Being a valuable intermediary and a change maker – or Spanning Boundaries agent – requires many different skills, personality traits and types of knowledge. Over the past few months, the Spanning Boundaries team has been hard at work investigating what it means to be a Spanning Boundaries agent, and what is needed to be effective in such a role.

We spoke to a number of boundary spanning professionals and, despite the diversity in their fields and interests, they indicated many of the same characteristics as being important when working on the border between universities and business. Qualities such as persistence, resilience, excellent communication skills and an entrepreneurial mindset were commonly mentioned. One of the UBC professionals even went on to state that having “a little bit of stubbornness” was. Having insights into what is needed to make a success of oneself in this field is the first step towards bridging the gap.

Skills and traits aside, the next important step to becoming a “Boundary Spanning Champion” is to take action. Our Spanning Boundaries Online Forum event at the end of 2020 showcased the activities that different professionals had undertaken. From Film to Computer Science, from research-based to applied sciences – we listened to and engaged in the discussions with those who were making things happen and gained some understanding of how they are doing it.

Opportunities to succeed as a Spanning Boundaries agent abound, and barriers can be overcome with both preparation and agility. Some frequently mentioned barriers that boundary spanning professionals mentioned included bureaucracy; a shortage of resources and funding; as well the lack of an institutional culture that is open to collaboration with potential industry/university partners. The clearing of these barriers requires the Boundary Spanning agent to use problem-solving and effective communication.

Thus, the Spanning Boundaries Project partners have delved into the world of Spanning Boundaries professionals to inform aspiring and practicing intermediaries and consequently help them hone their craft. The journey is only starting – we are excited to bring our learnings to aspiring and practicing spanning boundaries professionals with our upcoming Training Programme pilot-test.

Authored by Catherine Hayward, UIIN