The University Imperative – Knowledge-capital Value Chain
“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust.
Photo: NASA, Unsplash
It is ‘intent’ – the marriage of direction with purpose – that galvanises shared action across a university (indeed, any organisation). Whilst many universities articulate intent, typically in aspirational ‘strategy’ documents, they can stall when it comes to making sense of ways to achieve that intent. And, with the ever increasing need for our universities to help solve societal challenges, this is a big problem.
Overcoming part of this issue involves an appreciation of the constituent parts of the knowledge-capital value chain and what these can offer when shaping a core strategy to deliver great socio-economic benefits.
Knowledge-capital Value Chain
All universities have three major clusters of resources that can be applied to derive benefits. The first is knowledge, for example education programs, research results, and publications. The second is research capabilities, for example expertise, specialist equipment, facilities and research methods. The third is innovations, for example technologies, products, or processes and associated intellectual property rights. All three components can be utilised discretely or in various combinations to deliver value to society.
An understanding of market segments that knowledge, research capabilities and innovations can address, discretely or in combination, is the next required level of understanding. Students (school leavers, mature, full-time, part-time, domestic and international) and organisations (large, SMEs, domestic, international) are in the mix, all with a multitude of needs. Clearly critical, is an understanding of both consumer and business segments and how to target them effectively.
As the addressable market segments for knowledge, research capabilities and innovations differ, so too do the paths-to-market and associated delivery mechanisms. The next level of understanding is to recognise that both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) approaches are required.
And, once all that is understood and determined, it becomes clear that universities need to develop appropriate and flexible engagements if they are to maximise socio-economic benefits. These engagements can span enrolments, partnerships, consultancies, sponsored research programs, licences, joint ventures, new-venture establishment (social enterprises or start-ups) and so on.
Further, the engagements often involve various combinations of resources and partners, and may involve combinations of delivery mechanisms.
Understanding the knowledge-capital value chain is critical to universities seeking to deliver great socio-economic benefits. Most importantly, the understanding is required prior to contemplating the type of engagement to utilise. A particular type of engagement should not prescribe the best way to maximise societal impact. Doing so, is like choosing a vehicle before you know the terrain to be travelled. Universities can allocate significant resources to supporting a type of engagement (e.g. spin-outs or start-ups) with little justification or prospects of impactful outcomes because their underlying assets (including people), market segments they can address, and the available paths-to-market and delivery mechanisms, simply do not lend themselves to that preconceived type of engagement.
Clearly universities can deliver an array of benefits to targeted consumers, such as students or organisations in the private and public sectors, either directly or in partnership. Given the diversity at play, and the rapidly changing environments in which they operate, universities must first develop effective ways to ascertain needs, build matching value propositions and then arrange flexible fit-for-purpose approaches to maximise impact.
And, when setting organisational direction, universities must also discern which viable opportunities to pursue and which to pass up. Working within a confined resource envelope means it is not possible to address everything or be all things to all people. It is necessary to consider the spectrum of opportunities, and discern which to pursue and which to discard. Aspects of this discernment are canvassed in the next blog.
For those who can’t wait, want to dive right in, and need really useful frameworks to help deliver great socio-economic benefits from their organisations, please have a look at my book The University Imperative – Delivering Socio-economic Benefits for our World.
For others who are starting to see the possibilities, but still have many questions and want further guidance and support, good news – there are more blogs which will help you.
The blogs are just a taste of what you’ll learn about delivering great socio-economic benefits in our everchanging world.
Your journey has started. Now is the moment to progress. We absolutely need universities (indeed all organisations), and their partners and collaborators, to achieve great societal benefits for us all.