Minding the gaps – Mid Sweden University R&D management contracts with municpalities
About this good practice
The innovation system of the Middle Norrland region is atomized or filled with gaps. The diversity of stake holder expectations, coordination of priorities, areas of interest, research calls and needs, has been a challenge for the university. Internal research policies, strategies and not least important, the individual interest of researchers, generated administrative strain, poorly perceived R&D impact, situations of mistrust and at times even disappointment on the local arena. In 2010 the university decided to explore the possibility of reorganizing the management of relations, starting with the municipal arena. The two first ‘contracts’ filling the gaps between academy and municipalities was signed with the two largest towns, Sundsvall and Östersund. Municipal officials were assigned to the task of coordinating internal municipal R&D initiatives. Faculty in the university was informed and primed to adjust planned projects or suggest new ones. Thus covering, unknown aspects or needs expressed by the two municipalities. Next step for the researchers and officials, was writing short research proposal and forward them at joint university-municipal evaluation meetings. If approved, early feasibility projects were financed and kick started. A variety of project has been started. The ‘Contract model’ also generates ‘full’ research proposals funded by external grants. Multiplying funding many times. 2 municipality contracts have become 6, 2021 out of 14 municipalities.
The net annual financial contribution of the parties 2021, was 3 million €, divided on 6 R&D contracts/municipalities. Half of this sum is matching money from the university. The university has been financing a facilitator of the start-up processes, new contracts and coordinate going contracts.
Evidence of success
17 ongoing R&D-projects (2021). 50 projects are finalized and reported 2016-2020. A short summary of evaluation by the Sundsvall municipality (after first 3 year contract : -40 feasibility studies and projects started. -Possibility to recruit researchers with cutting-edge competence to the University. -a model for collaboration that works and strengthens learning between academia and municipalities - Funds multiplied ten times. - Increased attractiveness of university & municipality
Potential for learning or transfer
This contract agreement is probably unique, at least in Sweden. We have not encountered a similar routine, involving a university and municipalities close Swedish universities. This makes us believe we should share the experience with others. The model can bring a fast-paced network of researchers, officials, and companies together. The contract model has developed during a decade and so far it has created a strong commitment from parties involved. At low cost. Results are above expectations. It is of course satisfying to see that municipalities in the region have evaluated the outcome so far and are now signing up with their own agendas, transformed into collaboration agreements with Mid Sweden University. Our method can be tested, adjusted to fit other regions. In a regional development context at a marginal cost. Hire an autonomous capacity, with a relevant network and social competence. Fill the innovation and communication gap!