Learn about our collaboration platform, konfer
- Published: Tuesday, 10 May 2016 12:05
- Written by National Centre for Universities and Business
In 2016, the National Centre for Universities and Business with partners at HEFCE and Research Councils UK will launch konfer, an intelligent brokerage tool that has been created to improve the ease with which university-business collaboration can be enabled and maintained.
Driving the creation of such a tool has been a commitment to open up collaborative opportunities within our world leading universities to even more businesses. Traditionally the preserve of large corporates with the capacity to search out and connect with different universities, smaller companies are underrepresented in interactions with the university research base.
In a knowledge-based economy, business-led innovation is an area of increased focus. More businesses will need to identify new, innovative solutions through collaborations with new partners such as universities.
The entire UK’s university research base presents an extraordinary array of opportunities that are increasingly being utilised by businesses. From the latest in research outputs to access to cutting-edge facilities and equipment, universities are becoming natural collaboration partners. But for a small company wanting to collaborate and innovate there are almost too many doors to knock on to seek out expertise. Simply knowing where to start can be overwhelming.
Konfer has been created to support innovative companies to look in and identify opportunities for collaboration across the entire university research base. It will enable businesses, charities and cultural organisations to identify an array of collaborative opportunities including researchers, facilities, funding and support. But it is hoped that konfer becomes a two way exchange where it is used by universities, and in particular academics, to find opportunities to work with businesses.
This idea of exchange underpins the konfer name – which plays on the idea of active dialogue, communication and conferring between two parties with a focus on knowledge development (hence the use of the k to form konfer). The logo motif for konfer reinforces that this dialogue is active and dynamic to form connections between different parties.
To facilitate and foster this dialogue and collaborations between businesses and universities, the early aim for konfer has been on the identification of information and data sources that highlight the collaborative opportunities available within universities. Through konfer, users can see in one place the array of different opportunities available in each and every university across the UK. These opportunities extend beyond just research or the researchers undertaking it. Konfer is harvesting information about opportunities to access facilities and equipment available at the university as well as funding opportunities to facilitate research and development activities. This information is all drawn from publicly available sources such as university websites, the Research Councils’ Gateway to Research platform, the equipment.data database that provides the asset register of universities as well as academic profiles from ORCID (a registry of unique researcher identifiers).
Konfer collates the harvested information together and presents back to the user different groups of results (by research, researcher, equipment or facilities, and funding opportunities). Users can see the array of opportunities available to them to collaborate. Like with Google the user is free to search and discover the returned results, and with a powerful synonym library built to refine their search to increase the specificity of area of focus. Konfer has also built in a map function such that the results are presented back to the user by location. Each of the collaboration opportunities have all been geo-tagged and the map view allows users to look at opportunities that might be near to them (or beyond where they normally collaborate).
Much of the early focus with konfer has been identifying and harvesting useful information to highlight the opportunities available to collaborate. However, for both businesses and academics the opportunities will likely to be much more specific and nuanced. Konfer enables specific requests for collaboration to be posted and pushed out to users of the tool. As the community using konfer grows it is anticipated that this will become the dynamic engine room for the tool. Businesses can post collaboration requests that instantly reach all or a subset of universities and academics across the UK. Academics and universities can push out in more targeted ways new ideas and opportunities that can reach all or a subset of businesses using konfer across the UK.
Open to konfer
A key feature of konfer from the outset has been the ability to make connections through the tool. The harvested information is not the end itself. It provides a rich and extensive view of the array of opportunities in universities across the UK but these are enablers to trigger collaborations. Konfer has been designed to enable both business and university users to connect to each other. Each university will have different points of entry and different mechanisms for managing enquires and collaboration requests. The National Centre will work with its university members to make sure that these enquiries reach the right point of contact, but also work to make sure that queries are responded to in a timely fashion. In developing konfer, it has been invaluable to get feedback from universities about how enquires are channelled and directed. Digital tools like konfer can easily organise and group enquiries into different categories matching the offers of an institution or academic. And if a university is not able to respond or does not the capacity to engage, the National Centre will look to triage the query to another suitable university.
Konfer brings together a select set of information and data that is both open and publicly available, but as konfer evolves it will seek to draw in more information sources.
Information about opportunities to collaborate are not just the preserve of traditional science and technology areas but for all domains of a university. Having that awareness of the full array across even one university can be challenging given the diversity of activities taking place. Helping universities on the supply of information is a key area of delivery for konfer and in particular how we harness digital solutions to pull together information from different often disparate sources.
The National Centre and partners are working with knowledge exchange practitioners to support universities promote their opportunities through new channels such as social media. Channels such as twitter and RSS feeds allow universities to push out updates and opportunities that will get pulled into konfer everyday, and showcase the strengths, the achievements and the opportunities that businesses can collaborate on.
Developing the konfer community
As the National Centre looks to launch konfer - attention is switching from one of technology to one of engagement. Any new product, tool or service is dependent on consumers – people or organisations willing to buy or use (or both) the tool. For a relatively niche platform such as konfer usage success cannot be judged in the hundreds of millions of users of a Google or Amazon (there simply are not enough businesses in the UK let alone enough universities to service that demand) but it must become a dynamic (constantly updating) and active (engaged users on both sides) community.
What must it offer businesses?
Konfer must offer opportunities that add value. It must surface new or undiscovered connections. It must be easy to use and navigate. It must provide a means to get as quickly as possible to the opportunities within the university.
What must it offer universities?
Konfer must offer value to their interactions with business. As with businesses, it must surface new connections that might not have been possible without it. Universities will not only want to see it increasing interactions with their academics, but providing a pipeline to develop more strategic partnerships with business.
To achieve this, konfer must invest time and effort into the formulation and nurturing of communities. Whilst it will not have the multi-million pound marketing budgets of Facebook or AirBnb – it must look to foster a shared connection for users. Businesses and university users should feel equals through konfer. It must engendered a shared connectedness. Konfer should be about developing meaningful connections and collaborations. The marketing that supports konfer must be about powerful storytelling that enhance the sense of being part of a dynamic community of collaborators.
Konfer should be showcasing the latest collaborations, spotlighting new types of collaborations and celebrating the benefits being achieved. It must become a community that businesses and universities want to be a part of.
Beginning not the end
In launching konfer in 2016, the National Centre and partners will be seeking to move from an aspiration into an operating and delivering platform. It hopes to open up more businesses and more universities to more collaborations.