easier to drum up support from the appropriate authorities for change. This is not to say that a more hierarchical organization cannot have design capacity but it might need more planning and attention to ensure access to authority. Thirdly to define common goals the organization needs the facility to negotiate a common interest. Interests of different stakeholder group usually differ but through negotiations it may be possible to identify a common interest to drive the change. Fourthly, to address fear it is important to demonstrate that the change is managed and not completely out of control. Of course it is usually impossible to predict in detail where the journey is going to go but often at least the boundaries are clear, which is reassuring and can help reduce anxieties. Fifthly, the lack of knowledge can be addressed through building absorptive capacity [1]. And finally, building capacity for action [2] will overcome possible lack of skills.

Design capacity is cumulative. It builds bit by bit , every successful design project helps build knowledge, skills and tools. It is also a property which extends beyond the individual. At early stages individual leadership might be necessary but eventually it should become part of the organizational culture and/or the community of practice [3].

Of course there are more factors which determine if an organization can do good design, particularly external factors (such as laws, policy, institutional environment and also the built environment) will very likely play an important role. However I decided to focus organizational capacity on the internal elements which can be addressed by the organization itself.

[1]   W.M. Cohen and D.A. Levinthal, “Absorptive Capacity: A New Perspective on Learning and Innovation,” Administrative Science Quarterly,  vol. 35, Mar. 1990, pp. 128-152.
[2]   R. Greenwood and C.R. Hinings, “Understanding radical organizational change: Bringing together the old and the new institutionalism,” Academy of Management Review,  vol. 21, 1996, pp. 1022–1054.
[3]   J. Lave and E. Wenger, Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

I am in the process of writing this up for my PhD and a journal publication. Once it’s (hopefully) accepted I will post the link here, so if you find this useful you can properly cite it. I am also open for suggestions of potential journals which might be interested in this.

Knowledge for Design

I know some people think knowledge management is dead – but I think it can actually give us some interesting insights for service design. I particularly liked the literature around knowledge flows as well as Garud’s distinction of different knowledge types [1]. I tried to combine these two with the problem I look into for my PhD (How does a design process for complex health and care service have to look like). Like Garud I identified three different types of knowledge, however mine are slightly different. While he distinguishes “know-how”, “know-what” and “know-why”, I found that in service design it is useful to look for “know-how” (method), “know-what” (content) and “know-where” (context). Content is what the service which is designed is supposed to do and method knowledge is how to do the design. Contextual knowledge appears both as the setting for the service (context for content) but also as the setting for the design process itself (context for methods).
All three types of knowledge are both input and output of the design process – although actual knowledge itself of course may change during the process. This is similar to a piece of silk cloth which gets turned into a dress. The material afterwards is still silk but its form has been altered and it might have been combined with other pieces of cloth to make something new.
Looking at types of knowledge is interesting because when we examine their characteristics – mainly how implicit and explicit they are – we can deduce their flow properties (sticky or leaky, short-range or long-range) and their modes of transmission.

[1]   R. Garud, “On the distinction between know-how, know-why, and know-what,” Advances in Strategic Management,  vol. 14, 1997, pp. 81–101.

I wrote all this up in much more detail for a conference paper for the HICSS-44 in January and it will be published in the conference proceedings. I will post a link here once it has been published but if you’re interested before, just drop me an email (eh343 at cam dot ac dot uk).