Public Benefits from Public Research

David Phipps (RIR – York) wrote this guest post for  It was originally published on August 3, 2011 and is cross posted here with permission.

I have been invited by the University of Texas School of Public Health, Research Into Action project, to the Centers for Disease Control National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media to debate the position that Canada has a knowledge translation secret. I look forward to this discussion with Stephen Linder (The University of Texas School of Public Health), Pimjai Sudsawad (Knowledge Translation Program Coordinator, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research), and Rick Austin (Research Into Action project), because I get to brag about Canada and our KT successes.

We’ll start from the (debatable) position that Canada has a KT secret. There is an evidence gap here. There are also excellent examples of KT from around the world. Nonetheless, there is a widely held perception that our KT secret has resulted from (or resulted in) public investments in national KT institutions like the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, Canadian Partnerships Against Cancer, Mental Health Commission of Canada, and Canadian Council on Learning, all with a KT mandate. Canada also has ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR), the only national network of university knowledge mobilization units in the world (to our knowledge).

For argument’s sake, let’s accept that Canada has a KT secret – the question becomes why? Canada has a strong history of public institutions. Compared to the US, Canada has less private health care and fewer private options for education from K-12 to higher education. Using General Expenditures in R&D (GERD) as a metric, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown that Canada’s public sector invests relatively more in R&D than does Canada’s private sector. On June 28, 2011 Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council released its report on Canada’s innovation performance in 2010.  The report recognizes that “Canada’s overall business expenditures on R&D lag behind international innovation leaders. These numbers are trending down when they should be trending up.”

Since Canadians invest proportionally more public funding in R&D and likewise have fewer private options in health care and education, I propose that Canadians expect a return on their investments in public research so that research benefits policy and practice in health and education as well as in other sectors. That’s the Canadian socially democratic model.

If this is true, so what? How can we translate this to other jurisdictions? How can other countries create an expectation of public return for public investments in research? Continue reading

Reflections from Paris: old (tech transfer) and new (knowledge mobilization)

Recently I was in Paris (France, not Ontario) for 26 hours. Because we were there for such a short time, all we did was walk and walk and walk and walk for 8 hours and saw as much of tourist Paris as anyone could in that time. On the way we saw gardens, statues, towers and castles. We also saw (but did not go into) The Louvre. Building a modern crystal pyramid on top of The Louvre makes me think of re-branding university-industry liaison as knowledge mobilization (yes, I can make anything about KMb)….it might look new on the surface but underneath it is grounded in history.

As mentioned in 2 previous ResearchImpact video blog postings (here and here), KMb is less like technology transfer (a university push method) than industry-liaison which is the multi-directional connection of research between university expertise and industrial need to research to inform decisions about products and services to be offered to customers (knowledge exchange and co-creation methods). Like KMb, industry liaison is a service that facilitates collaborations between industry and university researchers.

University technology transfer offices need to grow into these new roles while remembering their foundations. In addition to pushing university technologies into the hands of industry, university-based technology transfer offices need to foster university-industry collaborations that result not only in patents and products but in publications, presentations and career opportunities for graduate students. Once university-based technology transfer offices begin to focus on research collaborations and the broader range of university-industry interactions rather than just technology licensing, a world of co-funding opportunities is available to support these collaborations. Funding programs such as NSERC-CRD, CIHR GlaxoSmithKline Partnered Chair, ORF-RE and MITACS Accelerate are available to support the co-production of new knowledge between university and industrial researchers.

The world of university-industry liaison and KMb are beginning to find common ground. RI-RIR presented the first KMb session at the ACCT Canada annual meeting in 2009. This fall, ACCT Canada is working with FPTT and the NCE to host Innovation 2010. Knowledge Mobilization will have its own track at Innovation 2010 placing it on equal footing with sessions on financing and entrepreneurship.

Also this fall is a KT/KM Workshop associated with the Canadian Science Policy Conference.

Knowledge mobilization is emerging as an enabling philosophy for industry liaison and science policy. What started as a term championed by SSHRC, KMb is now finding an intellectual home in those activities that enable the multi-directional connection of university researchers and their collaborators from industry, community and government. Informed by principles of KMb and collaboration, universities and their partners are building an industry liaison pyramid on technology transfer’s foundations. Look for ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche to be telling its story to industry audiences at CSPC2010 and policy audiences at Innovation Partnerships 2010.

See you there (when I return from Paris).

It’s Time for Tech Transfer to Grow Up

Empress HotelACCT CanadaI am posting from Victoria, BC (staying at the lovely, historic Empress Hotel) where I am attending Canada’s national technology transfer conference hosted by the Alliance for the Commercialization of Canadian Technology. I have a few days to reflect on Canada’s technology transfer (TT) industry where I began my story many years ago, my story which was recently told in “From Broker to Broker in 17 short years” posted on Peter Levesque’s blog at Knowledge Mobilization Works! Over the next few days I will join some of my former colleagues from my former lives as we consider the state of the TT nation. This is what I think going into the conference:

It’s time for TT to grow up.

Ron FreedmanTT has done some wonderful things for industry, academia and for society. Don’t just look at the money reported by StatsCan’s “Commercialization of Intellectual Property in the Higher Education Sector” which reported $52M in royalty revenue for Canadian universities in 2007 (Read the report here) but look also at the Better World Project that tells the stories of societal impact of TT. Nonetheless, The Council of Canadian Academies recently released its report “Innovation and Business Strategy: Why Canada Falls Short” (Read the report here). Canada continues to under perform on innovation metrics. This shouldn’t be news but academic TT needs to examine its role in this innovation system. Canadian institutions spent $41.8M to generate the $52M in royalty revenues ( not to mention all the investments in managing research contracts, Material Transfer Agreements and Confidentiality Agreements and support for internal and external legal counsel. The system isn’t running on all cylinders, or, as Ron Freedman of The Impact Group says, we need a new paradigm for research and innovation (

It’s time for TT to grow up.

Luc LalandeBy this I mean it is time for TT to grow, expand and explore new value propositions. The unilateral push of patents into the hands of industry is only one space where the university and industry interact. It’s time the talented TT workforce applied its skills in brokering university-industry relationships to the many other spaces of university-industry engagement. Some universities already take a more holistic view of these spaces. The Co-operative Education & Career Services administers the co-operative education system for the University of Waterloo. Luc Lalande (@LucLalande) at Carleton University spends only about 5% of his time pushing patents out the door. The other 95% of his time he is supporting innovation and entrepreneurship of his faculty and graduate students. Penn State recognizes the broader roles of university-industry engagement in local innovation systems ( and the Rochester Institute of Technology has set up a centre to support student lead innovation ( Look for York University to soon launch Innovation York that will learn from may of these experiences and develop a hybrid of technology transfer, industry liaison and knowledge mobilization.

Innovation ReportAs we described in Evidence & Policy, KM isn’t a discrete activity but a suite of services. Why do we continue to rely on TT as the principle means of mediating the university-industry relationship? Imagine the potential for impact if we further increase the flow of people, ideas, money and materials between universities and industries by allowing the substantial talents of the TT workforce to support a broader range of university-industry engagement. Imagine the increased quantity and quality of industry matching research grants from CIHR, NSERC, OCE and yes, even SSHRC whose business, management, finance, legal and design scholars are very much relevant to industry.

As I previously wrote (KM & TT: Chapter 3), TT has something to learn from KM and that is why I am here at ACCT. Over the next 2 days I’ll blog and I’ll tweet (@researchimpact) from the conference. In addition to re-connecting with old friends I’ll be looking for new ideas and new friends who I can grow up with. I’m ready to grow up.

Are you?

Knowledge Mobilization & Technology Transfer – Chapter 3: KM as an emerging paradigm for university-industry engagement (and a shout out to Bea Arthur)

No, I haven’t forgotten.  On October 2, 2008 I posted chapter 2 in the series KM & TT (read it here) and now, better late than never, Chapter 3.  I have previously written about how KM and TT are different but there is a common ground where TT officers and knowledge brokers might find they have something in common.

As part of my preparation for this post I tweeted the following on July 31:

1. Simplified: knowledge mobilization is an iterative 2 way socialized exchange that fosters collaboration between researchers and community

2. Simplified: technology transfer is a 1 way push of university research to industrial licensee(s)

3. If knowledge mobilization is analogous to dating then tech transfer is analogous to what?  Suggestions please…

There are many names by which university Tech Transfer Offices (TTO) are known but among them is the name “”University Industry Liaison Office” (UILO).  In a brief phone survey of colleagues in Canadian TTO/UILO I inquired about the balance between tech transfer (the push of patents to licensees) and industry liaison (the brokering of research based relationships between university and industry).  The balance was overwhelmingly on the business of patents and licensing and much less on the active brokering of research collaborations, which is surprising when you look at the stats. In 2006 research contracts attracted $286,667,000 for Canadian university research compared to $59,689,000 received for commercialization of IP (Statistics Canada).  However these relationships generate more than just money.  University industry collaborations are eligible for matching programs from NSERC, CIHR and OCE and provide great training opportunities for graduate students. They also contribute to the university’s reputation.  Furthermore, university-industry engagement doesn’t need to start with IP for science & technology companies.  Companies that derive their inputs from social sciences and humanities (management, law, finance, cultural and heritage industries) account for $696 billion of annual GDP output for Canada exceeding by half the GDP output driven by firms associated with science, technology, engineering and medicine ($431 billion)( Universities can support the broader innovation system by engaging their fine arts departments, business schools, law schools, computer science departments and service learning units with local business and support business and process solutions as well as technology and product opportunities.  But with this opportunity comes a responsibility to invest in and develop an institutional capacity for knowledge brokering (KM and industry liaison) as they currently do for technology transfer.

P&G connect + developAs Larry Huston (who led Procter & Gambles P&G Connect Develop) said, “What we’re talking about is moving from inventing to connecting” ( which is what KM is all about.  With its focus on brokering research based relationships through connecting not inventing, KM is an emerging paradigm for university-industry engagement across the broader innovation system.

Bea ArthurBy the way, in response to my tweeted question, @luisemarie weighed in suggesting that if KM is dating then tech transfer is a forced marriage.  I suggested that if the IP is owned by the institution this is likely correct but if the IP is inventor owned perhaps it is more like an arranged marriage.

Let’s send our faculty out on more research dates and support more of these research marriages. Bea Arthur played Yente the Matchmaker in the premiere of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway in 1964. Let’s hire more Bea Arthurs for research and as the song says:

♫“Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match…”♫

Federal Partners in Technology Transfer Welcomes ResearchImpact


John Biles, Director of Partnerships and Knowledge Transfer for the Metropolis Project (on the left)

Craig McNaughton, Director of the Knowledge Mobilization and Program Integration Division at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (on the right)

Peter N. Levesque, Director of Systems and Operations at Knowledge Mobilization Works (second from right)

David Phipps, Director, Research Services & Knowledge Exchange, York University and ResearchImpact (third from left)

What do all these guys have in common? We all shared the stage at the opening plenary panel at the annual meeting of the Federal Partners in Technology Transfer. “The Federal Partners in Technology Transfer (FPTT) initiative is a unique example of people in Canada’s federal science-based departments and agencies (SBDAs) working together to establish common approaches, practices and policies to effectively transfer research and technologies from government laboratories to the private sector”. The theme of the 2009 annual meeting was “Marketing and Mobilizing Your Technology” and ResearchImpact’s David Phipps was invited by FPTT to organize their first ever session on knowledge mobilization.

This session brought together perspectives on KM from the university (York), a federal funder (SSHRC), a long term (+17 years) project housed within a federal Ministry (Metropolis) and the private sector (Knowledge Mobilization Works!) so that technology transfer professionals could begin to appreciate connecting research to application outside of patents and licensing.

This session built on an earlier Mobilize This! blog entry about the differences between technology transfer and commercialization. Common themes that arose from our discussions were the need to connect research to application and we dug into the use of web 2.0 technologies and other tools to support this. We also had some discussion on evaluation (a recurring topic).

My feeling is that while there is interest and appreciation, the job of a technology transfer officer is specialized. The skills are transferable to a knowledge mobilization setting but unless the technology transfer office changes it’s mandate to embrace a broader concept of innovation and supports a broader range of partnerships with industry (beyond patents, licensing and company creation) technology transfer and knowledge mobilization will continue to be on opposite sides of the coin instead of on a continuum of research support services.

Thank you to FPTT for the invitation. This was ResearchImpact’s first opportunity to engage the technology transfer profession.

Knowledge Mobilization and Technology Transfer– chapter 2

Last time in KM and TT- Chapter 1, I described how KM and technology transfer are frequently compared as analogous services offered to our faculty. I also described how they are similar. This blog entry describes how they are different. To recap, since the passage of the U.S. Bayh Dole Act enacted on December 12, 1980, (P.L. 96-517, Patent and Trademark Act Amendments of 1980) academic institutions have increasingly supported university-industry partnerships through technology transfer (TT). An entire university-based industry with professional associations has grown world wide including the Association of University Technology Managers and the Alliance for the Commercialization of Canadian Technology. TT seeks to commercialize the results of (mainly) science & technology research that can be patented, licensed to a company and brought to the market in the form of new products and services. In turn the successful company pays the university back in the form of royalties (cash) and equity (in the case of a new company). Assuming readers have a base knowledge of KM (or else why read this blog) I am not going to review KM but suggest you watch our KM presentation here.

The table below shows the differences in almost every aspect between KM and TT. This in part reflects the different stages of development of KM and TT as professions but also reflects the fundamental differences in their audiences, processes and objectives. TT is a monetized transaction using a producer push method to find a licensee in a linear process: invention disclosure, due diligence, patenting, technology marketing, license negotiations, license agreement, product development, product marketing, product sales, and royalty payments to university. KM is an iterative process that creates sustained relationships between researchers and research users so that research and evidence can be available to inform decisions. There are no formal tools, formal training nor professional associations for KM (yet).

There is a role for the commercialization of (i.e. making money from) social sciences products such as survey instruments and the commercialization of humanities products such as books and films but this is not knowledge mobilization.

Stay tuned to this blog for the final entry in this series that discusses a better science & technology analogy for KM.

Knowledge Mobilization and Technology Transfer– chapter 1

Every public research institution in the country has a technology transfer (TT) office or is a member in a technology commercialization network that provides services (commercialization, due diligence, patenting, licensing and company creation) to researchers seeking to connect their research with the private sector to bring new products and services to the benefit of consumers. Knowledge mobilization is a novel service being offered by York and UVic to researchers seeking to connect their research to research users so that academic research can inform decisions about public policy and professional practice. KM is often referred to as a service analogous to technology transfer. While there may be analogies the two services are sufficiently different to warrant critical separation of the two concepts. In a series of brief blog postings, ResearchImpact will differentiate the services offered by technology transfer and knowledge mobilization.

Let’s start with the similarities- KM and TT managers both act as brokers between research/researchers and research users. The audiences may differ (TT speaks primarily to the private sector and KM to the public and voluntary sectors) but the role of brokering relationships between the academy and non-academic audiences is similar. The TT and the KM manager seek “receptors” for academic research (in part) through a producer push methodology [see John Lavis, Suzanne Ross, Christopher McLeod and Alina Gildner (2003) Measuring the impact of health research: assessment and accountability in the health sector. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy 8(3): 165–170] and seek to forge sustainable relationships between researchers and research users; however, the form of these relationships and the means to sustain them differ.

Furthermore, locating TT and KM within research projects or research units (i.e. TT only for the life sciences or KM only for immigration and settlement) fails to maximize the economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts of academic research. KM and TT need to be developed at the institutional level.

Stay tuned to this blog for more musings about TT and KM.