Northumbria University: the multidisciplinary approach

Northumbria University: the multidisciplinary approach

Northumbria is building a reputation for finding multidisciplinary solutions to problems.

This case study originally appeared on page 91 of the State of the Relationship 2014. The report outlines the state of university-business collaboration in the UK, featuring expert views and over forty case studies. Read the full report.

One question is constantly at the forefront of everything that Northumbria University does: how can it maximise potential using a multidisciplinary approach?

Northumbria University is a business-focussed professional university that uses a multidisciplinary approach to deliver the best possible solutions to issues faced by businesses. This desire to make sure projects work on more than one level is why it has worked with major companies over the years from Diageo to Unilever and even in the public sector with the Department of Transport.

One of its most successful collaborations came with working with the BBC. The broadcaster came to Northumbria with two problems: how to increase static listening figures on their radio outlets especially among younger people, and whether it is possible to find opportunities for commercial radio partnerships.

Armed with background information on the position of BBC Radio, students conducted in-depth research on the BBC brand, current and future technological capabilities, licence fees, human machine interface and commercial radio. Posters and imagery were produced for each of the research areas, arming students with a collective knowledge.

The students produced an illustrated document that discussed each territory in terms of discovery, unanswered questions, insights and futures concluding with a series of ‘What If’ concepts.

Adam Powers, Head of User Experience and Design at BBC Audio and Music Interactive and Mobile, said: “It has genuinely been a rewarding experience engaging with Northumbria University, their enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and creative insight has been inspiring and I look forward to continuing the relationship.”

Other collaborations that have worked particularly well were with Fendor and Sonoco.

Fendor is a specialist in commercial and specialist glazing. It came to the university wanting to know what its future product range could and should contain – in particular in relation to anti-terrorist strategies such as blast-proof glazing.

A multidisciplinary team from Northumbria University, with experts from law, business and engineering, researched multiple territories, including: standards and legislation, building conservation, new builds, foreign know-how, competitors, and influential bodies and organisations. Smaller teams then conducted more detailed research to gain a better understanding of the potential opportunities and threats, which was used to create new ideas.

The work produced for Fendor not only provided the company with pathways to innovation, but it also helped them to forge relationships with influential bodies, something that is crucial to the development of innovative product lines.

With Sonoco, the university team was tasked with finding new market applications for their existing cardboard tubing product.

Using insights from Sonoco’s catalogue of current applications and a guided tour of the factory, the students set out to discover new areas of potential with an emphasis on large volume applications. Under the headings of transportation, environmental, structural, indoor/outdoor and inconceivable, they generated a high volume of commercially viable, technically feasible and exciting product ideas.

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