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10 golden rules of collaboration

At a recent industrial engagement event held by the School of Science and Technology, Prof Sir Anthony Finkelstein, President at City, University of London, took the time to share his 10 golden rules of collaboration. We’re very grateful for the extremely wise words and think they are worth sharing, here, with his kind permission.

  1. Take the time to know each other. Very few of the collaborative successes have been instant. Most have been preceded by a significant period of mutual familiarisation. Knowing each other’s background and trajectory makes a vast difference.

  2. Look for complementarity. Good partnerships are enriched by differing perspectives. Closely aligned expertise may make initial conversations easier, but may ultimately lead to a less productive relationships.

  3. Honesty is the best policy. Good partnerships make progress when each party is clear about their priority outcomes. Thus, and for example, industry has commercial imperatives, universities are assessed by their publication track record. These can be made to complement each other but the drivers need to be understood from the outset.

  4. Share values. Whilst complementary interests can support partnerships, values need to be aligned. These need to be the values that are lived, not simply stated.

  5. Agree timelines. Surprisingly, timelines and differing expectations of what can and should be produced, when, are a very frequent cause of relationship breakdown. It might be thought, crudely, that industry is short-term oriented and universities are more oriented to the longer term, in fact the picture is a good deal more complex, product development can be lengthy, whilst research and funding deadlines are short. Mutual acknowledgement is key.

  6. Fairly value your contribution. Universities tend to over-value the creativity, expertise and insight that gives rise to an idea and under-value the patience, capital, and commercial nous that an industry partner delivers and which allows that idea to realise its full value. A fair and balanced appreciation of what each party brings to the table is an essential foundation for the success of a partnership.

  7. No secrets. It is surprisingly common for industry partners to keep their commercial and competitive imperatives confidential from their university partners. Similarly, it is common for university partners not to be entirely transparent about their funding arrangements and the tangled relationships between background and foreground work. Bluntly, this is no basis for a partnership.

  8. Anticipate commercial tension. Industrial partners think universities lack agility and want to excessive control over IP. Universities think industrial partners impose exploitative terms and conditions and do not want to share the up-side. A robust negotiation is OK and can co-exist with a strong partnership, as long as each party see an effective commercial arrangement as reinforcing the partnership rather than threatening it.

  9. Individuals matter. However 'strategic' a partnership may be, it is ultimately made to work by individuals who have got to know and trust each other. Nobody can expect a relationship to work if the people concerned move on, or change, with regularity.

  10. Align around purpose. Universities exist in service to a mission. Increasingly, industry recognises the centrality of social purpose. Shared goals beyond immediate commercial objectives can act as a strong glue for a lasting partnership.

Anthony Finkelstein is the President of City, University of London and Professor of Software Systems Engineering. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. He is also a Member of Academia Europaea, a Fellow of City & Guilds of London Institute and a Distinguished Fellow of RUSI (the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies). He was granted the title of Knight Bachelor in the New Year's Honours 2022 for public service. He was previously appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to computer science and engineering. Until taking up the role of President he was Chief Scientific Adviser for National Security to HM Government, a senior strategic and operational role that involves leadership of science, research and innovation across the UK's national security community. Whilst undertaking this role he retained a position at University College London (UCL) and as a Fellow of The Alan Turing Institute, the UK national institute for AI and data science, of which he was a founding trustee. Prior to this he was Dean of UCL Faculty of Engineering Sciences and before that Head of UCL Department of Computer Science. He held a Chair in Software Systems Engineering at UCL, having started his career at Imperial College, Department of Computing. He has established three successful ‘spin-out’ companies (including two ‘exits’).


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