One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to knowledge transfer from public research organisations. Research by Maryam Ghorbankhani, a RADMA scholar and Associate tutor at the Department of Management at Birkbeck, University of London, has found that universities and public research organisations are very different types of institutions and this impacts the success of knowledge-transfer.
Maryam observes: “Many public research organisations are in the early stages of adopting Open Innovation approaches and their internal routines and learning cultures may be unsuited to open or collaborative innovation, and they may have diverse governance models.
“My research revealed that when looking to incentivising knowledge-transfer, governments should not assume that all public research organisations are the same. Instead, some organisations may need to improve their internal capabilities and others to look to codify their research outputs so they can be more easily understood and adopted by external stakeholders. Taking these measures will result in efficiency gains for all the organisations involved.
“RADMA played a significant role in my PhD journey, with its sustained support I have been able to access an international setting for presenting my research and gain invaluable feedback through participation in R&D Management conferences.
“By supporting this research RADMA has contributed to a better understanding of the value of knowledge transfer and networking in academia.”
We asked Maryam about her research and some of the initial findings.
Technology transfer of frontier science
Most public organisations are in the early stages of adoption of open innovation (Lee et al.,2012), including public R&Ds which receive substantial government funding and contribute to leading-edge applied science and government decision-making. In this context, they need to develop an understanding of Open Innovation (OI), and undertake measures to adopt OI, particularly outbound practices, in the presence of their existing organisational routines and learning cultures, which may be unsuited to models of open and collaborative innovation.
The focus of my PhD was the “Exploitation of public sector R&D and the open innovation paradigm: Governance of Knowledge transfer and commercialisation within public research organisations (PROs)”. It is based on three research papers applying quantitative, qualitative and mixed research approaches.
As sources of generating frontier science, many governments spend heavily on the public research system, which includes both universities and non-university research laboratories, known as public research organisations (PROs) in this research project.
Although much of the literature has treated universities and PROs similarly, these publicly funded research centres are very different types of institution, with different assignments, culture and type of research they undertake.
The PROs in the UK have a proven record of producing excellent applied scientific research, state of art technology and consultancy of superior quality. However, they also have a rather poor record of knowledge transfer and exploitation of their research output.
My PhD research project aims to see how this can be improved.
Different outbound OI strategies analysed
My research investigates the organisational approaches and managerial practices that PROs use for knowledge transfer and commercial exploitation of their R&D outcomes. It also reviews whether greater use of open innovation models can help to improve the commercial exploitation of PROs’ research output.
By using a unique and purposefully constructed panel dataset of 33 PROs, curated from public administrative records (annual reports and financial returns) in the United Kingdom, three quantitative papers have been developed. The first is published by Science and Public Policy Journal, 2021 (not included in my dissertation), another is under review with an academic journal (3* ABS) process, and the last is at the analysis stage to be completed soon.
I am also developing a qualitative paper based on 26 in-depth interviews with 21 PROs and three representatives of organisations funding the PROs – a government department and two research councils. I am to shed light on PROs’ engagement in outbound OI, to deepen our knowledge about the different outbound OI processes they engage in and the organisational capabilities underpinning this engagement.
The interviews were conducted with individuals who are actively engaged in knowledge transfer activities with the private sector or with other governmental organisations on a regular basis. These include R&D managers, knowledge exchange / knowledge transfer managers, chief scientists, science and commercial directors, business development managers and innovation managers.
The paper will be submitted to a management journal.
Maryam’s papers include:
- • de la Torre, E., Ghorbankhani, M., Rossi, F., and Sagarra, M., 2021. “Knowledge transfer profiles of public research organisations: the role of fields of knowledge specialisation”. Science and Public Policy, 00, pp.1–17 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/scipol/scab061
- -Presented in R&D Management Conference in Paris 2019
- • Ghorbankhani, M. and Rossi, F., 2019. “Intrinsic and strategic complementarity of research and knowledge transfer activities as determinants of knowledge transfer governance: evidence from public research organizations”, submitted to the Journal of Technology Transfer
- -Presented in Triple Helix Manchester Conference 2018.
- • Ghorbankhani, M. and Rossi, F., 2022.” Organisational capabilities and outbound open innovation in public research organisations”.
- -Presenting in R&D Management Conference-Trento 2022
- -Presenting in BAM Conference- Manchester 2022
- • Ghorbankhani, M., Rossi, F., and de la Torre, E., 2022.” Efficiency of Public Research Organisatoins in their knowledge exploitation”
Developing a framework for collaborative research
I am currently completing the analysis section of my fourth research paper which will be included in my PhD dissertation that I will submit by the end of summer 2022. I am also planning a framework for conducting collaborative research on public research organisation in Italy. Since I started my PhD studies in 2017 at Birkbeck University of London, I have been teaching in several modules and been supervising MSc dissertations in Finance and Management, and I am following the same plan this year too.
If someone wanted to learn more about this subject what would you recommend they read?
I have learned a lot and gained perspective on the fields of knowledge transfer, governance of public research organisations and open innovation by reading the following literature:
- • Chesbrough, H., and Rosenbloom, R.S., 2002. The Role of the Business Model in Capturing Value from Innovation: Evidence from Xerox Corporation’s Technology Spin-Off Companies. Industrial and Corporate Change. Vol. 11(3), pp. 529–555.
- • Cohen, W.M., Nelson, R.R., Walsh, J.P., 2002. Links and impacts: The influence of public research on industrial R&D. Management Science, Vol.48, pp.1–23.
- • Enkel, E., Gassmann, O., Chesbrough, H., 2009. Open R&D and open innovation: exploring the phenomenon. R&D Management, Vol.39 (4), pp. 311-316.
- • Laursen, K. and Salter, A., 2006. Open for innovation: the role of openness in explaining innovation performance among U.K manufacturing firms. Strategic Management Journal, 27, pp. 131-150.
- • Lawton Smith, H and Swyngedouw, E., 2000. Technology transfer and industrial change in Europe. Pagrave Mc million.
- • Lee, S.M., Hwang, T., and Choi, D., 2012. Open innovation in the public sector of leading countries, Management Decision, Vol. 50(1), pp.147-162.
- • Lichtenthaler, U. and Lichtenthaler, E., 2009. A Capability-Based Framework for Open Innovation: Complementing Absorptive Capacityjoms. Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 46(8), pp.1315-1338.
- • Rossi, F., 2018. The drivers of efficient knowledge transfer performance: evidence from British universities. Cambridge Journal of Economics, Vol. 42(3), pp. 729-755.
- • Vanhaverbeke, W. and Cloodt, M., 2014. (Theories of the Firm and Open Innovation) in Chesbrough, H., Vanhaverbeke, W., and West, J. (ed.), New frontiers in open innovation Chapter Publisher: Oxford University Press.
Grateful for the support of RADMA
RADMA has generously funded my PHD research through the RADMA Doctoral Student Award since 2019 and provided invaluable support in my fascinating and fruitful PhD journey by additional funding for research and conference expenses for three years. RADMA doctoral award enabled me to pursue my research aspirations and academic career with excitement and peace of mind.