Context considerations for research partnerships

KT is a social process with its foundations in the strength of its relationships. To be successful in KT, and ultimately in creating impact, we need to explore and implement the knowledge that comes from our partners through knowledge of lived experiences, organisations, service delivery and so on, to understand and appreciate the context.

Further to this, researchers need to develop an understanding of how to operate in different contexts, and what is culturally appropriate in a business or non-academic environment. It is one thing to communicate with our partners, but to develop a common understanding, trust and deliver relevance we must speak the right language.

I know that researchers will not want to hear this, and yes it will seem like another thing that “we” have to do, but life outside of the ivory tower is different. The language is different, the expectations, timing, deliverables and competing information sources are different, as are the consequences of so-called “failure”. In research, failure is not finding what you are looking for in your research, but a savvy researcher can still create the argument for increased understanding and new knowledge that furthers the field of science. In the business world, failure to deliver products or services can result in reductions in income, loss of jobs and so on. In business, outstanding customer service is expected and how you work with your customers (consumers of services and products) is important. If we consider customer service in a research context, how are you treating your stakeholders, are you providing outstanding customer service, ensuring their needs are met, following up to make sure everything is working out? Do you even understand their needs and the context in which they operate?

There are many benefits to partnering with non-academic organisations and business partners, for example:

Policy Influence – the partnership may assist in the research informing policy development.

Research capacity building – Organisations and policy makers may have opportunities to learn more about the research process.

Personal and professional impact – There could be an impact for researchers as they build relationships with colleagues and receive mentoring, this creates opportunities to learn the context and business environment and possible job opportunities for the future.

However, often the partnerships don’t work out and organisations are unhappy with what is happening, leading them to be reluctant the next time they are approached. Examining this further, it seems that this can come down to the contextual and cultural differences between industry and research organisations. What then are these differences and what can you do as a researcher to adapt to a business culture?

Top considerations in adapting:

Showing up – Being present, not just in body, but in mind, enthusiasm and participation.

Business etiquette – Everything from building relationships with people in the organisation, dressing appropriately for the role, and showing up on time. Unfortunately, the academic world is pretty relaxed on the latter of these two with people working from home without needing to call in to tell the supervisor, and of course, the luxury of dressing casually most, if not all, of the time.

Understanding behaviour – Consider the people that you work with or partner with, how do they like to communicate, consider your style of communication and how that fits with theirs. Do they want big picture thinking, short sharp meetings, do they develop trust easily, do they like small talk. Personality tests online like the DISC can be useful for you to get an understanding of your preferences and then you can start to understand other people’s preferences as well.

Adapt to the culture – Don’t resist, find a mentor to help you along, become excellent at bridging the gap and understanding the contexts of both worlds.

Learn – Be open to learning how to operate in the new environment, what are the expectations of you. Honesty and authenticity will be your best friend here. Understand and acknowledge that you know what you don’t know.

Are you working with one foot in each camp, research and industry? How is it working out, what could you do better, how can you gain more respect? Try the above ideas and let me know how you go.

Happy translating.