#BridgingTheGap between Academic and Industry Partners in #ResearchCommunities: The Role of #HybridActors and #AdaptedCommunicationFormats

Author: Anja Köngeter, Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH (formerly)

Rather than considering social innovation as only being a topic to be researched, the Social Innovation Community argues that research can also be subject to social innovation – there are countless innovative ways of organising, doing and framing science and research that are worth exploring. Against the backdrop of a paradigm shift in technoscience policy towards problem-oriented science (Fuller 2016 p. 35; Gibbons 1994; Lundvall 2010, pp. 36; Lundvall and Borras 2005; Malerba in Fagerberg et al.), European research programmes and associated scientific communities are continuously developed further to integrate industry in research communities that are traditionally academia-driven (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 2016; Kellog 2006; Nowotny 2003). We observe increasing efforts to integrate scientists affiliated with research organisations other than universities, primarily, from the private sector organisations but also Research & Technology Organisations (RTOs).

We assume that the researchers’ affiliation with different organisation types (university/industry/RTO) reflects the researchers’ rationales. We furthermore suggest that their collaboration can significantly improve the impact of research and innovation activities by adding an application-oriented perspective and mutual learning processes.

However, this conversion towards more heterogeneous research communities seems to challenge the established mode of collaboration. According to prior empirical studies (e.g. Hemmert et al. 2014; Murray 2002; Perkman and Walsh 2007), the researchers who are affiliated with either university or a private sector organisation differ significantly in their rationales and actions in terms of their aims, timescales, budgets, modes of working and researcher ethos. These differences can drive misunderstandings and mistrust between researcher groups. As a consequence, relevant knowledge can be held back, for instance because of competitiveness and Intellectual Property Right issues.

Arising questions are: How to overcome these ‘gaps’ in mutual understanding? How to build mutual trust and understanding between academia and industry in order to enable collaborative and effective Research and Innovation activities in scientific communities?

To answer these questions, twelve COST Actions from various research fields were analysed and proved to be intriguing test beds for integration schemes of industry partners in university-driven scientific communities (cf. Bührer et al. 2016; Köngeter 2017). The results of the survey and the qualitative interviews support the findings of prior empirical studies. More precisely, the great potential of integrating partners from industry lies in bringing in new perspectives, co-shaping standards and sharing valuable data. The cases provided numerous examples how the collaboration has improved the impact of research and innovation activities in terms of innovativeness, effectiveness and efficiency. Nevertheless, barriers for exploiting the full potential of collaboration between industry and academic partners are unclear roles within the COST Action, unsolved IPR issues and scarce prior contact between heterogeneous groups in a research field. The cases also illustrated pitfalls: Attracting industry members by merely mimicking their behaviour and their rationales has shown to be of limited success.

The study identified key success factors to overcome the outlined barriers. Amongst them the role of so called #HybridActors (i.e. researchers who are acquainted with rationales linked to academic and private sector) as well as #AdaptedCommunicationFormats are outstanding:

#HybridActors are individual researchers who typically promote the exchange between academic and private sector organisations. They often work for RTOs and small & medium-sized enterprises. #HybridActors facilitate the communication as ‘interpreters’, assign and explain specific roles to the members, and tackle issues of mistrust. Hence, they help to reframe their own and the other researchers’ roles and tasks within the research community and beyond, for instance in research projects as these consortia often emerge from these communities. To achieve this, they frequently adapt and innovate established communication formats.

#AdaptedCommunicationFormats include meetings, workshops, and (social) media channels aiming at integrating heterogeneous participants, fostering collaboration, and hence, increasing the impact of their work. The immediate objective of these formats is to improve mutual knowledge exchange, standards setting, building a workable community for technology transfer, or finding solutions for complex challenges under political and economic pressure. The interviews showed that this partly happened in an experimental way. For instance, a chair person of a COST Action initiated a workshop that highlighted expectations, motivation and contribution of the attending participants from the private sector and universities. This intervention greatly helped to identify a collective goal, improving transparency, and building mutual understanding & trust. Another example is a workshop on intellectual property rights that reduced uncertainties for participants affiliated with universities which fostered mutual trust and collaboration. Also, interactive communication channels and online project tools combined with social media improved the quality and density of communication remarkably.

For future #ResearchAndInnovationPolicy, it seems high time to #BridgeTheGap between unequal research partners and to seize their full potential for impactful research & innovation activities. It is inevitable to identify, reflect on – and embrace! – emerging social and socio-technological innovations that showcase novel modes of collaboration. It is highly recommended that #ResearchAndInnovationPolicy wholeheartedly supports professionalization of more diverse researcher roles and the novel communication formats in their R&I #NetworkingInstruments to achieve the envisaged #Impact.


#BridgeTheGap #ResearchCommunities #AdaptedCommunicationFormats #HybridActors #ResearcherRoles #R&I #NetworkingInstruments #Impact


This blog post draws on the qualitative results of the “Final Report on COST Targeted Impact Assessment 2016” (Bührer et al. 2016), mandated by the COST Association and carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI and the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH. The author is grateful to the contributors Peter Biegelbauer (AIT), Cheng Fan, Hendrik Berghäuser, Stephanie Daimer, and the project coordinator Susanne Bührer (Fraunhofer ISI). The author is also grateful to the COST Association for the provision of the research results. The overall research design follows a mixed methods approach combining quantitative data of an online survey with case studies based on qualitative in-depth interviews.


Buehrer, S. (coord.), Fan, C., Biegelbauer, P., Berghaeuser, H., Koengeter, A., Daimer, S. (2016). Final Report on COST Targeted Impact Assessment 2016 (confidential). Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH.

Etzkowitz, H. Leydesdorff, L. (2000). The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and ‘‘Mode 2’’ to a Triple Helix of university–industry–government relations. In: Research Policy. 29, 2000, S. 109–123.

Hemmert, M., Bstieler, L., & Okamuro, H. (2014). Bridging the cultural divide: Trust formation in university–industry research collaborations in the US, Japan, and South Korea. Technovation, 34(10), 605-616.

Kellogg, D. (2006). Toward a Post-Academic Science Policy: Scientific Communication and the Collapse of the Mertonian Norms. International Journal of Communications Law and Policy. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=900042

Köngeter, A. (2017). The Integration of Industry in Academia-driven Scientific Communities – Empirical Evidence and Analysis. Working Paper.

Lundvall B.-A. and Borras S. (2005). Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy. In The Oxford handbook of innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lundvall, B. Å. (Ed.). (2010). National systems of innovation: Toward a theory of innovation and interactive learning (Vol. 2). Anthem Press.

Malerba, F. (2005). Sectoral systems: how and why innovation differs across sectors. In The Oxford handbook of innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murray, F. (2002). Innovation as co-evolution of scientific and technological networks: exploring tissue engineering. Research Policy, 31(8), 1389-1403.

Nowotny, H., Scott, P., & Gibbons, M. (2003). Introduction: ‘Mode 2′ Revisited: The New Production of Knowledge. Minerva, 41(3), 179-194.

Perkmann, M., & Walsh, K. (2007). University–industry relationships and open innovation: Towards a research agenda. International Journal of Management Reviews, 9(4), 259-280.