Academic profile: Fumi Kitagawa
Fumi Kitagawa, lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Edinburgh Business School, talks to the Data-Driven Innovation initiative about her work to identify opportunities for DDI activities with public and private organisations in Fife.
How did you get involved in the project?
The initial approach for my involvement came from for the senior vice principal Charlie Jeffery in the early summer in 2018, who was leading the University’s involvement in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. He’d had discussions with the principal of Fife College and some of the senior officers at Fife Council about opportunities for collaboration between the private and public sectors.
Charlie then brought the idea to the University of Edinburgh Business School to ask whether anyone could look at a pilot study to explore opportunities for collaboration with Fife in more detail. So, I formed a small team to work on this pilot study.
How much of an appetite was there for collaboration?
Although there was a lot of general enthusiasm to work together, it wasn’t easy to pin down exactly what the areas of common interest might be. So we spent time speaking to stakeholders about their aspirations and timelines. We were focused on particular opportunities around data-driven innovation – the University’s deliverable within the City Region Deal – and exploring research capabilities.
We also spent time looking at key local economic data sets. It certainly wasn’t ‘blue sky’ research – but was very much focused on looking at what information was available, where the gaps were, and short to mid-term aspirations of different types of organisations located in the City Region.
Was it easy to audit the existing linkages between the university and Fife?
There was quite a challenge in identifying the right stakeholders within the University. This was almost two years ago, in the very early days of the Data-Driven Innovation initiative and we had to speak to different teams across the innovation hubs, which were – and still are – developing.
So it took time to build up a picture of the different areas of involvement. But the exercise helped join up different parts of the university. We discovered that the School of Engineering had done a significant amount of work with Babcock on the Fastblade centre in Fife, but we were able to link this to a wider programme of engagement across the University.
What happened after the initial phase of research?
We held a roundtable with internal stakeholders in December 2018 to share the initial report and gather feedback. We consulted regional stakeholders several times and pulled together a lot of different strands all linked to economic development and the inclusive growth agenda; procurement, skills, the University’s links to local government, and private sector. The report was finalised in April 2019 and presented at the executive level meeting of the City Region Deal in June 2019, and since then, has helped inform Fife Council’s economic development plans.
What were benefits to of involvement?
The University’s involvement in the City Region Deal opened the door to valuable contacts who were involved in high-level economic development policies. And it was very helpful to be able to do this study looking at ongoing local economic development within Scotland with links to other layers of the UK policies. It was also interesting to be part of the University’s strategic development, as it seeks to align itself more closely regional local government and other stakeholders.
How easy is it to bring academics and local authorities together?
I think the idea of local collaboration between academia, industry and local government is deemed to be increasingly important, so having the contacts created by the City Region Deal are very helpful. However, the rationales for engagement are complex and there is a number of challenges for making collaboration work in in practice.
Local government are happy with working towards building mid to long-term working relationships. But for industry, it may be more short-term. Perhaps the larger companies have capacity to build relationships for mid to long-term benefits. But for most Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), universities have to communicate their relevance in a much more direct way. I don’t think the report got as far as addressing that, but developing the relationship with economic develop officers in the local authorities and some of the local industry associations was certainly a starting point.
Are there any obstacles to building further academic involvement?
The big challenge to building academic engagement is time commitment. Generally, I think academics are keen to engage with industry and different types of organisations within their region, but there’s still a need to prioritise traditional academic commitments. For example, a study like this doesn’t count in the same way as publishing papers in academic journals. Having said that, I think most academics would still see a project like this as valuable, and it can also appeal as an engagement at citizenship level – making a contribution within their own region.
What’s next for this project?
I have heard about some development in Fife after the pilot study, but what happens next is over to members of the DDI team and officers in Fife. I’m keen to monitor it and it would be great to do a follow up at the right time. That’s perhaps something the university management could consider; how to create a sustainable engagement pathway to keep the momentum going. But I’m very pleased that Scottish Borders Council have expressed an interest in undertaking a similar piece of work and that will hopefully go ahead once the current coronavirus pandemic is under control.
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