Take the time to collaborate properly

Perhaps researchers are getting the government’s message that they need to collaborate. Perhaps it is the introduction of the CRC-Ps and the short deadlines for the recent finding rounds. Or maybe it’s that we are all watching too much Reality Television and expect instant answers these days. Whatever it is, the CRC Association is getting feedback that industry is feeling rushed. Researchers are proposing collaborations with very short time frames to get an answer.

In my book, going to a company or a research agency with only a week or a month for them to make a decision on whether they support a particular proposal is not collaboration. Collaboration takes much more time and much more understanding of the strategic wants and needs of the company or industry.

In each case where we have had feedback that a company is feeling rushed to make a decision, they have expressed great goodwill to the CRC Programme (or the ARC Linkage Programme where similar comments have been made). The companies are keen to learn about good research. They are keen to discuss their own research needs. They are often keen to collaborate.

But companies have strategies, they have cultures and they have budgeting processes. Before they can collaborate, they need to assure themselves of alignment of these issues. This can’t happen in weeks and may not happen in months. It may take a year or two of discussion before a genuine collaboration is possible.

The process for approval for a collaboration is generally much more complex than many researchers realise. Many researchers have grown up pushing their body clock and their bosses as hard as possible against deadlines. Collaborating with industry is different. A Board in Geneva, Brussels or Beijing does not care that the CRC deadline is looming. Even if a local manager has sufficient budget to support a proposal, she almost certainly won’t have authority to sign off a 7-year contract. The IP arrangements may need several months of discussion after an initial positive reaction.

The message from industry is clear. They want to discuss collaboration. But they don’t want to hear proposals under pressure to support them. By pushing for a quick response, researchers might be damaging their long-term prospects.