Research Projects

Here you can find some information about some of my current and recent research projects and initiatives. Most of these projects involve many collaborators – as indicated in the relevant reports and publications associated with each project. And many of these projects were undertaken at the Centre for Business Research (CBR) and more information is available on the CBR’s website.


Survey of Business University Interactions in the UK (funded by the National Centre for Universities & Business (NCUB) with support from Research England)
The project identified the range, form, significance of, and business motivation for knowledge exchange activities between the UK private business sector and the UK university sector. The research was based on a web-based survey with a sample of 3823 companies in all sectors, regions and countries of the UK and the full range of employment sizes from micro-firms employing less than 10 people to the largest public listed corporations. The project identified ten key findings. First, commercialisation is a small part of a larger landscape of knowledge exchange activities. Second, the role of proximity to a university is not very important for many firms. Third, both business and universities play active roles in initiating and facilitating interactions, with mutual actions being the norm. Fourth, companies including micro businesses interact not just with large research-focused universities but also smaller and more specialized and teaching focused institutions. Fifth, companies that interact with universities rely on a diverse range of academic disciplines, including the natural sciences and engineering but also the social sciences, the arts and humanities, and business and management. Sixth, technology-based innovation-related factors are a motivation to interact for 60% of companies, but there are a wide range of other parts of business activities that motivate interaction. Seventh, over 80% of companies indicated that interactions met or exceeded their expectations. Eighth, many companies indicated that they were lacking in the ability to search for external knowledge from universities and invested only modest effort and time in integrating this knowledge. Ninth, for companies with at least one interaction, lack of resources within the company itself was the most frequently identified important constraint on interaction. Tenth, the most important reasons given for non- interaction relate to lack of information, both about how to interact and about the benefits of such interaction.  The main project report is here.

National Survey of Academics (Funded by a consortium of BIS, HEFCE, and several research councils (EPSRC, ESRC, AHRC, NERC and MRC) and organised through the National Centre for Universities & Business)
The project replicated the highly successful academic survey research which Michael Kitson and Alan Hughes carried out in 2009. The original research project was rated as outstanding in the ESRC evaluation process. The analysis of the new survey confirmed the wide range of knowledge exchange activities undertaken by university academics. The changed economic circumstances in 2015 compared to 2009 might have been expected to have resulted in significant falls in these activities since the initial survey took place prior to the financial crisis and the subsequent period of economic austerity. Whilst there were some declines in some pathways, in particular, as might have been expected, those of a more commercial kind (patent and licensing and spin formation), the overall picture was of a sustained range of engagement across all disciplines and all impact pathways. The analysis of the unique panel database of over 4,000 academics who responded to both surveys showed that engagement is a sustained activity, often learn through experience: past engagement encourages future engagement. This has three policy implications. First, training and support for junior academics to learn how to successfully engage with external organisations may help start academics on ‘a pathway to engagement’ early on in their careers. Second, those not engaging are more focused on basic research are and are unlikely to start engaging. This suggests the impact agenda may have little effect on those individuals with a research orientation towards basic research and those with little experience in engagement. This may represent an appropriate degree of differentiation and of specialisation in the nature of research motivation and activity. Third, the analysis suggests that most effective route for policy may be to provide measures to sustain the activities of academics who are both predisposed to engagement and are actively involved in it.  The main report is available here.  The report based on the panel data is here. A third report analysing knowledge exchange and research council institutes is here.

The UK Innovation Research Centre (UK~IRC) (Funded by BIS, ESRC, NESTA and the TSB)
The UK Innovation Research Centre (UK~ IRC) is a joint venture between the Centre for Business Research at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College Business School to further research and knowledge exchange on innovation policy and practice. The UK~IRC involves a large-scale, multi-year research programme and a Knowledge Hub to engage policy-makers and practitioners about innovation research. The research programme explores open innovation, service innovation, online communities and innovation policy-making. Through the Hub, our aim is to maximise the effect of the research on policy and practice, so as to help the UK face its social, environmental and economic challenges.
Further information here.

The Connectivity of the Arts and Humanities: New Analysis of Missing Links (with Alan Hughes, Jocelyn Probert and Royce Turner and funded by the AHRC)
This research examines the role of the arts and humanities in the UK economy. It provides evidence on the connectivity of the arts and humanities, enhancing our understanding of knowledge exchange, the Creative Economy and cultural capital. This brings the multiple connections of the Creative Economy – between arts and humanities research, cultural institutions and the creative industries – into one study. In the current period of austerity, there has been an increasing focus on the needs to rebalance the economy and achieve sustainable economic growth. There is widespread debate on how competitiveness can be fostered and increased. Traditionally, it has been argued that competitiveness can be improved through improvement in physical capital (through firms) and human capital (by improving the skills of workers). But there have also been arguments that skilled workers and physical capital tend to be concentrated in clusters because of the so-called benefits of ‘agglomerations’. It is often argued that skilled workers (especially the ‘creative classes’) tend to be attracted to locations that have ‘buzz’. This research will examine how the arts and humanities (including academia) can contribute to such ‘buzz’ and so the competiveness of locations.
Further information here.

Knowledge Exchange between Arts and Humanities and the Private, Public and Third Sectors: A comparative perspective (with Alan Hughes, Jocelyn Probert, Anna Bullock and Isobel Milner and funded by the AHRC)
This research analysed the pattern, scope and impact of interactions between academics in the Arts & Humanities with external organisations in the private, public and third sectors. The research used the academic and business survey datasets created for the project ‘University-Industry Knowledge Exchange: demand pull, supply push and the public space role of higher education institutions’ to provide a detailed and comprehensive picture of such interactions in the UK and evaluated them in a comparative context with other disciplines. The report, the biggest study of its kind to focus on the arts and humanities, reveals several key findings: the arts and humanities are highly connected within the UK economy; they have significant links to the private sector; and academics and students benefit from knowledge exchange.
Report: Hughes Kitson Probert Hidden Connections AHRC 2012

University-Industry Knowledge Exchange: Demand Pull, Supply Push and the Public Space Role of Higher Education Institutions in the UK Regions (with Alan Hughes, Maria Abreu and Vadim Grinevich and funded by the ESRC)
This research identified the factors that affect the incidence, form, effectiveness and regional impact of knowledge exchange activities between the business and higher education sectors in the UK. It identified the way these interactions vary across UK regions and within those regions. Knowledge exchange includes the full range of ways in which the business community and the higher education sector interact and which may affect business and regional economic development. These interactions include educational and training activities, research publications and patenting, conferences, contracting and consulting activity, internships, joint research and development and licensing and new business formation. The ESRC end of award peer review evaluation rated the research project as ‘outstanding’.
Project Report: University Knowledge Exchange Report
Project Summary: University Knowledge Exchange Summary

The Connected University (with Jeremy Howells, Richard Braham and Stian Westlake and commissioned by NESTA)
This research investigates how our universities can be used to create innovative businesses that will be essential to us emerging strongly from the recession. The research examines the multifaceted contribution universities make to the economy, highlighting their importance as sources of knowledge, and skilled employees, and as the centres for regional economic clusters. Eight case studies show how thriving clusters of economic activity have grown up around leading UK universities, and the effect of recent policy and university strategy in helping this to happen. The case studies also show how the way universities interact with businesses is evolving.
Project report: Kitson et al Connected University Report NESTA 2009

Spatial Variations in Innovations and Absorptive Capacity (with Maria Abreu, Vadim Grinevich and Maria Savona and commissioned by the DTI – now BEIS)
The project examined whether differences in absorptive capacity at the firm-level are determinants of regional variations in innovation performance. The research shows that different forms of absorptive capacity are associated with different types of goods, service and process innovation. Furthermore, it suggests that policies that encourage the use of new management techniques, the training of managers and the development of networks across multiple geographies may improve the innovative behaviour of firms in all the regions of the UK. Further information is here.

Innovation in services (with Maria Abreu, Vadim Grinevich and Maria Savona and commissioned by NESTA)
Policy could have an important role in stimulating innovation in services. However, policymakers have lacked robust evidence showing how these sectors innovate. Drawing on a survey of more than 16,000 firms, this research reveals the high levels of ‘hidden innovation’ in some services sectors, especially in how they develop new business models and exploit technology. But the research also reveals that innovation is confined to a minority of service firms, and that many lack the skilled personnel or intelligence on markets and technology that would enable them to become more innovative. Because of their dominance in the economy, improved performance by the UK’s services sectors is necessary if are to generate recovery from austerity. However, if we are to take innovation in services seriously, we must recognise that they innovate differently from advanced manufacturing. We need policies to support increased training and development, and the effective dissemination and exploitation of technology.
Project Report: Taking services seriously NESTA 2008

Corporate Responses to Macroeconomic Changes and Shocks (with David Primost and funded by the ESRC)
There has been little analysis of how macroeconomic fluctuations may influence corporate and managerial behaviour. The project helped fill this gap by considering how firms in aerospace and biotechnology industries responded to economic change. The impact of economic change was important in both sectors. It particularly influenced the young firms in the biotechnology sector who were at ‘critical junctures’ in their development and required finance to grow. Many of these firms did not have the competences to cope easily with the changes in financial markets. Furthermore, the failure to acquire finance may prevent the commercialisation of technology and may have an impact on long-term growth. The companies in the more mature aerospace sector had ‘learned’ to cope with change and uncertainty and had developed competences and capacity to deal with such factors. This study suggests that when considering the microfoundations of macroeconomics, account should be taken of the variety of corporate responses to economic change and fluctuations. It also suggests that policy-makers should consider the cyclical nature of finance gaps in high-technology industries.
Project Report: Corporate Response Report
Project Summary: Corporate Response Summary