Exemplifying societal benefits

The pathways from research to societal use of knowledge are supported by Chalmers strategies and support systems; arranged in five different top-level processes: Research collaboration, Education collaboration, Open Innovation, Venture Creation and Licensing. For each of these there are different levels of support systems.
 
The great variety of societal benefits springing from the strategic research investment, Chalmers Energy Area of Advance, can be illustrated through examples of some of the different paths in which new knowledge is diffused outside of academia.

Researchers1 have shown that individuals’ capacity, or knowledge and skills, are key elements of the utility from academic research and development. They also stress the need of distinguishing between activities (what individuals do) and the impact of these activities (effects in society or a company). Therefore, the illustrating examples fare presented using a framework that captures different activities that constitutes everyday work for an academic researcher and some of the impact that these activities have made outside of academia. The framework includes different roles that researchers can enact in making research useful and originates from a theoretical framework called Technological Innovation Systems2. It is used by Innovationskontoret Väst at Chalmers, an innovation support facility at campus, to communicate various opportunities for researchers when it comes to the utilisation of research, i.e. innovation. Innovationskontoret Väst has made a popular science "definitions" of the different roles and we have used that description below.  

Roles that researchers enact in making research useful

Seven roles are identified in the framework; emphasising different activities carried out by one or a group of researchers, or by an entire organisation. The roles are; researcher, educator, advisor, debater, entrepreneur, infrastructure developer and networker and the framework suggest that it is likely that roles are developed differently, based on personal characteristics, research area, recipients of results within the area and by different traditions of how to work with utilisation.
The different roles are described as follows3:

Researcher
The researcher's role is to conduct research to develop new knowledge (basic or applied research) that others can build on and further develop. In this way the research front is moved and which may provide indications of choices and uncertainties. The role includes being the research leader and to evaluate and supervise others' research. Even publishing, editorial work, conference presentations and article review are included. Research may be publicly funded or contract-based. The latter may lead to result not being official published. It can also be done in collaboration with various stakeholders from academia, public and voluntary sectors and companies. Utilisation is in the form of publishing, but also through interaction with team members from universities, institutes, companies and activities within the public and voluntary sectors.

Educator
An educator creates human capital through formal and informal training related to his/her own research. Training activities can be both reactive, such as a response to an expressed need from one company or industry, and proactive by educating students in a whole new area. The role of an educator also includes designing and developing training programs.
It is through education on undergraduate and graduate level, as well as commissioned education for various types of organisations that probably most research is utilised. The students bring knowledge that can be utilised for a long time into their working life and also disseminated through interaction with colleagues in different activities. This influence is obviously very difficult to measure but is considered to be of great importance.

Advisor
By giving direct advice or be a speaking partner for one or more stakeholders the advisor utilise his or her research-based knowledge. This may be through formal contracts or on more informal basis. The recipients of the advice may come from businesses, public sector, and non-profit sector or from the government. The advisor can act as "gatekeeper", i.e. have detailed knowledge of who can do what in a certain area and thus be able to guide people working to formulate policy instruments. Others may be consultants for business organisations and management teams, or members of boards and committees that make decisions on for example standardisation issues.
In contrast to the researcher the advisor does no longer provide any new knowledge, but uses existing. The advice is also directed towards specific organisations as opposed to the debater who turns to a wider audience.

Debater
By initiating and participating in public debates, the debater tries to influence public opinion. This is often done through media such as debate articles in newspapers, articles in popular science magazines/online magazines, public lectures and discussion programs on television and radio. This requires often a clear position regarding a specific issue or a stated agenda.
Unlike the advisor the debater does not turn to an individual actor but to the general public or large groups such as politicians or industries. Although the debater can be said to "educate" the public on important issues she/he interacts not with specific students as the educator does.

Entrepreneur
An entrepreneur sees commercialisation as the best way to utilise his or her research. This can be done by licensing patents to existing companies or create entirely new businesses based on research. The decision to become an entrepreneur can be based on seeing an opportunity for their own benefit but also on the curiosity and excitement to build something new.

Infrastructure developer
The infrastructure developer creates and facilitates the creation of physical and intellectual infrastructure, tools and techniques and thereby makes research, development and demonstration possible. The infrastructure developer can contribute to the creation of common databases and models, as well as standards, tools, test beds and other special equipment which multiple stakeholders can share and use in different ways.

Networker
The networker creates and manages regional, national or international networks with different types of actors within the same knowledge domain or different domains but with a common interest. The networks may be sponsored by the EU or other funding agencies and be of a formal or informal nature. Sometimes they are linked to demonstration facilities, conferences, seminars and lecture series, centres or committees.
Unlike the adviser who may have knowledge about who knows what, the networker actively works with holding the network together, to create interaction, and if necessary, renew and expand the network.

 

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1e.g. Salter et al., (2000) and Elg & Håkansson, (2011)
2Jacobsson, S.*, Perez-Vieco, E.*, Hellsmark, H. ** and Jacob, M.***
* Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden; ** SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden; *** Lund University, Sweden

3Written by Holmberg, L. Innovationskontor Väst, Chalmers (Roles in Research and Innovation Work, 2012)

Published: Wed 28 May 2014. Modified: Fri 15 Jan 2016