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‘High time’ for tech transfer to move from profit to impact

Sarima 2022: Innovation must do good not just make money, says Oxford consultant

Research and innovation management professionals need to start asking themselves what societal impact their work can have and move away from thinking only in terms of commercialisation for profit, an African research management conference heard this week.

Jaci Barnett, head of consulting services at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, made the call in her keynote address at the 2022 Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association (Sarima) conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In her 2 August speech Barnett argued that it is time for a paradigm shift in how research managers and technology transfer professionals view their work.

“We have to be the custodians of all the knowledge exchange channels and become partners for impact with our knowledge users. We need to change the narrative in how we manage all our activities and be cognisant of what we put out,” she said.

“It is high time we move from thinking of commercialisation in terms of making money to making a societal impact and a difference,” she told the conference. “Our key fundamentals as research professionals are to support research, create and disseminate knowledge and, most importantly, create work that will stimulate societal development.”

Addressing researchers, she added: “When you think of doing your research, you also have to think about where it’s going and what it could achieve.”

Expect push-back

Barnett told the conference delegates to expect “push-back” from leaders of organisations when pursuing this new paradigm, but said that “nothing comes easy”.

“Money and investments are sideshows in my opinion—useful ones—but not the key as an innovation manager. The real winner is creating a future that you want in the decisions you make,” she said.

It’s all about choice, she added. “If you plough through the hardships and make it happen, that’s the future you are creating. But if you back down and succumb to the challenges, again that is the future that you would have created in your choice.”

“Just know that in our privileged profession, you can and will change the world,” she said.

The Sarima conference took place on 1 to 4 August under the theme ‘research and innovation management for impact’. Almost 200 people attended the meeting in person, while others joined online.