A word from UIIN, project leader

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.

Boundary spanning agents are key to the collaboration between academia and industry. However, both parties need to be ready to engage with one another for the co-operation to be successful. Here we will examine the concept of readiness with a focus on innovation from the perspective of a single business organisation.

As a partner to the business organisation, it is important for higher education institutions (HEIs) to understand the barriers that prevent successful collaboration. Gaining the perspective on HEIs’ collaborators will also help guide HEIs in the process of understanding their own readiness to collaborate with this actor. The barriers related to three types of readiness are assessed here, namely internal, technological and collaboration readiness. Each of these come with their own barriers and challenges.

Internal readiness

Challenges and barriers need to be overcome for successful organisational change or innovation. Organisational change depends on the internal characteristics of the organisational structure, and external characteristics of the organisation.

Often in literature, the barriers to organisational change on a cultural level are described by assessing the resistance to change. These challenges and barriers can be divided into three categories: structure and culture, resources and communication. Structural and cultural barriers may be related to decision making, staff turnover, short-term thinking, and a culture that is unsupportive to innovation and change. Barriers related to resources may include information overload, lack of an actionable message and poor choice of messenger. Communication-related barriers are conflicting time frames and having limited time for decision making.

Technological readiness

Throughout the development of a new technology, new knowledge and information is created that can be taken up by businesses, whether the business is able to do so will depend on the business’ absorptive capacity. Absorptive capacity can be defined as “the ability of a firm to recognise the value of new, external information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends.”

Absorptive capacity is affected by the company’s technological and organisational capabilities, and its organisational culture. When an organisation increases their absorptive capacity, this makes them more “ready” for collaboration and technology transfer to occur. Therefore, to be “ready to engage” it is important for companies to take these factors into account. Thus, it is necessary for a company to have such capabilities to successfully incorporate knowledge and information from external sources. Barriers that reduce the absorptive capacity of a business include lack of the following: ability to recognise and obtain externally generated knowledge; exposure to diverse external knowledge sources; ability to assimilate and apply this newknowledge.


Collaboration readiness

Being ready to collaborate for innovation entails being ready to innovate from within and first and foremost increasing organisational internal technological and cultural capabilities. Common challenges for the assessment of readiness to collaborate revolve around (1) understanding the critical components and factors for an individual organisations; (2) lack of a standardised “collaborator” profile attributed to a wide range of definitions and types of collaborative activities, their goals and types of arrangements; (3) relative lack of research on the collaboration readiness assessment on the individual level (single organisation). Furthermore, when considering technology transfer as a collaboration dimension among knowledge-driven organisations, barriers include “leadership attitudes, staff resources, organisational stress, regulatory and financial pressures, management style and tolerance for change”.

Understanding the barriers to collaboration means that these barriers can be identified and addressed before they prevent the successful collaboration between businesses and their partners. There is a role for boundary spanning agents in the recognition and the overcoming of barriers that hinder businesses’ efforts to collaborate with partners.

Authored by Catherine Hayward, Junior Project Officer at UIIN

Featured image retrieved from Pexels