XVI Triple Helix Conference, Manchester, September 2018 – Early Career Researcher Best Paper Awards

Here we present interviews with the winners of the Early Career Researcher Best Paper Award at the XVI Triple Helix Conference held in Manchester (UK) in September 2018, to share their intellectual contributions to Triple Helix studies.
The questions to the winners are joined in four blocks:
• The story behind the research.
• Key factors that drive and hinder cooperation of the Triple Helix actors
• Engagement of different institutional actors in Triple Helix collaboration in specific national and regional settings to make the Triple Helix actors more responsible for the collaboration engagement on regional level;
• Challenges that bring together the Triple Helix actors to address them and to take shared action.


Interviews prepared and provided by
Senior Lecturer and Leading Researcher
Tomsk Polytechnic University
Analyst at Tomsk State University
Tomsk, Russia
Russian Chapter



Winner of the Early Career Researcher Best Paper Award
PhD student in Economics, Management and Organization
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Paper: Personal Networks and Trust in Public-Private R&D Partnerships:


Irina: Sergio, you are the winner of the Early Career Researcher Best Paper Award with quite an interesting study of personal networks and building trust in public-private R&D partnerships. Could you develop a little bit more about the story behind your research?
Sergio: I am part of the RUNIN Project (The Role of Universities in Innovation and Regional Development), a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network (ITN) funded by EU’s Horizon 2020, in which I am developing a PhD thesis about the impact of university firm-collaboration on firm performance and regional development, being placed at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain. When I started my doctoral journey, I firstly tried to look for success cases or benchmarks of university-firm collaborations from my own institution (UAB), and I learned that the partnership with Henkel, the German chemicals multinational, was one of the most relevant and representative cases.
Irina: How did you arrive to understanding that personal networks and trust shape public-private R&D partnerships? Was this partnership with Henkel the first step towards evidence-based practices which shaped this understanding of personal networks?
Sergio: Yes, I started studying this case more deeply to understand its evolution. I was interested in understanding the drivers and/or mechanisms that enabled the success of this partnership. With this goal, I had the opportunity of interviewing people from UAB and Henkel involved in this collaboration, and it then became quite evident that informal factors such as trust creation and personal networks had been determinant in the evolution of this partnership from sporadic consultancy/advise activities to a stablished R&D partnership. This generated a greater interest, on my part, in concepts such as trust and informal networks which I found present in literature from different research streams like management, economics and innovation studies.
After completing my interviews and reviewing other public sources, I could build a wider picture of the UAB-Henkel partnership in both conceptual and practical terms, understanding its history and its outcomes. I could see that personal networks and trust were relevant in some milestones that made this collaboration successful, but also in the partnership day-to-day activities. In this paper, I also studied some of the impacts generated by this collaboration on the company, the university, and the region, which were enabled, to a great extent, by informal factors like personal networks and trust, without ignoring the more formal or institutional factors, which are also there. Moreover, I could also understand that UAB, as a public university, was playing somehow the public role in what was recognised as a public-private partnership by the involved and surrounding actors, which triggered my attention towards the role of personal networks and trust in R&D, or innovation oriented partnerships with the participation of industry, academia, and public sector, allowing me to visualise a link with the concept of Triple Helix.

Irina: Sergio, what are the key factors that, in your opinion, drive and hinder cooperation of the Triple Helix actors?
Sergio: Resorting to a very academic reply to this question, I would say: “It depends”. This is certainly not an easy question, because such key factors really do depend on the characteristics of the cooperation in terms of its goals, its scope (e.g. geographically) and its context. In this sense, for instance, the intensity of – public or private – funding can be more or less critical, or the explicit involvement of societal actors can be more or less necessary, depending on the observed cooperation. However, I think there can be some common key factors that enable the success of TH partnerships:
• Personal networks and trust: Taking advantage of what I have already studied, I feel confident in saying that the informal dimension of TH cooperation is, albeit to different extents, a critical factor for the success of innovation partnerships, especially for enabling long lasting relationships. Here we are talking about the exchange of strategic resources
such as knowledge among different organisations or institutions, and this can only happen smoothly when there is augmented trust among partners and/or when there is a history of personal interactions among people in such partners.
• Commitment and will: A TH partner is not a good partner by just being present or lending a signature in a project contract. Good partners are engaged to the cooperation goals and get involved actively in its development.
• A common agenda: I think that cooperation of TH actors require the emergence of a common agenda. That is to say, a common vision of the cooperation must exist, and actors must be aware of how the cooperation goals contribute to their own objectives. I know this might sound too obvious, but in several occasions, actors aim to participate in partnerships without taking care of aligning the objectives and generating a well stablished common plan. Moreover, this common agenda should reflect on how the cooperation contributes to economic growth and/or social development beyond the individual gains each partner aims at achieving, and TH actors should all be committed to this general aim.
• Flexibility and openness: Developing a long lasting cooperation in a dynamic world implies sometimes changing the route map or plan and adapting to different challenges and situations that might arise. Innovation is an open-ended process which requires a long-term and flexible vision. TH partnerships must define and implement ways to face changes that are likely to occur legally, institutionally, environmentally, technologically, etc.
Irina: Sergio, what then about hindering factors which might create obstacles for cooperation of the Triple Helix actors?
Sergio: In line with the previously mentioned key drivers of TH cooperation, the factors that could hinder it are:
a. Distrust and lack of ‘personal’ interactions.
b. Lack of involvement and low interest.
c. Lack of common goals and agreement.
d. Rigidity and short-termism.
Irina: We always look for the factors of engagement of different institutional actors in TH collaboration. But we also understand that they are quite diverse for specific national and regional settings. How can we make TH actors more responsible for TH collaboration engagement on regional level? What are your ideas on this topic supported by your studies?
Sergio: In principle, actors get involved in TH cooperation based on good will and a common agenda. It is difficult to talk about or observe real engagement at the beginning. In this sense, engagement will only arise and be observable on the way. I would say that an institutional actors engages when 1) understands how the common agenda (objectives) of the cooperation contributes to their own goals and vice versa, 2) gets to know and understands the aims of the other actors as from interacting with them, 3) starts trusting the counterparts, and 4) observes the same understanding and trust from the other actors. In the case of government and academia, regional engagement is somehow embedded in their missions, but in the case of industry, it is important to realise the potential of synergy between corporate goals and regional goals in terms of economic growth for allowing a greater engagement.
Irina: In your presentation you address case contextualisation in the regional dimension referring to smart cities and innovation-oriented development supported by local/regional policies. Could you provide some examples from your own experience on the regional engagement of TH actors?
Sergio: From my own experience, I would like to bring the case of UAB-Henkel collaboration that I study in my paper. In this case, it was clear that engagement emerged, as trust, along the partnership journey, and as the result of an almost permanent exchange of resources during the years that evolved from sporadic consultancy to collaborative research. On one side, the university understands that this cooperation represents a direct pathway from research to practice, or from research to innovation, serving also its third mission in terms of regional engagement and the development of new skills in their researchers. On the other side, the company resorts to university capabilities to potentiate R&D corporate processes, while enjoying gains in terms of human capital and regional reputation. This partnership has come to a point in which both the university and the company understand ‘in practice’ that their cooperation is embedded in a regional context they are able to influence positively, which at the same time brings new benefits to both of them, generating a positive feedback cycle that I also describe in the paper.
Irina: What are the challenges that, in your opinion, bring together TH actors to take shared action?
Sergio: In principle, TH actors cooperate to tackle their own goals. However, there must also be a common understanding on how the cooperation serves regional challenges. We live in a world that faces relevant challenges in terms of, for instance, global warming, societal cohesion and globalisation, among others, and these are the kind of challenges that are of the interest of institutions of all types and that bring together TH actors. It is not only an issue of corporate social responsibility (in the case of industry) or responsible research and innovation (in the case of academia and government), as what we are talking about here is the welfare of people in general and the viability of society in economic, social and environmental terms, which are issues of interest for all industry, academia and government. Different cases of TH cooperation might contribute to such challenges to different extents, but there has to be awareness on the need to always have in mind the regional and societal challenges that can and must be addressed.
Having said that, in my opinion TH cooperation should bring together institutional actors to take shared actions on challenges related to societal welfare, which might include projects working on topics such as environmental sustainability, diversity, peace, public health and education, among others. These topics have, for sure, many potential synergies with the individual interests (in economic terms, for instance) of TH actors.
Irina: Sergio, thank you very much for your answers and beautiful insights on TH collaboration practices from your research project. We are looking forward to seeing your contribution to TH studies further on in the future, and we welcome your participation in the next international Triple Helix conference in Cape Town!
Additional information about the study awarded at the XVI Triple Helix Conference in Manchester, UK, in September 2018, is now available online as a working paper in the RUNIN project’s repository (https://runinproject.eu/results/working-paper-series/).
Information about the author is available at RUNIN project’s personal webpage: https://runinproject.eu/sergio-andres-manrique-garzon/ and www.researchgate.net/profile/Sergio_Manrique.
Photos for the interview were provided personally by Sergio Andrés Manrique Garzón.



Runner-up Early Career Researcher Best Paper Award
School of Management and Economics
Beijing Institute of Technology, Beijing (China) and
Manchester Institute of Innovation Research
University of Manchester (UK)
Paper: Design of A Virtual Network Organization for University-enterprise-government Cooperative Scientific Research Projects with University-dominant Model


Irina: Qianqian, could you, please, elaborate a little about the story behind your research?
Qianqian: The story behind my research is that based on the theory of triple helix and organization design, it combines organization structure design with practical research projects of the ‘New Energy Vehicle Industry Innovation Methods Applied in the Research and Demonstration’ closely. Thus, this paper makes a contribution combining the triple helix model, virtual network organization design theory and project practice case study, which could be benefit for practical applications of triple helix model on the next steps and future research requirements, wider design and policy implications.
Irina: Why do you believe that we need a virtual network organization for university-industry-government cooperative scientific research projects with university-dominant model?
Qianqian: First, as we all know, universities and scientific research institutions are the main source of new knowledge for innovation, and an important topic of social innovation. Actually, some of the early exploratory research or partial research projects are often led by universities or research institutions. Second, in the concrete design, it is necessary to fully consider the background of contemporary internet environment, and reasonably absorb the modern organization thinking, organization model, and organization method, so that a scientific and suitable organization structure system could be constructed. Meanwhile, the cooperative research project is the most basic type of university-enterprise-government research cooperation, and the university-enterprise-government cooperative research project with the university-dominant model is a kind of objective existence issue, but usually ignored to study by the theories field. Therefore, a virtual network organization for the university-industry-government cooperative scientific research projects with the university-dominant model is required to be designed.
Irina: In your study you research the project of “New Energy Vehicle Industry Innovation Methods Applied in the Research and Demonstration” (“NEV project”) which was led by Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) in 2015. The participants were BIT (university), BAIC BJEV (enterprise), the Ministry of Science and Technology (government). What are the key factors that, in your opinion, drive cooperation of the Triple Helix actors?
Qianqian: In my opinion, the key factors that drive cooperation of the TH actors are as follows. In the university-industry-government cooperation, all parties cooperate on the basis of their own interests. The most important drive factor for the efficient cooperation is coordination and trust, it means that the parties cooperate together to achieve the same alignment which is on the basis of risk sharing, benefit sharing, and credibility and integrity.
Irina: In your study you stress that the NEV research project has interdisciplinary, comprehensive, and complex characteristics with a short research cycle. It established a highly efficient organization operating mechanism of the cooperative research project with university-dominant model. Still, what about hindering factors which limit TH cooperation?
Qianqian: It may involve many factors on multi-level and multi-dimensional, such as problems on organizational barriers, the interests sharing, intellectual property rights, the concept, the trust, organizational operation, cooperation mechanisms, policy guidance, environmental issues, etc.

Irina: Qianqian, could you tell us about engagement of different institutional actors in TH collaboration in specific national and regional settings? How to make TH actors more responsible for the TH collaboration engagement on a regional level? And, maybe, you could provide some examples from your own experience?
Qianqian: In specific national and regional settings, I think the most fundamental driving factor is still their respective interests of the TH actors. On a regional level, to make TH actors more responsible for TH collaboration engagement, first, we could clear the division of responsibilities, but also have the freedom of their respective tasks and powers. Second, an effective work communication system could be established. Third, an effective incentive system could be set up based on different type of TH actors. For example, Fuzhou University in Fujian Province in China; this university established R&D centres with enterprises and government sectors, and actively seeks cooperation among universities, enterprises and governments. Based on their clear responsibility, high efficiency communication and accurate incentives, they shared research platforms with enterprises and governments. Therefore, universities can gain financial and managerial advantages from enterprises and governments, and even enhance their social reputation. At the same time, the research results from collaboration research centres could be used by enterprises and governments to promote technological innovation, and bring economic benefits to enterprises.
Irina: Well, finally, I have a question about challenges that bring together TH actors to address them, and to take shared action. What are they, from your personal perspective?
Qianqian: Throughout the past evidence, there are many examples of university-industry-government cooperation, but most of them suffered disadvantages in technology, product, market and cooperation, etc. I think those challenges could bring together TH actors to address them and take shared action.
Irina: Dear Qianqian, thank you very much for your answers and evidence on TH actors’ collaboration from your study. We would like to welcome your further intellectual contribution to TH studies and looking forward to your engagement in Triple Helix Association’s activities, including your participation in the next international Triple Helix conference in Cape Town!
Photos for the interview are provided personally by Qianqian Zhang..




OISHEE KUNDU (presenter/runner-up Early Career Researcher Best Paper Award)
Second Year PhD students at University of Manchester
(Alliance Manchester Business School,
Manchester Institute of Innovation Research)

Paper: The Role of Charitable Funding in University Research



Irina: Dear Oishee, could you tell our readers about the story behind your research?
Oishee: As first-year PhD students of the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research in the University of Manchester, one of our research training modules required us to undertake a substantive piece of research work – unrelated to our thesis – to simulate the process of producing research. One of the suggested topics was non-governmental, non-profit organisations, and Nicholas and I found mutual interest in understanding the role of such organisations in the funding of university research. We realised that while the increased interaction and collaboration between universities and industries in their research activities is widely discussed and well established, the role that charities play, particularly in the medical field is less well explored.
Irina: Do you believe that charitable funding in university research can solve financial difficulties that many universities face today?
Oishee: In the UK, charities represent a significant proportion of the funding available for PhD studies, and therefore, with the increasing availability of data provided by the EThOS database, we thought it might be interesting to probe the organisations involved the subjects they fund, and the co-funding they engage in with respect to PhD research.
Although significant, charitable funding still represents only a small piece of the pie in terms of the finance that universities receive (14% of UK universities’ income), the share of charity funding is rarely organised in a mammoth-foundation, but it continues to exist as small pots of money. It is unclear whether this funding source will increase substantially in the near future, and whether there will be formalisation of the charity sector. Therefore, while charitable funding may ‘buffer’ universities against future financial threats, it probably won’t, on its own, provide a solution to the financial challenges universities face in the coming decades.
Irina: That is a very interesting insight about the contributions of charitable organisations. What are the key factors that, in your opinion, drive and hinder cooperation of TH actors?
Oishee: From our data, it has become clear that there is a lack of co-funding of PhD theses between firms and charities. This is, perhaps, unsurprising given their presumably very different missions in funding research. However, we believe that this doesn’t have to be the case, and that different TH actors have common interests in funding specific PhD projects.
Obstacles to this may exist where funding for PhD studentships often occurs through dedicated schemes such as Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT), and Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), which are not necessarily well set-up for collaborative funding arrangements. Furthermore, extensive collaborative funding and resultant non-university supervision could risk loading individual PhD students with mixed and competing requirements in a manner that would be inhibitory to their research.
Irina: What could drive the engagement of different institutional actors in TH collaboration in specific national and regional settings? How to make TH actors more responsible for TH collaboration engagement on a regional level? You explore co-sponsorship and sponsorship of doctoral studies. Maybe, you could provide some examples from your own experience?
Oishee: A large amount of original research and knowledge creation occurs through the undertaking of PhDs. Collaborative funding of PhD students therefore represents a promising area whereby a range of TH actors could engage and interact. Indeed, our paper shows how this already occurs, but that co-funding is not yet the norm, and is rare between charitable sources and businesses. Cases of PhDs between government and industry in the UK could act as a model to facilitate greater co-funding in the future, expanding these schemes to include charitable and/or mixed sources of external funding.

Irina: What are the challenges that, in your opinion, bring together TH actors to address them and to take shared action?
Oishee: In the area of medical research, there are clear opportunities and challenges in relation to digital and personalised medicine and tackling antibiotic resistance where a range of actors have a definite interest. There are a large number of government, charitable, and business interests in this area, particularly, in the UK (e.g. the NHS, the pharmaceutical industry and charities such as the Wellcome Trust, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK). The co-funding of specific PhD projects could act as a vehicle to facilitate their collaboration towards tackling common challenges facing the health sector. On a more abstract level, it is, perhaps, the need for a variety of skills to find systemic responses to problems we face that brings TH actors together.
Irina: Dear Oishee, thank you very much for your answers and evidence on TH actors’ collaboration from your study. We would like to welcome your and your co-author Nicholas Matthews’ further intellectual contribution to TH studies and looking forward to your engagement in Triple Helix Association’s activities, including your participation in the next international Triple Helix conference in Cape Town!
Photo for the intervied is provided personally by Oishee Kundu.



Published by the Triple Helix Association  –  ISSN 2281-4515

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