This information_greenframework is designed to support universities / PRIs in their efforts to stimulate greater utilization of their knowledge for social and economic development. It consists of a self-assessment tool, an action guide, a community of practice and a resource centre.

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Traditionally, universities have focused on two main missions: teaching and research. However, beginning in the early 1990s, there has been increasing calls for universities to demonstrate their relevance to society and particularly, their contribution to social and economic development. Due to dwindling resources and a long list of competing priorities, public funding to universities has come under increased scrutiny with policymakers requiring universities to be more attuned to the national developmental needs, show their social relevance and more importantly, find ways of supplementing limited government funding. This twin challenge – the need to demonstrate social relevance and generate additional income – has put universities under immense pressure from different segments of their constituency, each with their own set of demands.

The need to respond to these pressures has led to the notion of a new type of university described either as the “developmental university” or “entrepreneurial university”. Such a university, it is argued, will engage more directly in national development and espouse an entrepreneurial culture that leads to wealth and employment creation. It is this increased call to universities for more social relevance that has been embodied in the catch phrase, “the third mission.” The precise definitions of the phrase vary from one university to the next and from one context to the other, but one common thread flows through all the definitions: the need for universities and public research institutes to take on a more prominent role in stimulating and facilitating the uptake and utilization of knowledge development.

The transition to knowledge-based economies has shifted the focus to the role of knowledge a key determinant in the competitiveness of firms, organizations and nations. Consequently, policymakers and development practitioners are now paying keen attention into the processes of knowledge generation, sharing, application and translation into economic or social use and particularly its relevance to the productive sectors. This shift, coupled with the emergence of new science-based technologies has thrust universities/public research institutes to the centre-stage of the knowledge economy. It is expected that universities and public research institutes should generate knowledge and technologies for eventual uptake and commercialization by the private sector.

It is largely assumed that knowledge is generated at the universities/research institutes and transferred to the private sector/industry, which absorbs and turns it into products and services that drive the economy. This basic assumption – universities make, industry takes – is premised on the suitability of the universities/PRIs to the task of generating such knowledge; the existence of mechanisms for sharing it with the private sector; and the capabilities of the private sector to harness and translate such knowledge into commercial products and services.

While knowledge is being generated at the universities and research institutes, the processes and mechanisms for sharing with/transferring them to the private sector and other actors outside the academia has remained a key challenge. This has led to the central question that underpins this framework: How do we foster greater private sector – academia partnerships in order to accelerate innovations? This framework is designed to support universities/PRIs in their efforts to stimulate greater utilization of their knowledge for social and economic development.

In 2013, The Scinnovent Centre obtained a grant from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) for a regional study “Developing a framework for strengthening the linkages between universities/public research institutes and the private sector in Africa.” The study was implemented in partnership with the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) in Kenya and the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) in Rwanda. The study sought to provide a framework that can be adapted by the universities/public research institutes in developing strategies and action plans to enhance uptake of research outputs and strengthen their linkages with the private sector.

The need for such a framework was born out of the realization that whereas on the one hand, African Universities and research institutes churn out new research outputs (technologies, processes, services, organizational forms etc) that could benefit the private sector, and whereas on the other hand the private sector seeks solutions to their routine challenges as well as trying to break into new areas, they are not accessing the research support (in form of skills and expertise) nor the outputs of research (in form of inventions, technologies, products, processes or services) from the institutions of higher education and research.

The findings of the study showed that:

  1. The private sector acknowledges that universities have some of the best brains, equipment and infrastructure that they could harness to enhance their competitiveness in the market.
  2. The private sector have indicated their ability and willingness to pay for consultancies, contract research or even partly finance joint research projects with the universities as well as commercialize research outputs from universities.
  3. The private sector consider the long delays and casual approach to service delivery from the universities and research institutes as “off-putting”.
  4. Nearly all the universities and research institutes have accepted and integrated the “third mission” in their institutional fabric. Terms such as “Innovation”, “entrepreneurship”, “extension” or “community outreach” are now part and parcel of the vision and mission statements of most universities;
  5. Governance structures of most universities and research institutes have been revised to accommodate this new focus on the third mission, with top level management positions at the level of Vice Chancellors created/re-named to include innovation, entrepreneurship and community outreach.
  6. Most universities have developed institutional intellectual property rights (IP) policies with explicit provisions for commercialization of research outputs, including ownership and benefit sharing arrangements between the researchers and their host institutions.
  7. The institutional IP policies have led to the creation of intellectual property management offices (IPMOs) or technology transfer offices (TTOs) whose main role is to support researchers in obtaining IP protection, liason with potential technology licensees, enabling creation of new enterprises as well as leading capacity building efforts in innovation and entrepreneurship.
  8. The universities and research institutes are also creating enabling infrastructure to support innovation. These include incubators and science parks that are fast becoming a common feature of every university in the region.
  9. Commercialization is already taking root, and in a number of cases universities have already licenced technologies to the private sector; entered into manufacturing sub-contracts with industry; built their own manufacturing and distribution plants or purchased whole factories as a means of commercializing their research outputs.

In effect therefore, there are on-going attempts by the universities to reach out to the private sector and commercialize their products. However, these are still scattered efforts that are more exceptions than the rule and every university or research institute are experimenting with different approaches/models. The experiences and lessons are as varied as the cases where these have been attempted.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the private sector may be nascent in some countries and much stronger in others, but in general the private sector is growing and getting stronger in most countries. This presents an opportunity for universities and research institutes to ensure the knowledge they generate is harnessed and applied to solve the continent’s developmental challenges. In effect, the “knowledge market”, though small and in many cases fragmented, exists. It just remains to be configured and tapped, and that is where the real challenge lies. The intention of this Framework, therefore, is to bring together all the scattered examples, lessons and experiences into one common resource and make it freely available online (and offline) to be accessed and used by all universities and research institutes interested in strengthening their linkages with the private sector and deriving benefits that would accrue from such a strong relationship.

We simply define a “framework” as a way for people to think about a concept or topic in a systematic way. It is a way of pulling different information together into one resource and providing a way for people to think about the issues coherently and use the information to apply it to different scenarios and contexts, towards a stated purpose. In so doing, we draw inspiration from the works of Erving Goffman (1974) who has defined framework/frames as “principles of organization which govern the subjective meanings we assign to social events”. Through these principles, fragmentary information are transformed into a structured and meaningful whole. Rein and Schon (1993) summarize the definition of a framework as “a way of selecting, organizing, interpreting and making a sense of reality” thereby “providing guideposts for knowing, analysing, persuading and acting.” 

In the Third Mission Framework, we pull together fragmentary information, lessons and experiences drawn from in-depth research focusing on universities and public research institutes. The Framework presents a wealth of knowledge derived through interviews with top university managers, intellectual property management officers, individual researchers and in-depth case studies of successful commercialization efforts in the universities and research institutes. We are confident that the ideas and suggestions presented in this Framework cover experiences from a much broader geographical spread and could equally be applied in a broader context, with particular emphasis on sub-Saharan African universities and research institutes.

The framework consists of four inter-related parts:

Self Assessment Tool

This is a subjective tool intended for reflection and action based on individual or group responses. It consists of a set of statements covering four key domains namely: (a) Technology and knowledge transfer (b) Policy, strategy and governance (c) Stakeholder engagement and (d) Culture, institutions and capacities. The users respond to these statements in a Likert scale of 1 – 5. Their responses are captured and results displayed graphically on a radar chart. The radar chart is accompanied by the “interpretation of results” which explains what the responses mean and helps the users to understand/interpret the chart.

Community of Practice

This is a community area where users can log in, ask questions, post comments, answer questions and enrich the Framework. This section is moderated and is designed to allow for interactions and exchanges amongst a community of practitioners facing similar challenges and experiences. Depending on interests and concerns, we envisage that sub-communities will emerge based on practitioners’ areas of expertise and interests.

Action Guide

The guide is aligned to the results of the self assessment and gives suggestions on the steps to be taken by the users in order to address their weaknesses as identified through the self assessment. It defines “what needs to be done” (the action area); “why it should be done” (the rationale) and “how to do it” (the practical steps). The guide is further linked to the resources centre where users can find case studies, examples and additional literature on the suggested actions

Resource Centre

This section houses case studies, testimonies/shared experiences, examples and other literature on the various topics. It acts as a repository of good practice on what has worked and what hasn’t. The resources include photos, videos, documentaries, moderated discussions, synthesised reports etc and will be categorised and grouped according to the four domains of the framework. It is envisaged that as interactions in the community of practice takes root, members will volunteer more resources based on their experiences and these will be added to enrich the resources centre. These resources will be fully open access and registered users will use them freely.

Domains of the Framework

The Framework consists of four key domains which universities and research institutes need to address in order to strengthen their linkages with the private sector and enhance uptake and utilization of their research. These domains include:

Knowledge and Technology Transfer

In most cases the knowledge, the capacities and infrastructure exist but they are not optimized due to organizational, institutional and cultural limitations. Staff and student engagement in knowledge and technology exchange with key stakeholders, particularly the private sector, is limited and in most cases unstructured. This domain covers: Licensing of intellectual property rights; start-ups and spin-offs; technological infrastructure; role of technology transfer offices; financing; social innovation/enterprise and staff/student engagement.

Culture, Institutions and Capacities

The institutional incentive and reward structures are often sub-optimal in stimulating the desired innovative and entrepreneurial culture amongst researchers and other staff in the universities and research institutes. The academic culture that views knowledge as a “public good” that should be shared freely stands in conflict with the entrepreneurial/commercial culture that views knowledge as a “private good” that should be protected and commercialized. Besides, while the technical capacity often exists, the soft, innovation-enabling skills are always lacking, particularly in the technical faculties. This domain covers: competencies and capacities; workload policies/practices; recruitment and promotions; career progression; awards and rewards; recognition and prestige; incomes and other incentives

Policy, strategy and governance

The universities and research institutes have embraced the third mission in their vision and mission statements as well as in their governance structures. However, this high-level commitment is not being translated into institutional strategic plans and annual operational action plans. This means that budgetary, organizational and administrative arrangements are rarely put in place to back up the policy statements and as such implementation at the lower ranks of the university (faculty/departments) is undermined. This domain covers: Mission/vision statements; leadership structure; IP/Research policies; procurement; funding; grants management; quality assurance, monitoring and evaluation

Stakeholder inclusion and engagement

Even though the terms “community outreach”, “extension” or “partnerships” have been included in the vision/mission statements and offices with the same titles created, not much has happened in characterization of who these “communities” or “partners” are and an assessment of their current and future needs. By and large, the universities and research institutes have remained disengaged and disconnected from their intended beneficiaries, particularly, the private sector. This domain covers: community outreach; partnerships and collaborations; joint appointments and staff mobility; co-publications and sharing of infrastructure/facilities and participation in networks and consortia.

  • The framework is intended to enable universities and research institutes identify/assess their own situation, and to consider potential areas for action taking into account their specific objectives, needs and contexts.
  • While the framework is freely available to all, users will be vetted and admission to use the framework will be subject to users meeting the criteria for fair and responsible use. The community area will be moderated to eliminate potential abuse such as posting offensive material.
  • To get the full benefits of the framework, it is highly recommended to use the online tool and register at the community of practice platform. However, it is also recognized that not all would-be users may have access to reliable internet connectivity, or that some users may prefer to download and apply the framework offline.

Step 1: Undertake the self asessment

  • All users will be required to register/log in to use the framework. The results of the assessment and the interpretation of the results will be available only to the particular registered users. The registration is simple and easy. Upon registration, all new users are provided with a password which is sent to the email addresses they have provided. After the first log in, they are encouraged to change their passwords for enhanced security.
  • Upon registration/signing in, users can access the Self Assessment Tool. This is presented in four domains: (i) Knowledge exchange and technology transfer (ii) Policy, Strategy and Governance (iii) Stakeholder Inclusion and Engagement and (iv) Culture, Institutions and Capacities
  • The self assessment tool consists of a series of statements about the various topics under each domain. The user records their level of agreement with the statement on a scale of  1- 5 by clicking on the circle marked by the number that best represents their level of agreement.
  • Upon clicking on their choice, the answer is recorded and the statement slides off the screen and a new statement pops up. The process is repeated till all the statements have been rated. At the end of the domain, the following message appears, “Thank you for undertaking the self assessment under this domain. Your answers have been recorded and are being analysed. You may view the results now or proceed to undertake the assessment under a different domain”
  • The self assessment can be taken in parts (i.e. the user can decide to answer questions that relate to a domain and skip the rest) or whole (i.e. the user can answer questions in all the four domains). Whichever way they choose, users still get their results (displayed in a radar chart), an interpretation of the results and suggested actions
  • The self assessment can be taken individually or in groups. If taken in a group, the members should deliberate on the questions and agree on the rating that best represents the group’s consensus on the particular question. The suggested actions should also be discussed by the group and practical steps agreed based on the objectives, context, capacities and resources.
  • The results, interpretation and the action guide will be available only for the domains for which self assessment has been taken. In other words, if you have chosen to take the assessment for only one domain, you cannot access the interpretation and action guide for the other three domains. By design, all the components are linked to the results of the self assessment
  • The results from the self assessment are subjective (i.e. they are personal and may be one-sided) rather than objective (independent, impartial). This should be taken into account when interpreting results and considering action. The framework should therefore be seen as part of a wider process of reflection and change.

Step 2: View results

  • After undertaking the self assessment, users are directed to a results page where they can view the results of their self assessment.
  • The results are displayed graphically on a radar chart. Both the summary and detailed results are presented and users can view the summary by clicking the “read less” button or view detailed results by clicking the “read more” button
  • The radar chart is plotted from the centre outwards on a scale of 1 – 5 where 1 represents low level of agreement and 5 represents high level of agreement. Since all the statements are positively presented i.e. they are affirmative in their tone, it is understood, that a high score represents universities/research institutes strengths and low scores represent weaker areas.
  • BY interpretation therefore, the closer to the centre the weaker the universities/research institutes position in that area and vice versa.

Step 3: Interpretation of results

  • Read the “interpretation of results”. These are explanatory notes on each of the statements in the self assessment tool. Without making any judgment on what is good or bad, the interpretation attempts to give a neutral explanation of each statement and what it may mean for commercialization and enhancing private sector linkages.
  • The interpretation of the results and statements are not intended to sway the users one way or the other but rather help them understand better the importance of each of the statements and how they relate to the third mission

Step 4: Action guide

  • The action guide is a series of suggestions/recommendations on what actions should be taken to address any weaknesses and create missing links or benefit more from strengths and exploit available opportunities.
  • The action guide defines “what needs to be done” (the action area); “why it should be done” (the rationale) and “how to do it” (the practical steps). Rather than prescriptive, the guide is a collection of what has worked in other areas based on experiences of other universities and research institutes. It must therefore be seen as such – a guide – rather than a prescription. Users are advised to consider their current status, their objectives, resources, context amongst other issues while deciding on the appropriate courses of action.

Step 5: Additional help

  • Additional help will be available in the “community area” where users can post questions, ask for clarifications and experts/practitioners in the field will respond. Since the framework will be free/open access, the responses to the questions will benefit from experiences/lessons from the across the world.
  • In cases where some questions may not attract immediate responses from the community, efforts will be made by the moderators reach out to specific experts in the field to respond. Unanswered questions will be posted for discussion by the group for users to share ideas more generally.
  • An offline option is available in excel format which interested users can freely download and use. The offline version has the assessment tool (including the results display in radar charts and customised interpretation), the action guide (customised according to the responses in the self assessment). The offline users can also freely download the additional support materials in the resource centre. However, offline users will have to register and log in to access the community of practice platform.

Step 6: Provide feedback and help us improve the framework

  • This framework is intended as a living document and will be subjected to continuous improvement and review based on user feedback. It will also benefit from users volunteering their expertise to address challenges/questions posted by others; sharing experiences and testimonies and contributing additional resources to benefit other users.
  • Your feedback, views and suggestions on how to make the framework better are very important to us. After undertaking the assessment and interacting with the framework, you will be requested to fill in a feedback form and answer a few short questions about your experience and what we could do to improve the functionality of the framework and enhance user experience.
  • Your views will be treated with utmost confidentiality and your feedback, however critical, will not be used against you in anyway.

Step 7: Download your customized report

  • After taking the assessment, users will be provided with a customized report that details their responses to the various statements; the results of their assessment; the interpretation and action guide. This report will be downloadable in PDF upon completion of the assessment.
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