Knowledge Transfer Projects (KTPs) offer interesting opportunities for partnerships between a company and a university supported by government funding. The KTP between the University of Reading and Red Whale, which provides continuing professional development for primary care clinicians, won the prestigious award for Best Partnership in 2021. In this article, we reflect on eight project foundations that have helped this success.
Red Whale provides quality medical education to over 15,000 primary care clinicians in the UK – and overseas each year through their social enterprise. Clinicians are engaged and inspired to undertake clinical professional development (CPD) that results in immediate patient benefit through a combination of humor, action plans and cutting-edge medical research.
KTP’s goal was to develop an online teaching platform and courses to complement Red Whale’s current face-to-face offering. Key to the project was to ensure the new courses were relevant, engaging, fun, responsive to customer needs, adaptable to advances in medical practice, and available 24/7 to meet the demands of CPD for physicians with time constraints and tight budgets.
The ability to deliver CPD online became even more critical when all scheduled face-to-face courses had to be canceled from March 2020 due to the pandemic, while professional development became increasingly important to primary care professionals. Fortunately, this two-year project, which began in late 2018, had progressed so well by March 2020 that online training could be delivered as soon as the lockdown began and then adapted to support frontline NHS staff throughout throughout the pandemic.
To develop this award-winning project, we leveraged our collective experience of over 30 KTP projects:
1. Have a strong rationale and clear goals from the start
It is essential that the company has a strong rationale and a vision of what it wants to gain from undertaking a KTP which, with input from the academic team, becomes a shared vision and a set of tangible results over time of the project. It should encompass short-term quick wins, mid-project wins, and longer-term returns on investment.
2. Receive academic support
The support of our excellent team at the University Knowledge Transfer Center helped immensely in preparing the proposal, managing project finances and submitting quarterly Local Management Committee (LMC) minutes to Innovate in the UK. Also, knowing that KTPs are an important part of our institutional search strategy has helped immensely.
3. Appoint the right KTP associate
Funding a KTP project allows for the hiring of an associate, normally a recent graduate, in this case Blessing Mbipom, who works with both the company and academics to move the project forward. It is essential to employ a partner whose skills are adapted to the project. this requires an advertisement that clearly specifies the skills and levels of education required without restricting the scope too much. Although there is time pressure to start the project, if the first set of advertisements and interviews for the position does not attract the right candidate, it is worth re-opening the advertisement. Remember that the KTP associate is the one who will develop the project on the ground and who will eventually take ownership of it and make it a success.
4. Support KTP Associate
Although he is talented, it is important to remember that the associate is in the early stages of his career so he still has a lot to learn. Besides the daily interaction with the company, the weekly meetings with the KTP supervision team are crucial. Their purpose is not only to discuss progress and advise on technique, but also to support the Associate’s professional development. Encourage them to make full use of the training budget and apply what they learn to improve the project as well as incorporate the knowledge gained into the business. Take advantage of academic training, academic leadership opportunities such as the Advance HE Aurora program, KTN Innovation Canvas, as well as more expensive external training and conferences.
5. Listen to your KTP advisor
The KTP regional advisor is a major ally for your project. They are involved at every stage: from the initial discussions on its feasibility to its completion. Their independent expert advice provides additional project support for all partners. In addition to contributing meaningfully to pre-submission discussions and defining clear goals and outcomes that show business growth, they are passionate about supporting the professional development of the KTP Associate, helping the team refine what success will look like for the business. , and reminding the team of the crucial deliverables for the success of the partnership: from commercial success to academic publications.
6. Create a true culture of partnership
We have established a great relationship between associate, company and academics early on, creating a positive and productive project environment that benefits everyone. Defining clear roles within the team and building trust between academic and non-academic colleagues fostered a truly collegial environment. It is important to recognize each other’s expertise, understand the need to balance academic priorities with business needs, and work as one and collaborative on tasks rather than as separate entities.
7. Keep the focus on benefits and results
This is not a research project per se, although research results as well as commercial results will emerge. A clear evaluation and impact strategy has been an important aspect of our work. What also helped was being active throughout the duration of the project with outreach and audience engagement. We presented at events and participated in various awards, which also gave us the opportunity to reflect on the progress we were making. A winning project brings benefits to all parties, and we have maintained an online Benefits Log to keep track of them. This log was extremely helpful in writing the final report.
8. Manage in a targeted but flexible and responsive manner
It is essential to monitor the progress of the project. We held weekly core team technical meetings, monthly strategic reviews to prioritize goals by the extended project team, and featured formal reviews of actual versus expected progress at quarterly LMCs. We used Asana as a project management tool, and Dropbox, SharePoint and Microsoft Teams for online collaboration. We have taken an agile approach to prioritizing requirements in response to demands from customers, competitors, topics of medical interest, changes in the primary care industry and, in particular, to respond to the sudden onset of Covid pandemic.
KTP projects are a hugely rewarding and valuable way to bring universities and businesses together to solve real-world problems while benefiting everyone involved. In a nutshell, the secret to a successful partnership and project is to create a strong team that likes to come together to create innovative solutions – and eat a lot of them!
Rachel McCrindle is a professor of computer science and human interaction; Richard Mitchell is a professor of cybernetics and technology enhanced learning school principal; and Yota Dimitriadi is Senior Lecturer in Computing Education, Head of Secondary Computing PGCE Subject and Deputy Head of Teaching and Learning, all at the University of Reading.
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