The Neuroeconomics Research Group (NRG) is an interdisciplinary group focused on developing improved decisionmaking for the economy and for society. Launched in 2014 and comprising researchers from the School of Management and departments of Psychology, Economics, and Mathematical Sciences, the group had from its conception a desire to engage with individuals and groups from a wide range of areas within industry in order to develop tools and knowledge that could be directly applicable yet based on rigorous scientific practice and theory.
We used project funding to run an engagement event (Creating NRG) that was attended by researchers and representatives from eight organisations. The aim of the event was to identify areas of shared interest and to inform the emerging research agenda of the group.
The full-day event had several timetabled sessions starting with introductions and icebreakers followed by time to ‘set the scene’ of the aims of NRG and of the day. We were aware that some of the industry members might have concerns about intellectual property (IP) and so we invited a specialist from the University’s Research & Innovation Services (Oscar de Mello) who calmed nerves by explaining that IP agreements are very much individualised and are not forced on people by the University.
In the afternoon, we broke into sessions to discuss potential research themes that had been identified before lunch. We had initially planned to have three themes to discuss in groups but it had become apparent in the morning that there were actually two that kept cropping up and so we adjusted the session accordingly. We felt it important to have a flexible manner on the day and to adapt to issues as they arose.
Industry attendees were targeted through existing links with industry; Research & Innovation Services put immense effort into finding new potential members for the Group which paid off. We were concerned that industry members may shy away from collaboration through fear of conceding competitive standing so we tried to invite organisations that weren’t direct competitors. We also made certain that we had a maximum of 25 attendees, small enough to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak to one another.
We chose to host the event at the Bath Royal & Literary Institution as it’s located in central Bath near major transport links and several car parks. It also suited our budget and we felt that an off-campus location would provide a change of scenery and permit more creative thinking.
What we gained from the experience
As a direct result of the event, three projects have emerged, each including academic and industry members from NRG and each of which will permit researchers to develop applicable tools for industry.
The projects involve:
- enhancing social investment in Bath with the aim of Bath becoming a flagship for social investment
- aiding employees in managing cultural shifts within an organisation
- creating tools to empower trustee-level decision-making within charitable organisations
Another event will be held soon so that NRG members can develop further seeds of ideas that came about from the original event and also, to bring in new members.
Through the event, NRG researchers now have direct links to a wide range of industry members. This permits us to bid for funding through a wide variety of schemes including Research Councils and TSBs. We hope that the collaborations will help us to develop not only tools but new understanding and refinement of models predicting human decision-making. Such work could prove a useful REF Impact case study for 2020.
What our partners gained
Industry members were asked at the end of the event (verbally) and via questionnaire three weeks later to provide their feedback on the event and any progress since.
We found a number willing to work with researchers in order to develop tools and knowledge that deliver outcomes directly relevant to their needs (for example, profitability, competitiveness, social impact). Many were wishing to either develop a greater understanding of their employees or to empower employees or pertinent individuals (like board members) in their decision-making strategies.
What we'd do differently
The process of booking a room off-campus was long-winded and it took weeks for the venue to be confirmed which led to some anxious moments! We would suggest that any individual not familiar with Agresso procedures should speak to members of their department’s purchasing team to make sure this goes smoothly.
Our tips for other researchers
The session we held on IP greatly allayed concerns amongst industry members and was a significant factor in the event’s success.
Make sure that you clearly market the collaborative nature of your event. In that way, you’ll likely attract individuals who are positive about collaboration.
Make sure that the language you use is accessible to your audience; some may have a strong understanding of research in your area, others may not. You need to ensure that your communications are understood by all.
In terms of manner, you may find a minority of industry members with a more brusque attitude than you may be used to in academia. Don’t take it personally!