Capturing Research Value in Commercial Design Outputs
Effective university-industry collaboration has become a major focus for governments in recent years. Universities are increasingly expected to play a greater role in the innovation system and evidence their contribution to economic development. At the same time, the growth in research quality assessment exercises makes it imperative that all opportunities to discover excellent research with the university context are uncovered. This research was conducted at a commercial design consultancy based within an academic institution, PDR (International Centre of Design and Research). The interaction between applied research and commercial consultancy within PDR led to a recognition of research potentially existing within commercially designed output.
The Research questions posed within this PhD thesis are:
Research Question 1: How best to recognize where commercial outputs can be characterized as research?
Research Question 2: Where a research characterization is met, how best to recognize and describe the research quality?
The aim of this research is to identify whether research value exists within commercial design outputs produced in an academic context and how the quality of this research could be assessed. This thesis adopts grounded action research inquiry using semi-structured interviews to explore the barriers to, and drivers of, reconciling commercial design activities with research quality in design.
The thesis uncovers opportunities to capture value beyond the commercial impact, which university-industry collaboration projects are initiated for. The research led to the identification of a knowledge creation spiral resulting from the knowledge and technology transfer activities taking place within the commercial design projects in a university- industry context. In some instances, this new knowledge can be of excellent research quality if it meets the necessary research criteria.
A discovered barrier to the identification of research quality within in commercial outputs was the lack of granular data on the projects thus demonstrating appropriate rigour. It was concluded that there is a need to build a documentation framework to capture the needed information and assess the research potential of commercial design projects from the outset, in order to capture the exchanged and created knowledge. A prototype of a documentation process was developed and tested with two of PDR’s lead designers. The documentation process barriers are limited to technical issues, and its implementation could assist in learning and development, as well as generating new knowledge of research quality.