My internal stakeholders are probably a lot like yours.  They are scattered amongst many departments, they are full of great ideas and really really REALLY don’t like to be told what to do.

Internal Colleagues Type 1:  The ones who don’t know about the Research Collaboration Office (RCO)

I (and maybe you, too) have a large set of colleagues who don’t know their way around research collaborations.  They would be happy enough to have my help, but they’re either used to doing it themselves, they haven’t done it before, or they just don’t know I exist.

Guiding them to the Research Collaboration Office:  I’m very lucky because we have a centralized legal office.  The legal team and I work closely together, and any research collaborations get funneled to me.  It wasn’t always this way.  The legal teams from the company’s different entities weren’t as coordinated in the past, and they all did their own thing when it came to contracting research.  Or worse, research collaboration agreements were just invented in various departments without the legal team involved.  Or even worse, they happened without a contract at all.

What’s in it for them (to work with my office):  the Research Collaboration Office acts as liaison between the legal team and the knowledge transfer office or legal team at the counterpart institution.  All those pesky negotiations around ownership of IP and non-compete clauses and termination rights are dealt with by people who like those things (like me!).  All the data transfer agreements and the logistics around data sharing are handled by the Office (Read more about how we pre-plan this internally).   And my colleagues, who care about the research project but definitely not the details of legal clauses or data delivery, get to think about the research.  Plus, my office is responsible for outreach and communication, so colleagues are sure that they’ll get credit for what they accomplish in their research collaborations.

Communication channels:  I’m lucky here too, since we have an intranet where the RCO can publish articles and news.  We also have a great internal webpage with webinars, trainings, templates and checklists.  Is it perfect? Er, no.  Like the old “rule of 7” in marketing, information on process and best practice needs to be repeated a lot.  So we re-run webinars and plan our internal training to reiterate key messages every year.

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The RCO’s intranet homepage.   I love its simple, client-centric design

Internal Colleagues Type 2:  The ones who know about the RCO, but are hoping the rules don’t apply to them

Guiding them to the Research Collaboration Office:  The legal office; I love those guys.

What’s in it for them (to work with my office):  Generally the small (and smart and creative) set of people who are trying, ever so slightly, to get around the governance of project approval and contracting are doing so for a good reason.  They are working on complicated projects and they know, deep in their hearts, that these projects are going to need a fair bit of internal approval and negotiation on the academic side.  And they know this internal process is going to be painful.  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone with infinite patience and helped with all that? Ahhh….

The tricky part:  They are worried that following the rules will take more time.  Which it sometimes can.  So it’s a balancing act between managing their expectations and trying to ensure the RCO is as responsive and efficient as possible.

Communication channels:  This is a small group, so I work with them in person.  And then I ask them to star in some of the promotional pieces.  And what has been even better – they’ve been kind enough to help me develop better internal approaches to the governance they oh-so-hate.

External Stakeholders Type 1:  The ones working in the collaborations

Who wouldn’t want an article written about the results of their research project?

The great thing about working in research collaborations, is that the researchers doing the brain work really do care about the project.  And they’re happy to talk about it.  So I let them do the heavy lifting and just arrange the venues for them to tell the public what is nearly always a great story.

What’s in it for them (to work with my office):  Promotion.  My job is to brag about this project to the people who matter to the researchers:  their department heads, their Vice President for Research, their collaborators, their frenemies.  While we’re working on the content of the promotional pieces, we ask for contacts at the academic institution so we can be sure to highlight the collaboration’s results to the people who matter to the partner.

Content we co-create:  I generally run 9-12 articles a year in our online magazine.  These are even better when we can get video (search engines love videos).  Generally, researchers are happy to speak about our research collaborations on panels, webinars or events.

Even better, when I can, I try to host cross-project conferences where multiple groups get together and present.  It’s a chance for them to spark off each other, and with our team and they usually spawn a lot of new projects.

Follow up:  Research projects can take years, and if we’re all lucky, they shower publications, patents and license opportunities all around them.  Everyone gets media coverage and possibly Nobel Prizes.  And then what?  We’re just going to leave this beautiful thing behind?  Let’s not say good-bye.  Instead, the RCO keeps researchers updated on what we’re working on, invites them to regional events, and asks for their help to assess future collaboration proposals.

External Stakeholders Type 2:  Our academic partner’s institution

Reaching them:  As I noted above, I usually ask our academic collaboration partners to introduce me to their university’s PR team, their Departmental Chair, their Vice President for Research and anyone else they care about.  Then I share ahead of time any stories, videos or social media we create, so they can co-promote.

What’s in it for them (to pay attention):  Stories that make their institution look good.

Follow up:  Just like with the legal team and academic KE offices, I keep these folks in my database, so that next time we have a project, we can re-connect.  It builds trust and shows that we are invested in these collaborations.

External Stakeholders Type 3:  Everyone else in the world

Reaching them:  For this audience, I usually depend on articles on our online magazine, videos, and social media.

What’s in it for them (to pay attention):   If the content is good, they’re inspired to reach out to us for their own research collaborations.  After all, they know we’ll do a great job promoting their successes.

Follow up:  As you’d expect, we track traffic and shares to ensure we keep producing stories that engage academics who aspire to research collaborations.

Coming from a marketing communications background, I think you can never do too much around stakeholder engagement and partner promotion.  I’m really proud of our research collaborations and am always happy to brag about them.  And fortunately, our partners are generally happy to let us.  As Will Rogers said:   “Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry twice as far.”

3 thoughts on “Knowledge Exchange and the Secret Art of Communicating with Internal and External Stakeholders

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