What is the best way to organise valorisation? The first step is to develop a vision. The researcher or research group in question will list a number of relevant themes and questions, and will formulate appropriate answers to them: these are the building blocks of the vision, and the vision is the basis for sustained management of the valorisation.
By Leonie van Drooge and Stefan de Jong | reading time 12 minutes |
Once the vision has been determined, the next step is to consider practical matters like HR policy, division of tasks and support. These are generally beyond the responsibility of the researcher, but need to be properly taken care of in order to implement the vision.
Developing a valorisation vision
It is quite possible to reach mutual agreement about valorisation, to develop a valorisation policy and to formulate a valorisation vision. This process will help researchers to become more clearly aware of the contributions they make and those they could make in the future. It also helps researchers to decide whether they should accede to every request for information, advice or research that reaches them.
A valorisation vision implies decisions about what has to be done, with whom and for what purpose. We have formulated a number of questions that help making choices. While these questions are universally applicable, the answers will depend on the nature of the research, the researchers involved and the societal context.
It is best if several persons get together to answer these questions and make the necessary decisions – after all, valorisation is usually a joint responsibility.
The questions given below support the decision-making needed in a given project or programme, or in the management of a research group, research institute or other organization. They can serve as guidelines when writing a research proposal or grant application, and are useful for evaluation purposes to distinguish between a strategy and one-off responses to isolated opportunities or anecdotal evidence.
You should be aware that valorisation often involves more different activities than one might at first sight think – they are simply not always recognized as belonging under the heading of valorisation. And remember that there is no standard approach to valorisation: it depends on the objectives of the research, the researchers and stakeholders involved and the way the knowledge generated is put to use in society. It may be mentioned that our considerations here are based on the broad definition of valorisation, as formulated in the section on definitions and policy.
- Putting the research mission into words
- Identifying specific practices
- Specifying target groups or stakeholders
- Creating interactions
- Formulating the vision
Putting the research mission into words
The first step is to put the research mission – the purpose of the research – into words. This is not just about the terms of reference, justification for or objectives of the research in terms of valorisation, but about all aspects of the research performed by the department or in the project in question. Valorisation is just one aspect of the mission – after all, valorisation and research are intimately linked.
The research mission will often already have been formulated. If that is not the case, the title of a research project or the name of the research institute often gives an indication. Other sources of information are the description of the objectives of the institute or the list of aims of the project.
Identifying specific practices
The next step is to identify the scope for valorisation within the context of the mission. In other words, what changes will the research bring about, or where can it make contributions?
It is important to be concrete and specific here, to avoid making unrealistic promises or arousing unrealistic expectations. Few research groups or research projects will be able to find the silver bullet that will solve all problems in a given field, such as preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS or finding a way of stopping bullying among children.
A sensible choice of objectives will help to define a realistic contribution that can be made in a given situation – for example preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS in a well-defined target group or via a specific transmission mechanism, preventing bullying in a particular social situation or identifying factors that increase the likelihood of bullying in the social situation in question.
Experience shows, however, that no matter how carefully the study objectives are specified, the ambitions of the researchers will often tend to exceed their real possibilities. That is not such a bad thing, though, because ambitions give the researcher something to aim at.
The search for appropriate research methods may turn up a large number of concrete options. In that case, the number of options will have to be narrowed down to ensure that the research achieves a maximum impact. Other researchers may be unable to identify any concrete contribution their research might make at first sight. It may help in such cases to reflect on a specific situation where the research could make a real difference. In joint research projects where researchers work together with certain public partners, the field of application of the research results may be defined by the project proposal.
The answer to the following main question defines the overall scope for valorisation. The detailed questions that follow it stimulate further consideration of the subject and help to direct ideas into the right channels. It will not be necessary, or even possible, to answer all the detailed questions in every case.
What practice does the research aim to change?
A practice is a customary or expected procedure or way of doing something, such as the eating behaviour of primary school children, the environmental policy of Dutch provincial administrations, logistics in distribution centres, the production of microchips, political decision-making about reintegration into the work process after long-term illness and the digitizing of scientific archives.
- - Are there people or organizations for whom the research results may have important consequences? This may include people or organizations in the immediate environment of the researcher.
- - Are there people or organizations that would benefit from a better understanding of the topic covered by the research?
- - Are there (recurrent) events that may be influenced by the research results, such as policymaking, a major social event or changes in the law that may have a significant impact on a particular sector?
- - Are there situations in daily life that the research may help to clarify?
- - Are there professions or particular job categories that would benefit from the research results?
- - Are there researchers working at the limits of their discipline who would gain useful insights from the research results? This could include fundamental researchers who might benefit from better understanding of practical aspects of their field, or applied researchers who might understand a practical problem better with the aid of new theoretical insights derived from the research results.
- -Are there researchers from other disciplines who might benefit from the research, for example by using new methods and techniques developed for the purposes of the research?
Specifying target groups or stakeholders
The next step is to identify the ultimate knowledge users, those who would benefit from the knowledge and stakeholders. It is also necessary to determine which parties would pass on the knowledge to the end-users. In other words, we need to specify for whom and in association with whom the valorisation occurs.
This leads to the identification of two different groups: those who ultimately benefit from the knowledge derived from the research, and the partners with whom the researcher or research group is working or will be working,
There are limits to the abilities and responsibilities of the researcher and the research group. It is not possible or desirable to collaborate with every stakeholder in the long chain from researcher to enduser. Hence, it makes sense to decide with whom collaboration is appropriate, useful, necessary, meaningful or interesting. This leads to the following main question:
What is the ultimate target group of the research, and are other partners needed to reach this target group?
- Who ultimately benefits from the research?
- What is the simplest way of reaching the ultimate target group?
- Is it possible, useful and feasible to contact the ultimate target group directly?
- Which public bodies have links with the ultimate target group?
- Which public bodies must definitely play a role?
- Who influences the practice the research aims to change?
- Are there other researchers with whom it would be useful to collaborate in order to get results that would be useful for the intended ultimate target group?
It is important to collect contact details of any possible partners (including the names, phone numbers and E-mail addresses of any contact persons), so that links can be established if this has not already been done.
After the above-mentioned tasks have been completed, decisions have to be made about how to contact the necessary valorisation partners, how to establish secure links with them and how to transfer the knowledge in question. Some crucial partners may already belong to a network or project with which the researcher or research group is associated. In some cases, it may be possible to make use of institutionalized forms of valorisation such as treatment protocols or post-academic education. And sometimes a specific quality of the researcher may facilitate valorisation. The main question here is:
How can the stakeholder be made aware of the research?
- - How do stakeholders view the research topic?
- - What knowledge do stakeholders need?
- - What are the usual channels through which the ultimate target group receives information?
- - When do stakeholders need the research results?
- - Who or what is needed to contact the stakeholders?
- - What is your best method of transferring knowledge?
Some researchers are most effective when writing reports or opinions, while others prefer to make presentations or give training courses.
- - Which type of valorisation is most appropriate for the research results?
The transfer of facts requires a different approach from the transfer of skills.
- - Are you already in contact with (some of the) stakeholders?
- - Are colleagues, friends, relatives or anyone else already in contact with the ultimate target group?
When answering the above questions, it may be useful to think in terms of productive interactions. Contacts between researchers and others may take many different forms. Direct interactions take place through personal contact, for example in a workshop or an advisory committee. Indirect interactions occur via a text or other artefact such as an article in a peer-reviewed journal, a treatment protocol, an app or a scale model. Finally, there are financial interactions in the form of contract research or facility sharing.
Formulating the vision
Formulating a vision or strategy facilitates the management of valorisation. The point of departure is the mission or objectives of the research project or research group. This is the basis on which specific practices, stakeholders and partners can be identified and links between the research and practice can be established. All these activities can be seen as providing answers to the questions why (for what purpose), what, for whom, with whom and how.
Strategies are not engraved in stone. It is important to respond to any major changes in the research, the research group, the partners, the statement of the problem or the procedures followed. This applies to the valorisation as well as to the research. If the situation changes, it may be necessary to change the plans. There is nothing wrong with that: adaptability is a sign of vision.
The internal organization of valorisation
The relationship with external parties is a key consideration in the formulation of the vision. But a vision also requires decisions concerning the situation within the research department and the relationship of the department with the rest of the institute. Who has the final responsibility? What impact does that have on the assessment of research staff and of the research carried out by the department? Who can provide support in important matters that exceed the competence of the research staff and the department, such as drawing up contracts or selection of partners? Setting up robust internal policies and valorisation facilities can help here.
In other words, it is not enough to develop a vision on valorisation. Measures and conditions that facilitate and promote valorisation also need to be in place. These are matters that the organization can arrange or support, and some organizations have already gone a long way towards putting this into practice. To put it briefly, most of the measures required come down to division of tasks and hence of HR policy and practical and organizational support, much of which can be provided by technology (or knowledge) transfer offices. These matters will be explained in greater detail below.
Tip Check on existing agreements and scope for further measures within your own organization.
Differentiation of tasks
Even though valorisation is a task for all research institutes, not every department or staff member will share equal responsibility in this matter.
The parties concerned can reach agreement about the precise details of valorisation and the division of tasks involved, just as in the case of any institution charged with teaching, research or administrative responsibilities, such as a university department that enrols more students, engages in more frequent international collaboration or wins more research grants thanks to its excellent results. Personal talents may also vary widely: one member of staff may perform more administrative duties, another may teach more, while a third may publish more in leading peer-reviewed journals.
It follows that the way valorisation is implemented will vary from one department to another and from one researcher to another. It is impossible to find a one size fits all solution.
Valorisation is a group responsibility
It is advisable to regard valorisation as a group responsibility and to arrange the division of tasks to support this. This will often already have been done in practice. Some staff members already collaborate more often with external partners, while others engage in fund-raising activities or make more frequent media appearances. They are thus already engaged in activities that fall under the heading of valorisation, though this may not always be recognized.
Innovational Research Incentive: researchers receiving Veni grants are responsible for their own utilisation
The NWO Innovational Research Incentive Scheme (Vernieuwingsimpuls in Dutch) offers individual research grants to creative, talented researchers. There are three different categories: Veni, Vidi and Vici grants. One of the criteria for all these grants is knowledge utilisation (the term used by NWO for valorisation) The Vidi and Vici grants offer senior researchers the opportunity of employing one or more junior researchers to work in their research teams. The Veni grant for researchers who have recently gained their doctorate does not include this option. It follows that these researchers bear the sole responsibility for implementation of their research plans and for the resulting knowledge utilisation. While the holder of Vidi and Vici grants is also responsible for these matters, other team members can also share some or the major part of the work involved.
Valorisation is included in the formal task description
The HR policy of a research organization plays an important role in determining the division of tasks. Valorisation and societal relations are included in the task descriptions of all staff covered by university collective labour agreements, apart from PhD students. It follows that for nearly all academic staff in universities, universities of applied science and research institutes governed by NWO and KNAW the possibility exists to have valorisation as (part) of their formal task..
Some institutions have developed special valorisation or innovation tracks for researchers who are heavily committed to valorisation. Different agreements may be made with these researchers, and their work may be judged on the basis of other results or efforts.
Valorisation or innovation track
Scientists should be enabled to turn ideas into practical applications that can benefit society, just as they receive grants for performing doctoral research. This consideration led Gerard Pasterkamp, professor of Experimental Cardiology at the University Medical Centre (UMC) in Utrecht, to come up with the idea of the valorisation or innovation track. “It should be possible to evaluate and reward researchers in new ways. This idea has led us at the UMC to develop a “valorisation or innovation track”. We started on this programme in development this year
(2013). In this new approach, we don’t just evaluate our researchers on the basis of the number of publications they produce and the impact of these publications, but we also consider what they have done to make the results of their research usable for society. The UMC has started to include a valorisation or innovation profile in requirements for associate professors. Good researchers who don’t produce quite so many publications, but whose results lead to clinical applications, and/or applications that companies are interested in must also be able to advance in their career and possibly become professors in due course.”
Peers value valorisation
One consequence of the division of tasks is that researchers want recognition for the part they play in valorisation. HR policy could play an important role in bringing this about, but peer opinion – which may find expression within the researcher’s own department, in selection and promotion procedures or in external situations such as grant applications – is crucial. One important aspect of an agreement on the division of tasks is that researchers should recognize and appreciate one another’s efforts and results with regard to valorisation.
Most universities have departmente that can facilitate or support valorisation, such as technology transfer offices and science shops.
Tip Check what kind of support is already available in your own institution.
Technology transfer office
All Dutch universities and some universities of applied science have a technology transfer office with a great deal of know-how in the field of valorisation. The staff of these offices includes lawyers, business developers, fundraisers and subsidy consultants. This does not mean that the universities and universities of applied science in question have already solved all problems associated with valorisation – far from it! The technology transfer offices do not implement valorisation themselves, but they can support it. They can use the experience they have gained in previous transfer projects – on such matters as drawing up contracts, negotiating with companies, developing a business plan or finding possible partners – in supporting new forms of collaboration, knowledge exchange or transfer.
Science shops and Academic Workshops
The science shops attached to Dutch universities work closely with and for a variety of societal organisations. Neighbourhood improvement groups, pressure groups or campaigning groups can and do bring many questions of scientific interest to these science shops.
Academic Workshops are regional associations of universities, universities of applied science, university hospitals and other healthcare institutions where valorisation plays a key role. While these Academic Workshops differ in many respects from science shops, both types of organizations offer an infrastructure for collaboration.
Towards implementation of the vision
Many researchers already work together with societal partners or with research groups from another discipline. This sometimes occurs in the slipstream of the research, sometimes because societal partners express interest in it and often simply because researchers enjoy this way of working.
Much research is not just aimed at increasing our understanding of the world but also at bringing about change or making a contribution outside one’s own discipline. Far from everyone is aware that this second way of working actually represents valorisation.
This chapter can help research groups to recognize what has already been done in the field of valorisation, to decide what still needs to be done and to implement these plans in practice. The key requirements here are arranging for support when necessary, assigning tasks and – last but not least – giving credit for valorisation where credit is due.
This e-publication is an initiative of the Rathenau Instituut and part of the projects 'Valorisation as knowledge process' and 'Valorisation in the social sciences and humanities.'
Authors: Leonie van Drooge and Stefan de Jong
Web-design: Herbert Boland
Images: through the interviewees and Wikimedia
Please cite as: Leonie van Drooge and Stefan de Jong. Valorisatie: onderzoekers dan al veel meer dan ze denken - e-publicatie met voorbeelden en handvatten om zelf valorisatie te organiseren.The Hague: Rathenau Instituut, 2015.