The time is gone for researchers to do just research and disseminate their findings only among colleagues and students. Increasingly, researchers are asked to think about how their research will create impact on society. Utrecht based startup IDfuse gives scientists a helping hand.
Researchers are busy people with a passion for research, but not necessarily for spreading their knowledge to the people concerned. Or for creating a product or service out of their findings. As a negative consequence, much scientific knowledge doesn’t find its way to society. However, new policies require researchers to spend more time on creating impact on society, so-called valorisation. Actually, a paragraph on valorisation is part of most funding rounds. IDfuse helps scientists to find societal implications.
The founders of IDfuse are Paul Tuinenburg and Tijmen Altena, both masters of science in innovation management. While they were in college they started their first company called Shift Innovatie. They organised workshops, worked on business cases and on several projects, all related to ‘going from idea to commercial success’. These activities caught the attention of the director of Utrecht Valorisation Centre, who asked them to help researchers in social sciences and humanities with valorisation. Continuing this work, Tuinenburg and Altena started IDfuse in 2012, fresh out of university.
Paul Tuinenburg (left) and Tijmen Altena (right)
Scientists can ask for one-on-one help if they are writing an application for funding. They can also participate in a workshop. IDfuse also contributed to Science Inc. 2014, Utrecht Inc.’s program for scientists. And the company helps universities and research institutions to set up valorisation policies or a valorisation programme. Half of the fourteen Dutch universities are already in the portfolio.
What is the method to go from scientific idea to societal impact? Altena: “Our method consists of three steps: finding a proposition, determining the problem owner and finding a strategy. The first step, finding a proposition, is a creative process. Good questions to spur the thought process are: What is the value of this research? Which kind of societal problems relate to it?”
“The second step involves finding a group of people who probably experience the problem, contact them and ask them whether they really recognize this. If they recognize the problem, it shows that the proposition found in step one is a good one. And the last step, finding a strategy, involves thinking about the process of implementation. This implementation can take many forms: a non-scientific publication, lecture, the start of a company, a patent, a cooperation between a scientist and a company, etc.”
Some types of research are more challenging to others regarding valorisation. Altena: “For very fundamental research, for example in theoretical physics, it’s not always clear which implications the research has in the long term. However, valorisation is broader than finding direct implications. Even for the most fundamental research, almost always other parts of the research, such as parts of methodology or the data, can be relevant to others. Sharing this knowledge is also valorisation, and many scientists valorise without knowing it: giving a talk in a library is already valorisation. This is what we are trying to do, to broaden the view of researchers.”
Many scientists valorise without knowing it
Another example of research without obvious applicability is research in humanities. What is the relevance for present-day society of studying the role of humour in the Old Testament, or how children learn negative polarity items?
Altena: “We helped a scientist who studied the Dutch verb ‘hoeven’. This is a negative polarity item, which means that it can only be used in a negative context, in combination with ‘not’ (Editorial note: an English example is ‘yet’, which is almost always used in sentences with ‘not’). This researcher studied how children learn to use this verb. A highly specific topic, without obvious applicability. However, this scientist had learned a lot about how to persuade parents to let their offspring participate in this study. This is relevant for many other people, and thus a good example of valorisation.”
No man’s land
Two other parties also help scientists with valorisation, more specifically with writing the valorisation paragraph: grant support officers and business developers within universities. The position of IDfuse can be called unique.
Tuinenburg: “We are in the no man’s land between grant support officers and business developers. The involvement of grant support officers stops after submission of the grant to the funder. This means that they can make unrealistic promises in the valorisation paragraph, because they will not be held accountable.”
He adds: “Business developers are on the other side of the spectrum, they will only get involved as soon as money can be made. For them, research which will not directly result in a product or service is not interesting. IDfuse is in between. We work on a no cure no pay basis: scientists need to pay only if the grant is awarded. And what they then pay for is support with the execution of what has been promised in the proposal regarding knowledge transfer. This means that we are independent and need to offer a realistic view.”