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How can we ensure cross sector collaboration?

As part of the SI Drive final conference in Brussels, SIX hosted a session on research and policy, asking how we can ensure the best collaboration between research, policy and practitioners. The key note speakers were Frances Westley, of the J.W McConnell Foundation in Canada and chair of social innovation at the University of Waterloo, Kriss Deiglmeier, CEO of TIDES and Gianluca Misuraca, senior scientist at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.


To many, the world of academia can be an esoteric place. It provides a wealth of knowledge and opportunity but can often struggle to turn this into clear action. Similarly, policymaking is a somewhat incomprehensible field, yet it is one that holds huge significance within society. Both practices are rich in information, and provide parallel paths leading to solutions for some of society’s most pressing challenges.  But it is this long-standing gap and dislocation between the two fields that needs bridging, perhaps now more than ever. Despite the intrinsic links between the two fields, language barriers, communication failures and a lack of suitable platforms go some way in highlighting some of the barriers that impede collaboration between the academia and policy making.

Frances Westley, argued that researchers need to take more responsibility for “making something of their work.” Westley believes that academia needs to extend its role beyond the academic sphere and see beyond recommendations and research knowledge. As a field academia needs to use the knowledge it possesses in more collaborative and innovative ways.

Simultaneously, policy makers work under the constant pressures of certain accountability and risk concerns. Concepts that factor less significantly into academic research and output. Often the language and jargon of researchers fails to resonate with policy makers, who as a result fail to see the relevance of the work being presented.  

If these problems exist, how then do we change these practices and ensure the best collaboration between research, policy and practitioners? How can we ensure every field supports future social innovation in a collaborative way? 

Below are four key learnings from our discussions Brussels that could go someway in fomenting stronger collaborative behavior between  academia and policy makers. .


Challenge the role of academia 

Kriss Deiglmeier, pointed out, that we need start challenging the assumption that academia, as a practice, knows best. There is a strong need to welcome the possibility of learning from and being influenced by external fields. Frances Westley argued that universities need to change the incentive system, where people are punished for being socially engaged, and rewarded for not conforming to modernity – ie publishing as many academic papers as possible. Students and researchers should be rewarded for breaking the mold and being able to speak a different language. And academia needs to start seeing itself as being less isolated.


Use the right language

Research must be translated into frameworks that policy makers can work with . If you speak the language of the audience you are trying to reach, there you will see the impact.. Being aware of and finding language that resonates with others allows new types of conversation and the ability to share the right information in an impactful way. Technology can also help – academics and policy makers could take a huge step forward in overcoming the language barriers that prevent necessary collaborations by using new technologies that many people use. 


Define and introduce incentives for change 

Gianluca Misuraca, highlighted that in order to see change, we need to define the incentives for change. Given that people rarely react well to being told what do to, we need to show organisations and universities the mutual benefit of forming new relationships and help them to organically grow their motivation. New narratives on innovation need to be created in order to facilitate this.


Institutionalizing social innovation?

Gianluca questioned how useful the ‘online Silicon Valley approach’ to social innovation is in Europe. It is isolated, not based on real life and there are as many failures for every success. We cannot afford this in the policy world. Instead we need to make social innovation the mainstream in practice, where we are still learning, but also reducing the risks at the same time. We need social innovation to become more institutionalized to create sustainable impact.