Recently, much focus has been upon the commercialization of university research within science and engineering through the licensing of intellectual property or the creation of start-up companies. However, it has been argued that a narrow focus on these mechanisms is not justified from a historical perspective, as it fails to ... (Show more)
Recently, much focus has been upon the commercialization of university research within science and engineering through the licensing of intellectual property or the creation of start-up companies. However, it has been argued that a narrow focus on these mechanisms is not justified from a historical perspective, as it fails to capture many of the ways that university research has impacted society at large. Furthermore, the concept of academic engagement with industry has been recently introduced in the literature on university-industry interactions to stress the importance and the variety of knowledge networks between university and industry—visible through mechanisms such as co-authorship, consultancy, university-industry centers and more—and as a contrast to commercialization of research in the narrow sense of intellectual property and start-up companies.
In this paper we explore academic engagement from a historical perspective focusing on the creation and maintaining of knowledge networks between specific academic and non-academic organizations over several decades. Therefore, drawing on an empirical study of collaborative projects in biomedical engineering we examine the challenges of creating and maintaining knowledge networks between Chalmers University of Technology and the Sahlgrenska University Hopspital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden, over seven decades, between 1948 and 2018.
In our historical analysis, which is based on semi-structured interviews, archival data, bibliographic data, and Ph.D. theses, we apply two broad lenses. First, we look at academic engagement through the lens of collaborative research projects, seeing them as being central for the establishment and configuration of knowledge networks between academic and non-academic organizations. Second, we use the lens of organizational routines—defined as patterns of interdependent actions carried out by multiple actors—applied in collaborative research projects as representations of the configuration of the knowledge network between the actors involved. Furthermore, we pay a particular attention to tensions between the ostensive part of a collaborative research routine— an abstract idea of how it is possible, given a specific situation, to reach a desired situation by performing the action prescribed by the routine— and the performative part of the same routine, which is the implementation of the abstract idea in a given context. These tensions we interpret as challenges in initiating and maintaining the knowledge networks among the involved actors.
We find that the first half of the period can be characterized by the building up and maintenance of extensive knowledge network between the two organizations, mainly through collaborative Ph.D. projects where Ph.D. students are paired, one from engineering and one from medicine. However, during the second half of the period there are increasing difficulties in maintaining the knowledge networks already established. These difficulties can be interpreted as recurrent challenges in pairing and integrating knowledge within engineering and medicine when confronted with a series of institutional, technological, organizational, and generational changes. (Show less)