The concept of collaboration is included under the Swedish Higher Education Act as one of the key assignments of the country’s universities. It aims to create the prerequisites to enable academic findings to be of benefit outside of academic contexts. When the Knowledge Foundation refers to co-production this is a more tangible subset of collaboration.
“For us, co-production is about the shared production of knowledge, whereby academia and companies solve problems and work together to attain research findings,” says Stefan Östholm at the Knowledge Foundation.
When research scientists from the academic world work together with experts from the business sector on shared projects, key perspectives are illuminated from different angles: Research scientists learn about the needs and requirements of the business sector. This provides a basis for knowledge development that satisfies not only scientific needs, but also takes in to consideration societal benefit. For the business sector, the collaboration creates the conditions for long-term development by providing companies’ access to the latest research.
“As a research scientist, co-production more rapidly provides you with a focus for your research. This can almost be likened to a reality check.”
Stefan Östholm asserts that the results of all of the projects supported by the Knowledge Foundation over a 20-year period show that co-production drives research forward and leads to research findings. It becomes more relevant and co-production lifts research issues out into the open.
“However, it is important that there is proper collaboration and one should be aware that it requires different roles. The research scientists have their goals and high requirements for scientific quality; they want to publish, qualify and drive research forward. Companies are more interested in their own development and solving problems. It is fully possible to combine these, as long as one is in agreement that different focuses and agendas apply.”
Through co-production, research scientists gain insight in to not only real problems, but also gain access to better and real data for their research. When Blekinge Institute of Technology receives support from the Knowledge Foundation for a research profile to handle substantial quantities of data, it was obvious that it would be advantageous to include companies, such as Ericsson and Telenor, who work with big data.
“If you conduct research on pulp production processes and paper quality, a natural prerequisite is being able to do this in co-production with a few major paper mills. This will provide you with access to resources way beyond what would normally be available.”
An asset for all parties
From a national perspective, research in co-production is also an asset for all parties.
“We are building up research capacity for entire industries, which has tremendous significance for growth and strengthens Sweden’s competitiveness. Co-production is also an efficient means of disseminating knowledge of research findings. It provides more people outside of academia with understanding of the research, and more people become familiar with the research activities, thereby developing their competence.”
Many companies return year after year under the various programmes and projects, as well as different HEIs. Stefan Östholm views this as a measure of the quality that the business community sees in the results of co-production, as supported by the Knowledge Foundation. Companies with a strategic approach to their development keep abreast of events at the HEIs.
“Our experience, having supported co-production for two decades, is that both perspectives create added value and results that would not have developed if the parties had worked separately,” states Stefan Östholm.