The University Perspective

Professor Carolin Plewa is the Deputy Dean of Research for the Faculty of Professions and Professor of Marketing and Stakeholder Engagement at Adelaide Business School (The University of Adelaide). An accomplished researcher, Carolin has dedicated more than 18 years to investigating interaction and value cocreation across a myriad of organisations and individuals. Carolin’s research interests revolve around university-business collaboration (UBC); customer engagement; market shaping; and service. Carolin also holds valuable industry experience, making her knowledgeable on both  university and industry worlds. Carolin’s achievements include being shortlisted for the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Awards – Emerging Leader Category. She has received three Australian Research Council Grants and was awarded an inaugural Barbara Kidman Women’s Fellowship from the University of Adelaide in 2013.

What is the role of the Spanning Boundaries agent in the context of UBC?

A true Spanning Boundaries agent wears multiple hats and performs various roles in all stages of a collaborative endeavour. Apart from being an initiator of the joint activity, the Spanning Boundaries agent’s roles span that of a mediator, connector and facilitator in the course of the activity. A critical role is also that of a communicator between the two worlds of university and business, within their  institutions, as well as with the broader society.

What drives the Spanning Boundaries agent?

The main motivation of any Spanning Boundaries agent might vary depending on the profile of the individual and the context in which they act. According to Carolin, the major factor that drives Spanning Boundaries agents to engage in UBC is their desire to have an impact and make a difference with their work. This intrinsic motivation of Spanning Boundaries agents is often complemented by curiosity and desire to discover new angles of their work as well as generate new ideas. From the business side, Spanning Boundaries agents may be driven to engage in UBC in order meet organisational goals around innovation and human capital; or improve the effectiveness of the business. For some, collaboration with universities is also a vehicle to make a difference to society.

How does the organisational position of the Spanning Boundaries agent and their network impact the realisation of their collaborative ideas?

Certain positioning of a Spanning Boundaries agent within an organisation might help to gain additional resources and trust from partners and within the home institution. In some instances, it might also be easier for an academic or professional with a more senior role/title (senior management/leadership) to attract stakeholders to the implementation of UBC activities. However, boundary spanning should and does happen at all levels. It is the Spanning Boundaries agent’s own boundary spanning capabilities and their own network within and outside of the institution that play the most important role in the successful initiation and realisation of UBC ideas and activities.

Having a strong formal and informal network is critical for the identification of opportunities and partnership building. In that sense, it is beneficial to affiliate with peer networks, attend industry and academic conferences, serve as a board member for research/ practice organisations, utilise secondment or expert mobility opportunities, as well as pro-actively engage with the local community.

What else drives the Spanning Boundaries agent?

Apart from intrinsic motivation to engage in UBC, there are a number of organisational mechanisms that can positively influence and further drive boundary spanning activities and the individuals who undertake them, such as dedicated recognition systems, incentives and rewards designed to encourage agents to act; training possibilities to embrace interdisciplinarity and cross-sectoral activities; and systems for internal boundary spanning where the individual is empowered to act, can access relevant information and engage with colleagues from other departments to jointly advance boundary spanning. In academia in particular, it would be beneficial to also encourage practice exchange and shadowing exercises with industry partners, alongside clear guidance that boundary spanning is integral to each academic’s role.

Athored by Alexdra Zinovyeva, Manger EU Projects at UIIN

Image credits: The University of Adelaide