To extend your research’s impact, be bold and collaborate widely
International collaborations expose your work to new and bigger audiences and give you unique opportunities for cross-organisational and interdisciplinary engagement, says Catherine Queen
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International collaborations can offer exceptional opportunities to work with a range of organisations and bring fresh perspectives to a research problem. This has certainly been our experience in our work with Arup and the United Nations Development Programme in our Cities Alive: Designing Cities that Work for Women project.
Collaboration can also mean greater access to resources and research teams. For example, working with the UNDP gave us access to its vast data resource of case studies. In addition, the collaboration benefited from Arup’s offices located in 20 countries and six continents which helped to create a network of global champions to support the project.
Here are five suggestions of how your university can stimulate greater cross-organisational and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Be bold and collaborate widely
Think about engaging with partners from spheres outside of academia. This can create an opportunity to hear diverse voices and build cross-disciplinary engagement. We chose to partner with Arup, a multinational professional services firm, and the UNDP, primarily because of our shared values. However, each of our partners brought access to a different audience. We were able to work across Arup’s professional practice networks and the UNDP’s global development network in order to meet three of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Partners from professional practice can bring an alternative perspective to problems and frequently have additional sources of funding available to them. This project was partly funded by “Arup University”, for example.
Prioritise dissemination across diverse audiences
Think about the opportunities for widening communication at an early stage. Leverage your partners’ networks to be more imaginative about your reach. Working with the UNDP on our project brought introductions to key individuals in the UN’s global regions, resulting in invitations to speak at events such as Re:Think 2022 in China with a live, online audience of 1 million people and 4 million subsequent downloads. That size of audience would be hard to reach through academic routes. Presenting at this scale can also bring in some new, and often surprising, opportunities such as our engagement with organisations such as the World Resources Institute. We also had opportunities to engage more deeply with non-academic audiences through YouTube and a range of global publications and outlets including the World Economic Forum, El Pais and Yahoo News, along with specialist publications like Cities Today and Women’s Agenda. The team were also able to share our work at many levels, from global conferences to local government workshops in the UK. This may not have been achievable without our partners.
Aim for awards recognition
Think about how your project can gain recognition in different fields. Very few partners commence a research collaboration with awards at the forefront of their mind, however this type of recognition can help the team have greater impact and should be considered as part of your communication and outreach strategies. Each partner in a collaboration should ideally be taking the lead in awards relevant to their own professional areas, internal awards and external opportunities. We originally submitted nominations to the Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Awards at the University of Liverpool and the Inclusion Award at Arup, as well as the Royal Town Planning Institute: Awards for Research Excellence, and won them all! Being shortlisted for the THE Award for International Collaboration of the Year has been the icing on the cake.
Think about wider impact
Lateral thinking can help to identify other potential benefits your partnerships can bring to the university. For example, can any aspect of the partnership contribute to teaching and learning outcomes across other faculties? Students can bring fresh eyes and a different generational approach and values to research collaborations. For the students, these experiences can improve their employability skills. The initial research work in our project included working with master’s students, but we have subsequently widened its reach to our undergraduate and PhD communities as well as the new Feminist City Network created within the university by the Heseltine Institute.
There may be other opportunities to demonstrate greater social value by thinking imaginatively about how the partnership can be perpetuated and developed. For example, was there a research thread that could not be accommodated in the original project but could be developed through another collaboration? We have already started to develop some new ideas through the creation of a cross-faculty and cross-disciplinary Living Lab at the University of Liverpool which will build strong links with local stakeholders.
Be open to novel opportunities
Be receptive to unexpected connections and less obvious research areas. To help facilitate this process, think about how you can keep your collaboration energised and moving forward. You can offer to make introductions to other networks and constantly explore new ways to work together. Ideally, you should never allow a highly successful collaboration to end, even though the original project may have reached a conclusion. We are currently using our experience from the Cities Alive: Designing cities that work for women report to ensure that we continue to collaborate with our partners on a local and global level. Meanwhile, the University of Liverpool is already working with Arup to develop a new theme from the original research which will be published in 2024.
Catherine Queen is a lecturer in planning at the University of Liverpool.
The University of Liverpool has been shortlisted for International Collaboration of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards 2023. See the full list of shortlisted candidates. Winners will be announced at a ceremony on Thursday 7 December in Liverpool.
Academics and university leaders from across the UK and Ireland will come together that week at THE Campus Live UK&IE to talk about institutional strategies, teaching and learning, the student experience and more. Join us for this two-day event in Liverpool.