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Making good research better: Activating Impact winners 2014

How to make good research better: Activating Impact winners 2014 - 17 June 2014

In 2013 BBSRC launched the new Activating Impact competition to acknowledge and celebrate successful Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation (KEC) teams making an essential contribution to delivering impact from excellent bioscience research. As part of the Fostering Innovation event, in 2014 the award was shared between Michael Hill-King's team at King's College London and Cath Lavery and colleagues at Queen Mary University of London.

Here, the winning teams describe their activities and how they support the development of impact from their university's research. You can also read Q&A features with Innovator of the Year 2014 competition winners Luke Alphey, Cathie Martin and Eugenio Butelli, and Curtis Dobson.


Cath Lavery – Head of Business Development at Queen Mary University of London

How does it feel to win?

This is the first time that we have entered this competition so we didn't know what to expect. The competition was fantastic and we are absolutely thrilled with the result. It has been very motivating for the team here at Queen Mary.

Please describe your winning Activating Impact activities…

The team created an 'Impact Forum' to foster collaborative working and ideas exchange across the different professional services teams that are involved in supporting Queen Mary's Life Science researchers to deliver impact from their BBSRC-funded research. We showcased a number of initiatives that all involved effective collaborative working across these teams.

Cath Lavery (centre) and winning colleagues L-R: Olivia Festy, Graeme Brown, Davidson Ateh and Bryony Frost. Image: Tim Gander
Cath Lavery (centre) and winning colleagues L-R: Olivia Festy, Graeme Brown, Davidson Ateh and Bryony Frost. Image: Tim Gander

These included 'joined up' impact training workshops and help researchers to understand the broad range of potential impacts that can be achieved and joined up delivery of Innovation funds to pump-prime research impact activities. By joined up, we mean that the overall management and delivery was shared across different internal teams.

How has BBSRC fed into or influences your impact and knowledge exchange activities?

I think the BBSRC's range of 'Impact' competitions has really helped to foster a dialogue in this area at Queen Mary. We have also entered the Excellence with Impact competition which means we have regular interactions with BBSRC's impact team who have been most supportive and generous with their time. For example, BBSRC's Alf Game came to one of our impact training workshops and spoke to researchers about RCUK impact policy and we have also had a BBSRC representative attend one of our Innovation Fund panel meetings.

How do you get academics to be interested and thinking about impact and knowledge exchange?

Interest has certainly increased, which you would expect since there are some significant drivers. In particular, the increased emphasis placed on impact in the latest REF ( Research Excellence Frameworks), as well as research funders has focused attention. This is supported by improved recognition of researchers who are actively engaged in knowledge exchange and impact activities, for example Queen Mary recently appointed its first Dean for Research Impact. These days, it is less about generating the initial interest and more about helping researchers to understand and deliver impact.

Innovative work space: Queen Mary's 'Centre of the Cell' located in the Blizard Institute
Innovative work space: Queen Mary's 'Centre of the Cell' located in the Blizard Institute

What has really worked?

The joined-up impact training workshops have been very well received and we will continue with these beyond this initiative. Likewise, subject to funding being available, we would definitely continue with the two funding schemes to pump-prime impact and commercialisation activities.

And what hasn't worked, and why?

Our original plan – the scope of proposed impact activities was far too broad to deliver in the timescales. Once we had an idea of what was working and getting good feedback we cut some of the projects so that we could focus on delivering some quick wins to keep busy people engaged in the group.

How will winning this award feed into your future activities?

The award will be used to support industry placements with life sciences companies to provide commercial experience, a new Discipline-Bridging Fund to pump-prime interdisciplinary projects and collaborative activities, and an online resource to share research tools such as datasets and software.

This aligns with a major life sciences initiative at Queen Mary, which involves all three Faculties working together to help realise the social and economic promise of personalised health care.


Michael Hill-King – Director of Partnerships and Consultancy at King's College London (KCL)

How does it feel to win?

Winning this prize has validated the innovative approaches we have taken in supporting King's bright researchers. Winning made us reflect, "perhaps we've got this one right". It also makes one think, "what can we learn to do better and where can we share the benefits of our experiences?"

(L-R): Manasi Nandi, Michael Hill-King and Anna Thornton of King's College London receive their Activating Impact award from BBSRC CE Professor Jackie Hunter. Image: Tim Gander
(L-R): Manasi Nandi, Michael Hill-King and Anna Thornton of King's College London receive their Activating Impact award from BBSRC CE Professor Jackie Hunter. Image: Tim Gander

Please describe your winning Activating Impact activities…

King's activities that contributed most strongly to the award were based on the use of the BBSRC's Sparking Impact funding to the college. We used that award to foster open innovation in a radical way by encouraging PhD students and early career researchers to look at research outputs – not necessarily their own – in a new light. Perhaps the ethos of encouraging innovative behaviours while providing relevant tools made it easier for creative researchers to flourish.

How has BBSRC fed into or influenced your impact and knowledge exchange activities?

BBSRC Sparking Impact created an opportunity for us to try out a completely new way of funding short term projects to deliver impact from BBSRC funding. The individual awards were far too small to create a new engine for impact creation, so we leveraged existing resources and used the awards to create opportunities (especially for early career researchers) to work closely with, in most cases, smaller companies.

How do you get academics to be interested and thinking about impact and knowledge exchange?

I think the question is a little narrower than the evidence justifies. This success has been achieved by empowering post-doctoral researchers and PhD candidates by awarding them a small amount of funding, to really start them thinking about impact and knowledge exchange at an early stage in their academic careers.

What has really worked?

A six-moth Sparking Impact project by Dr Noelia Rubio and Dr Julie Tzu-Wen Wang developed label-free imaging of nanomaterials in biological applications, such as these liver phagocytic cells ‘filled’ with carbon nanotubes. Image: KCL
A six-moth Sparking Impact project by Dr Noelia Rubio and Dr Julie Tzu-Wen Wang developed label-free imaging of nanomaterials in biological applications, such as these liver phagocytic cells 'filled' with carbon nanotubes. Image: KCL

My staff and the research community have worked hard and well to achieve significant outputs, for example patents filed, for a very modest initial financial investment.

For instance, under one of our initiatives (proof-of-concept funding) a collaborative research project is still underway by students in the KCL Dental Institute on developing a taste-test kit for use in clinical and industrial settings. A number of large companies have expressed interest in the project and the students are on the way to a potentially marketable product – this could form the basis for a BBSRC Follow-on Funding application.

And what hasn't worked, and why?

It has been quite a challenge for some of the PhD students who won Sparking Impact awards to carry out their projects in parallel with their PhD projects; finding and keeping external reviewers for the projects was not easy; our initial having excessive number of closing dates was not a good idea! But overall the success of the scheme far outweighed the teething problems

How will winning this award feed into your future activities?

The activities that led to this award can be regarding as a pilot. What worked in BBSRC space is likely to work with some, but not all, Research Council-funded research. We want to spread the reach of this successful intervention across the college; details are still being formulated and we will be responding to proposals where co-creation of impact is embedded in the collaboration.