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By Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director, Interface

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention and that is certainly true of many of the wonderful, innovative ideas which have reached the shortlist of the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2020.

Among the ground-breaking innovations in this year’s annual awards are a next generation green insecticide, inclusive strategy making processes to support children with life changing conditions, and wearable health technology to help prevent falls in the home.

Along with projects between businesses and academics, individuals who stand out for their contribution and pivotal role in the delivery of knowledge exchange are given special recognition. I am delighted that there is a category for students, recent graduates and Knowledge Exchange Partnership Associates who are already making their mark in businesses across the country bringing unique and valuable knowledge to industry challenges. These are the future innovators, and I, for one, will be following their careers with great interest.

The winners will be revealed tonight (Thursday, 27 February) at a special celebration in Edinburgh marking the cream of business-academic partnerships across all industry, social sectors and academic disciplines.

The variety of projects and individuals who pioneer knowledge exchange between industry and academia is incredible. The judges were impressed with the entries in each of the five categories, often remarking on the difficult decisions they were having to make.

What is particularly pleasing about this year’s crop of entries is the number which aim to tackle environmental or wellbeing and health issues. The current Scottish Government Programme for Government puts the climate emergency and inclusive wellbeing at its heart, so it is great to see collaborations focusing on turning challenges into opportunities. 

As the First Minister said:

"We also continue our work to widen access to our world class universities and work with both them and colleges to further improve their collaboration with business and for us all to benefit from their ground-breaking and often world-leading research."

In reviewing the short-listed entries what stands out is the “access all areas” across many academic disciplines. I am delighted to see Fife College shortlisted with a Kelso company ThermaFY/Shock Innovations Ltd in a real-life case example of innovation informing future skills.

The college helped to test and improve the company’s thermal imaging software, used by heating engineers and surveyors to assess buildings without the need for more costly invasive methods. It is a great illustration of a company collaborating with the right academic expertise, in this case an academic with 30 years’ experience in the gas industry. With this input, the company quickly realised that not only did they need to develop the software but needed to provide training material so that engineers would have a greater understanding of how to use the app and the thermal data obtained.

The benefits to the business are numerous, however the partnership has allowed the college to engage in applied research, and it has equipped the lecturers with new knowledge from the concept. This knowledge has been disseminated to apprentices and students who have been able to improve their digital skills and given them the confidence and knowledge to question existing practices within their organisations and the wider sector.

The project was funded by a Workforce Innovation Voucher, from the Scottish Funding Council, which aims to support innovation by developing a company’s workforce.

Another shortlisted project is the impactful collaboration between Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) and the University of Strathclyde Business School to develop an inclusive and accessible strategy-making process.

The input from the university led to all stakeholders, including children that CHAS cares for, being able to input into future strategy making. Getting the views of young people hadn’t been fully considered and had to be handled sensitively and innovatively, as some have complex disabilities and are unable to speak.

The change in process has enabled the children to input into the organisation’s future direction and help with rebranding CHAS. The outcome of the project has resulted in CHAS increasing referrals by 106% and the number of families they support by 25%. 

Whilst very different, these two collaborations both highlight that there is much to be gained from pooling resource and knowledge to solve problems. In both cases, the academic partner brought something to the table that the company/organisation has not considered or found difficult to know how to tackle through lack of internal knowledge.

One of the highlights of the year for the whole Interface team, these unique and sometimes life-changing partnerships will be celebrated in style tonight at the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards.

To find out who the winners are, please visit our news page from Friday 28 February.