From ‘words to action’

In the second of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, one of our key regional partners talks about how any research ecosystem can only flourish when it includes representation, opinions and ideas from all sectors.

Simon Hanson, North East Development Manager, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

To badly paraphrase John Donne, no business is an island. The stress on small businesses to be more productive and innovative has resulted in greater expectations of the role universities can play in supporting their local enterprise ecosystem. This local ecosystem is not restricted to academia and business but also includes government and civic society.

Every region has some societal and urban challenges that holds back its potential. Rather than see this as a problem we need to start seeing it as an opportunity. An opportunity for all parts of the community to address in partnership.

This is the ethos that drives the ACCOMPLISSH project funded through the Horizon 2020 programme. In trying to address our collective challenges we need to look beyond our localities and see what has worked well elsewhere. Being nosey and curious doesn’t show up on any output targets through funded programmes like ACCOMPLISSH and remains an undervalued asset.

The theme of the most recent ACCOMPLISSH conference hosted in Tallinn, Estonia was from ‘words to action’. A great opportunity to develop those nosiness and curiosity skills. Here we would hear how other partners in the programme from across the EU had tackled some of these challenges, created partnerships between all sectors and allowed universities to break the shackles of the ivory tower.

That was the hope anyway.

There were some great presentations on the work that Tallinn University has done in a short space of time to achieve the theme of the conference and the potential that participatory budgeting has in helping local communities address the challenges they face.

In dancing parlance it takes two to tango and four to make a barbershop quartet. What felt like an academic conference was confirmed in the lack of attendees from at least two parts of the quadruple helix: the business community and civic society. Whilst all of the 14 universities involved had been encouraged to invite their quadruple helix partners, few attended the 2 day conference.

If we are to achieve a shift from ‘words to action’ speaking in an echo chamber won’t achieve our collective ambitions.

If we are truly to address the challenges and exploit the opportunities it will depend on people working together. No one community has the answers to addressing societal challenges and we need all the voices in the room. As Saul D. Alinsky said “If you want to know how the shoe fits, ask the person who is wearing it, not the one who made it.”

Small businesses are the backbone of every community across the globe. Helping them achieve their ambitions will address some of the biggest societal challenges that we collectively face.

Utilising opportunities like those presented by ACCOMPLISSH will hopefully go some way to achieve this.

Simon Hanson is the North East Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). For the past ten years Simon has developed the FSB to be the leading voice of small businesses across the region. The FSB in the North East of England represent the interests of approximately 4,000 small businesses from across the region. To do this Simon has led the FSB work has undertaken in campaigning, lobbying, media relations, stakeholder engagement and partnership-building across the region.

The Federation of Small Businesses is working with Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and other external partners to jointly deliver the ACCOMPLISSH project. The ACCOMPLISSH project explores how partnership working and Quadruple Helix collaborations and knowledge exchange can enhance the impact of research and achieve meaningful change for society.