Establishing an Academic-Industry Collaboration
Establishing an Academic-Industry Collaboration#
There is no standard route to setting up an academic-industry collaboration. These collaborations may spring from small organic interactions such as researchers connecting at a conference, or may be driven more ‘formally’ by a partnerships team at either organisation.
Before jumping into a formal partnership, we recommend to first collaborate on a smaller project or task of shared interest. This allows both organisations to see how the other works in practice (rather than any pre-concieved ideas), how you collaborate together and overall ‘test the waters’.
In the case of the Turing-Roche partnership, the two organisations initially collaborated through a weeklong Turing Data Study Group [Tea20].
At these collaborative hackathons, a challenger owner, in this case Roche, provides a dataset and a real-world problem to be solved by a team of researchers from the Turing network. For Roche, the Data Study Group highlighted the research capabilities of the Turing Institute as well as importantly developing the initial relationship between Turing and Roche. This allowed both parties to see that they could productively work together, and spurred on scoping out what became a five-year formal partnership, launched in June 2021.
A new academic-industry collaboration will require developing and scoping a scientific/research strategy. Alongside this, negotiating formal documents will require much discussion, such as legal contracts that consider intellectual property and data sharing. Its important to note here that although academics may have completed similar agreements for their research in the past, there will likely be additional barriers when brokering this with industry. For more detail on developing a contract, governance and more, we recommend this comprehensive Academia-Industry Collaboration Best Practices Guide [ACdK+19] from the Coordinated Research Infrastructures Building Enduring Life-science Services (CORBEL) Project.
In the case of the Turing-Roche partnership, both the Turing Institute and Roche had a mutual commitment to open science principles which helped shape negotiations and set relatively flexible and collaborative terms around intellectual property. The basis of the partnership was also to develop methodologies, rather than developing products or a collaboration on drug discovery, which would likely complicate contracting and therefore may be something you want to consider.
Planning a scientific strategy is also a necessity, allowing both sides to identify what is in scope, generating a research agenda and therefore also who should be involved. This also allows you to identify any background intellectual property on either side. It is important to review this scientific strategy on a regular basis and adapt as necessary in response to ongoing research.
For the Turing-Roche scientific strategy, the partnership approach was to brainstorm potential research topics from both parties to identify areas of common interest. From this a North Star was developed to guide the direction of future research as well as a set of principles such as collaboration and open science which the partnership would operate under. Based upon these the partnership settled on research areas that fitted the priorities of both organisations.
With any collaboration, its important to plan how you’re going to work together. A worthwhile initial exercise can be collaboratively drafting a team charter. This document allows you to map out team structure, who is involved from each organisation and their roles and responsibilities within the collaboration. The activity of creating the charter can also allow you to align expectations and reflect on any cultural differences and ways of working.
In the Turing-Roche partnership, the team charter also formed the basis of their governance model. They developed an initial set of meetings which structured decision making processes for the partnership and running day to day activities:
Joint Steering Committee: Occurs twice a year and brings together all senior partnership members to review partnership strategic direction and to make any high level decisions
Core Meetings: Occur monthly and brings together senior partnership members to discuss strategic activities and get high level updates
Operational Meetings: Occur fortnightly and bring together deputy scientific leads and operational team to ensure delivery of partnership activities
They have since developed other meetings as needed, such as ad hoc strategy meetings to brainstorm new activities, ensuring they are on track for the partnership aims and to consider future opportunities and the legacy of the partnership; lab meetings to bring together the team and all researchers working on the scientific aims of the partnership and facilitate connections; and catch-ups between postdoctoral researchers for sharing preliminary work.
Core Team Membership#
There are a number of considerations for establishing your core team for the collaboration:
How many people do you want from each organisation? Do you want equal numbers from each side?
Do you want to specify the specific amount of time each person will be contracted to work on the collaboration? It may be useful to consider a secondment model.
How will you split different responsibilities, such as operational versus scientific decisions? Who has overall decision making power?
Will core team members be doing the research or only responsible for strategy?
If you hire researchers to work on the collaboration will they need to form part of the core team?
Of course there is no correct answer to any of these considerations and various factors will play a role into this, such as your funding model. It is really key to ensure anyone on your core team does have sufficient time to engage with the collaboration as they will be a key driver for your work and also a champion for the collaboration on their side, particularly in the beginning.
For the Turing-Roche partnership they wanted to ensure parity in their partnership activities, for example ensuring equal representation of Turing and Roche colleagues on interview and funding call panels. Any new substantial project as part of the partnership is also drawn up as a project agreement document for signing on both sides, ensuring expectations are set out clearly and there is alignment.
For the partnership (and indeed most collaborations) project management is essential and the partnership hired a full time project manager for the partnership based at the Turing Institute. Their wide ranging role (from contracting, creating meeting agendas, budgeting, scoping new partnership activities and more) ultimately ensures smooth running of the partnership and that governance is implemented. There is also a project manager colleague engaged on the Roche side which works very well for ensuring consistency.
Additional resources that may also be of use in these planning stages are the Turing Way Project Design Guide and the Ethical Consideratons when Choosing an Open Source Governance Model chapter.