The Aspect toolkit captures the lessons learned during Aspect’s first three years, disseminating shared knowledge and providing practical guidance that other institutions can use for inspiration in their own activities.
1.1 About this toolkit
Aspect is a network for organisations looking to make the most of commercial and business opportunities from social sciences research. While the benefits of commercialisation are well established in the STEM subjects, the benefits and profile of research commercialisation within the social sciences are less well known. Aspect seeks to redress this balance by connecting universities, businesses, academics, and industry leaders to turn ideas into solutions to solve pressing societal challenges. Aspect aims to do this through a series of funded projects and pilots, events and workshops to develop, exchange and promote good practice.
Aspect funding has supported the development of a comprehensive toolkit, including how-to guides, case studies, and event reports. The toolkit serves to capture the lessons learned during Aspect’s first three years, disseminating shared knowledge and providing practical guidance that other institutions can use for inspiration in their own activities.
The toolkit is designed to provide practical, hands-on resources for university staff working in research commercialisation, business engagement, communications and entrepreneurship programmes. Some resources might also be suitable for academics working in the social sciences. It may also be useful for senior administrative staff at universities and for research and innovation funding bodies. This toolkit is designed to be a “living resource” and will be updated and amended as Aspect continues and new materials are developed.
1.2 Why do we need an Aspect toolkit?
Aspect funded projects have generated important insights, learnings, and commentary on how to realise commercial opportunities from businesses and social sciences research. The Aspect Toolkit provides resources and support for universities that can be immediately put into practice. It is comprised of four chapters (toolkit(s)), each centred around one of the Aspect’s Communities of Practice (COP).
Research commercialisation COP. This toolkit has been developed to support social science commercialisation professional support services within universities, and to open up social science commercialisation to new academics. Within the toolkit are a series of nuanced tools to help accelerate social science research commercialisation, and a short video demonstrating the academic’s journey from idea to impact.
Business engagement COP. This toolkit is intended to help create a unified approach to business engagement within the social sciences – with materials to support the case to academics and businesses about why it’s important to engage – and to change perspectives and assumptions about the value that the social sciences can provide to partners.
Knowledge Exchange (KE) communications COP. Research commercialisation, business engagement, and entrepreneurship benefit from high quality communications. The social sciences provide a particular challenge due to a lack of understanding – by both academics and businesses – of the value they can bring. Informed by insights gained delivering the full range of Aspect projects since 2018, the KE Comms COP have designed this toolkit to support messaging, commercial, and business engagement activities in support of social science commercialisation and entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship COP. Aspect’s Entrepreneurship COP seeks to identify entrepreneurship opportunities for social science students and to share knowledge and expertise amongst its members. Using the learnings from six funded projects, this toolkit showcases how universities can encourage social sciences entrepreneurship, empowering entrepreneurship practitioners and educators to better support these ventures.
1.3 Cross-cutting themes
Each Toolkit focusses on a single COP, highlighting the key challenges faced by the COP and providing insights and resources into how these challenges can be addressed.
One key theme cuts across all the different COPs and their toolkits – Communication and academic engagement. How the social sciences are understood and communicated within universities and to external parties (industry, funding bodies, etc) is hugely important for successful commercialisation, business engagement, and entrepreneurship. How academics engage with these activities – how/why they choose to engage, incentives, motivators, and barriers – is intertwined with communication. These topics are explored in greater depth in the KE Communications toolkit, with links to these topics also found in the Research Commercialisation, Entrepreneurship, and Business Engagement COP Toolkits.
2.1 About this toolkit
Aspect’s Research Commercialisation Community of Practice (RC CoP) seeks to support Innovation and knowledge exchange teams to share best practice, find opportunities for shared activities and identify and test new and experimental models for commercialising social sciences research. Our existing network of Aspect institutions has demonstrated potential significant demand for social science commercialisation both amongst the academic community as well as the knowledge exchange professional services community.
This demand is still nascent and requires support mechanisms, toolkits and resources for both the academic and professional services communities. Further, it is vital that these tools support the development of good, innovative and effective practice for the commercialisation of research for the social sciences.
From experience across the Aspect institutions, there are significant challenges in the practicalities of social science commercialisation and tools are required to support commercialisation pathways and to open social science commercialisation to new academics and commercialisation teams.
To address the practical challenges that were uncovered, the RC COP members co-developed four workshops to draw out key strengths amongst the participating institutions; in doing so, the RC COP also engaged expert input to inform and elevate the understanding of each key chosen issue. Each workshop produced a suite of outputs that were then used to develop the framework of toolkit resources and training. The toolkit outputs themselves were then co-created and co-produced by the RC COP members working with expert consultancy support.
The toolkit modules are designed to inspire innovation and accelerate solutions to support social science research commercialisation from higher education institutions. Each aspect of the toolkit has been specifically tailored to support social science innovation and developing innovative ways to approach the social science researchers. To complement and support the understanding of these tools within a social science research context, an animated case study of an academic social science entrepreneur exploring the commercialisation process has been produced; the case study has been developed for two intended audiences – the professional services teams and academics.
2.2 Why do we need an Social Sciences Research Commercialisation toolkit?
This toolkit will support members to identify opportunities within the social sciences, provide tools for overcoming challenges in commercialising social science and to explore new ways of approaching social science valuation. By engaging with social scientists in relation to commercialisation, universities are developing new ways for social science research to impact populations, change behaviour, develop economic opportunities and improve outcomes for populations.
2.3 How to use this toolkit
This social science research commercialisation toolkit is primarily designed for innovation or knowledge exchange practitioners, although some resources might be relevant to social science academics and entrepreneurs. It is envisioned that these tools might be used by the innovation teams to support social science commercialisation projects as well as to encourage more social scientists to engage with commercialisation.
Animated case study showcasing an exemplar social scientist on a commercialisation pathway. This 7 minute video shows the journey of a social science researcher working with their knowledge and innovation team to develop and commercialise their research.
Stimulating the Pipeline Workshop – a write up from a workshop aimed at developing social science commercialisation opportunities and sharing best practice amongst institutions. Good practice is organised according to four stages:
- Towards a critical mass
- Building a Scalable, Repeatable Process.
Report sharing best practice of tools to support social science commercialisation and increase and quality and quantity of social science commercialisation. Sections include:
- Opportunity, Identification and Assessment
- Opportunity Development / Proof of Concept
- Opportunity Promotion and Commercialisation
- Supporting materials
- Use and Delivery of Toolkit & Potential Impact on TTO activities.
Bespoke tools for evaluating, supporting, developing and valuing social science opportunities
- Suggested Invention Disclosure Form Modifications – bringing together good practice from across the RC COP membership.
- PESTLE tool and guidance – including examples specifically adapted for the social sciences –
- Go to Market Strategy – Intended for use by the knowledge exchange practitioners in conjunction with an academic team presenting the opportunity so they can plan and share tasks to promote their projects.
- Five tips for pitching a social science project – a collection of tips for pitching social science opportunities to investors or other external stakeholders, intended as a starting point and not a replacement for the many resources universities have to support budding entrepreneurs.
- Storyboarding – an approach to help think about and then communicate how your new social science opportunity might work for customers and end users.
- Valuation for social sciences opportunities – Providing a summary of traditional valuation techniques, intended for use by the knowledge exchange team and academics, enabling additional thinking around the valuation of their social science projects being considered for commercialisation or further impact generation activities outside their institution.
3.1 Overview - About this toolkit
This toolkit was put together to help create a unified approach to business engagement within the social sciences – creating tools to make the case to academics and businesses about why it’s important to engage – and to change perspectives and assumptions about the value that the social sciences can provide for businesses.
The toolkit was created primarily via the Aspect-funded “BE Pilot Projects”. These included:
- Sector specific deep dives – to develop good practice focusing on industry engagement in: Fintech, Creative industries, Legal tech, and Health tech, each including useful and insightful materials for the benefit of academics and business.
- Challenge-led workshops – exploring challenges uniquely faced by social scientists. Collective knowledge of workshop attendees was channelled into outputs representing the thoughts, experiences and opinions from a wide range of UK universities.
- Business Engagement “Ideas Box” – collating information from across all the Aspect partners into one place so that universities can understand what a unified and centralised approach to Business Engagement looks like, understand the underlying policy landscape, and what a good practice support model would look like.
Additional resources and tools from other Aspect funded projects can also be linked to via this toolkit, each of which has generated insights about business engagement in the social sciences: Methods 4 Change, ABaCuSS, and the Carer Project.
3.1.1 Why do we need a Social Sciences Business Engagement Toolkit?
Networking and partnership development for social sciences are encouraged and supported by all Aspect members, who also note that these activities appeared to be more established than is pure commercialisation. Members business engagement activities include extensive academic consultancy as well as the use of funding to stimulate larger collaborations between social scientists and industry. Compared to STEM disciplines, however, engagement with businesses by social scientists is low and opportunities remain to better understand and improve the way academics and businesses can be supported to form productive collaborations and partnerships.
3.1.2 How to use this Toolkit?
This toolkit is designed for professional services staff based in universities who have a responsibility for business engagement. Some resources might also be relevant for academics. While many of the resources support practical good practice, some may also be helpful to those seeking to make the case for increasing social science business engagement support and infrastructure.
This toolkit is not a complete guide for how to conduct business engagement in the social sciences, rather it is a unique set of resources that share experiences of what has worked well and, in some respects, what hasn’t.
3.2 Operations – Challenges and Differences
The Business Engagement COP have led and participated in a series of Aspect-funded projects that have set out to develop good practice and explore challenges specific to social science engagement including:
- Structuring professional services – How do you join up the different business engagement teams in a university to create a streamlined and coherent offer for both academics and businesses? This can be particularly challenging when the standard model is STEM-based and doesn’t account for the differences that might be expected when supporting the social sciences.
- Identifying opportunities – Which sectors show potential to adopt social sciences methods and innovations? Are they different than STEM? And do we need to develop new ways of working in these sectors?
- Communicating the value proposition – What does industry want or need from the social sciences, and how do we make businesses aware of the value that they bring? What are we defining as ‘social sciences’?
- Academic engagement – What motivates social science academics to engage with business, and how can we better reach, communicate with, motivate, and support them?
- Funding – Are existing public funding mechanisms fit for social sciences business engagement? What changes or improvements would we like to see made?
The sections of the toolkit below share some of the insights that have emerged from exploring these challenges.
3.2.1. Structuring a Business Engagement Support Offer: What’s different for the social sciences?
The Business Engagement function within universities covers a range of different ways in which academics and external stakeholders can engage. Multiple teams are often responsible for different parts of the university’s offering, each with a ‘product and service’ they provide to academics and businesses. For example:
- Career Services (jobs, internships with students)
- Executive Education (training for businesses)
- Consultancy (academics paid to deliver expertise and services for businesses)
- Research collaborations (supporting academics and businesses to develop strategic relationships for collaborative or contract research)
- Use of facilities (fee for service offerings).
Typically, business engagement support teams need expertise in contracts, communications, and a combination of proactive and reactive responses to potential opportunities with external stakeholders. The majority of Aspect member universities do not have a separate team to support social sciences business engagement.
Aspect members have noted that a joined-up professional services support offering – including business engagement, commercialisation, and entrepreneurship – leads to better social science innovations, impact and outcomes. A joined-up approach sees these traditionally siloed services supporting social science academics and innovations horizontally (administratively) as well as vertically (around strategic goals). For further reading on this, see Chapter 3.3 of Aspect’s 2020 Learning Report.
Intellectual Property commercialised from the social sciences is often different from that generated through STEM research, with the social sciences tending to focus on the application of expertise or data rather than on taking a specific technology to market. These differences have implications for business engagement for the social sciences – primarily around communicating the value proposition of social sciences to industry, and the value of collaboration to academics.
- Business Engagement Ideas Box – Led by the University of York, this project collated information from across Aspect member institutions into one place so that universities can understand what a joined-up approach to business engagement for the social sciences looks like. It will also help universities understand the underlying policy landscape and what a good practice support model could look like.
- LSE’s Commercialisation Office –At LSE the mixture of service and products on offer mean that LSE Innovation and LSE Consulting often need to take an integrated and flexible approach to supporting innovation. This compares with a more common approach for STEM projects where a conventional license or spin out is accompanied by a separate consulting service. Read more in Chapter 3 of the 2020 Learning report.
3.2.2 Identifying Opportunities: What sectors show potential for adopting social sciences innovations?
Aspect members have noted that engagement opportunities for social sciences often come from the public sector (schools, health, government) and organisations with a social good remit (NGOs, charities, social enterprises, foundations), alongside more ‘typical’ commercial businesses. Exactly which industries have potential for – or interest in – social sciences innovations is still open to question. Resources that offer further insights on this topic are listed below.
- BE Pilot Project Deep Dives – The business engagement COP conducted deep dives into: Fintech, Creative industries, Legal tech, and Health tech., with the aim of developing useful and insightful materials to support engagement with these industries. Resources include clips, a newspaper article, and ‘Good Practice Guides’. These deep dives highlighted how these sectors were receptive to adopting social science innovation, but also that there are several challenges remaining when executing collaborations.
- ABaCuSS – Through this Aspect funded project, Glasgow and Manchester provided full-time, paid, 9-week internships for PhD students to help them diversify their capabilities.
- Methods for Change – Providing training for academics and supplying them with how-to methods guides for using social science methodologies in business, Methods for Change aims to stimulate greater application of social science methodology across industry, policy, NGOs, other third sector organisations, and academia.
- The Carer project –exploring a collaboration between a team of academics from the universities of Sheffield and Liverpool and ‘Mobilise’ – a Zinc supported startup working with carer communities. The project provides an example of business engagement in two forms: 1) how academics are engaged with Mobilise, and 2) through that collaboration, how the social sciences were able to interact with local authorities.
- Case Studies – Aspect commissioned unique case studies sharing insights about Business Engagement.
- Aspect 2020 Learning Report – including a review of 15 case studies highlighting business engagement and commercialisation to inspire academics and industry and to build capacity and share learnings. Case studies highlighted projects targeting NGOs/charities as the end users as well as identifying big industry sectors as healthcare, education, and general business processes.
3.2.3 Communicating the value proposition: What does industry want or need from SS?
Social sciences can provide unique insights into problems faced by industry; as an example, industry uses behavioural sciences to analyse consumer behaviour as part of societal aims to support sustainability. Communication between academics and industry representatives still provides substantial challenge, with communication strategy development a key concern.
Companies are not always aware of the insights that the social sciences might bring, and if they are aware, often they take the view that they don’t need social scientists to understand or act on such insights, they can do that themselves. A key topic explored in the business engagement pilot ‘Deep Dives’ is how to position and communicate the value of social sciences to businesses. More tips and examples of good practice, can be found in the project outputs and other resources below.
- Fintech –Several companies mentioned their awareness of ethical and social science problems within their businesses, but that these problems often demanded a technical solution, rather than consultation with a social scientist or social science innovation from a university. Companies reported searching for startup or scaleup funding; this might be an avenue of collaboration or value-add that social scientists within universities can provide when seeking engagement opportunities.
- Creative industries – An investigation into activities between social science academics and the creative industries in the Northwest of England highlighted a plethora of activity in this area, with extensive mutual interests and benefits.
- Legal tech – A review of engagement and collaboration between law and industry at LSE and Manchester. Law firms increasingly recognise that innovation is changing the way legal services are delivered, for example using legaltech. There is a significant knowledge gap in this sector and a cultural shift is required to adapt to new ways of working. Universities and academics recognise the value of engaging with industry on these topics, as do some law firms. Universities must teach the right mix of skills for law in the future, engaging with the legal sector to ensure that the next generation of graduates are appropriately skilled. Discussions in this deep dive highlighted the different approaches at both LSE (much more philosophical) and Manchester (practical and hands on). The interviews and workshops that formed part of this deep dive encouraged reflection and engagement from their academics, which is promising for future collaborations between academia and industry.
- Health tech – This report presents the results of a deep-dive exercise to scope perceived opportunities, contributions, barriers, and facilitators of collaboration between social sciences academia and the health tech industry.
- Business Engagement Ideas Box – insights, comments, and project outputs.
3.2.4 Academic Engagement
Noted by Aspect members across the programme, the biggest challenge they face is a lack of participation and engagement from social sciences academics. Business Engagement COP members are of the view that this is due to a mixture of low awareness of the opportunities, lack of time (due to difference in group structure and teaching loads), and lack of interest. An in-depth look at the barriers and motivators for academics engaging with industry can be found in the KE comms Toolkit. More business engagement sector specific nuance can also be gleaned from the deep dive projects highlighted here.
- BE Pilot Projects –
- The Fintech deep dives revealed small and medium companies that were most interested in engaging with social scientists at the undergraduate or graduate levels, rather than with senior academics. Students were viewed as valuable assets they could train who might eventually join their company. Student internship programmes and Master’s programmes where participants can gain experience and continue on to full-time employment afterwards were noted as the preferable option for companies to engage with the social sciences.
- The Funding Incentives workshop highlighted the importance of communication around the value of social science to industry. In particular, this workshop noted that funders could play a role in how this value is better communicated through the design of their funding schemes and reporting mechanisms.
- The LegalTech deep dive highlighted academic engagement with industry at Manchester, stimulated through the 4-year ‘Manchester Law & Technology Initiative’, set up to address the challenges law firms face with the rise in legaltech applications and startups to deliver law services. LSE’s academics recognised that legaltech is important for the future practice of, and ways of thinking about, law and regulation. They also noted the importance of LSE Law students being be exposed to these topics; although there is not yet a formal teaching curriculum in this area at LSE, learning has been achieved informally and will likely to continue this way.
- Collaboration and academic engagement with the Creative Industries was extensive, but largely ad-hoc and uncoordinated. The deep dive workshop group recognised the potential value of a framework to help academics more seamlessly and effectively engage with the creative industries. Such a framework could also raise academic awareness that their university’s business engagement team can foster and execute these relationships.
- Marketing Toolkit – This project centres around a workshop on academic engagement, including the challenges faced by academics and how to improve communication around industry engagement about the challenges faced and how to communicate better.
- ENT COP Workshop Series– A workshop discussing the language surrounding entrepreneurship and understanding the role of language in reaching and supporting social science entrepreneurs. Read more in the workshop summary.
3.2.5 Funding for Social Sciences Business Engagement
Sufficient access to funding is a key requirement in providing opportunities for academics to ‘test the waters’ of working with/in industry or on commercialisation projects. A review of funding models for the translation of social sciences research showed that they tend to be adapted from a STEM model of engagement, with an unhelpful focus on Return on Investment and economic measures of success and with timeframes for delivery also based on STEM. The funding schemes assume a transactional relationship and are not necessarily appropriate for the majority of social science engagement with business.
Aspect sought to highlight how to make this access to funding sustainable and what options could be built in options to ensure sustained engagement. The Funding Incentives Workshop was interested in how funding policy can be shaped to support social science innovation. The workshop provided a discussion ‘starter’ and ‘white paper’ for funders and/or policy makers. Talking points included:
- It is critical for senior social science leaders to communicate the value proposition to a range of different audiences to motivate engagement and report outcomes.
- Tailored funding schemes that facilitate long-term relationships are needed, building models of engagement as opposed to transactional interactions. Such schemes should have appropriate, flexible timeframes, new outcome measures, and a flexible risk portfolio. Funders design the schemes, but they should seek input from those that will apply for and use them including businesses, universities, and social scientists.
- Rethinking organisational structures and strategies within universities will make it more likely that social sciences are considered for business engagement and social scientists can more easily access required support.
- BE Funding Incentives Workshop – flexible funding, social science academic leadership, longer funding timeframes, and an appetite for risk are all key requirements to encourage social scientists to engage with businesses. Read more in the workshop write up HERE.
3.3 Resources - Guidance, Examples & Tools
Below is a list of the Aspect resources and project outputs, that are relevant for social sciences business engagement.
Business Engagement Ideas Box. Exploring what a “joined up” approach looks like in Business Engagement.
- Scoping Report (coming soon)
- Matrix/Model (coming soon)
- Workshop (coming soon)
Creative Industries Deep Dive. Exploring what best practice looks like in Creative Industries Business Engagement in both Yorkshire and Greater Manchester regions.
- Report: Engaging with the Creative Industries in Greater Manchester
- Report: Engaging with the Creative Industries in the Yorkshire/Humber Region
- Report: Models and Dynamics of Sector-Engaged Research
- Best Practice Guide for Creative Industries Professionals
- Best Practice Guide for HEI Teams
Fintech Deep Dive. Growing social science engagement with Fintech.
Legal tech Deep Dive. Growing social science engagement with Legaltech.
Health tech Deep Dive. Growing social science engagement with Healthtech.
Diversity workshop. A guide for social science business engagement managers.
Funding Incentives Workshop. A report summarizing a discussion about how funding policy can be shaped to support social science innovation.
ABaCuSS. Developing working models of intrapreneurship in the social sciences.
- Final Project report. Programme overview and learnings.
- Student Reflections. An analysis of the delivery of ABaCuSS including a collection of student reflections and recommendations for future iterations.
- Project materials – welcome packs. Available to Aspect members only.
Methods for Change. Impactful social science methodologies for 21st century problems.
- Introduction to the project. A brief article written by the methods for change team outlining the importance of social science methodologies and how the project will seek to draw out innovative methods for the benefit of non-academic sectors.
- March 2021 project update. The methods for change team reflect on key lessons and challenges faced in their project so far.
- Research method outputs. A variety of research methods.
Carer Project. Supporting family and other informal carers as they adapt to caring under COVID-19 related conditions.
- Challenges and opportunities for digitally supporting carers. A report on how digital technology can support carers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
4.1 Overview - About this toolkit
Aspect’s Entrepreneurship Community of Practice (ENT COP) seeks to identify entrepreneurship opportunities for social science students and share knowledge and expertise amongst its members. Aspect funded six projects that aim to explore how universities in the UK can encourage more social sciences entrepreneurship and empower entrepreneurship practitioners and educators to better support these ventures.
This toolkit encapsulates the learnings and outputs from these projects.
- Entrepreneurship COP Workshop Series & Mini-Projects – aimed at developing social innovation based entrepreneurial activities, building institutional capacity, enhancing internationalisation, and establishing the social sciences as a key driver for social innovation and social enterprise development.
- Aspect Student Accelerator Programme (ASAP) – a new flagship four-month student and alumni accelerator hosted by LSE to support and scale socially impactful and responsible ventures.
- Ecosystem Audit –to identify social science entrepreneurship offerings from Aspect members with a view to mapping relevant resources for entrepreneurs and alumni for each institution.
- Social science Entrepreneurship Case Studies –from each Aspect partner institution, showcasing social science entrepreneurship.
- ‘Inside the Founder’s Mind’ Podcast – aiming to provide social science students with dedicated resources aimed to inform, inspire and prepare them for life as an entrepreneur. The podcasts included ten recorded interviews with entrepreneurs.
- Creative challenge series – showing the scope of social science research and the artist’s relevance in society as explorers of the challenges and issues that surround us.
Additional resources and tools are included from Aspect funded projects where insights into entrepreneurship in the social sciences have been generated: Zinc Research Fellowships and Prize Fund, the ARC/SUCCESS accelerator, and the ABaCuSS intrapreneurship project.
4.1.1 Why do we need a Social Sciences Entrepreneurship Toolkit?
There are plenty of generic and STEM-focused entrepreneurship resources available for entrepreneurs and the university staff that support them. The issue the ENT COP explored through these toolkit related projects was that social sciences focused entrepreneurship may require social science specific resources.
In completing these projects, ENT COP members have been able to identify what is different about social sciences entrepreneurs, what challenges they and their support teams face,, and what solutions may help to overcome these challenges.
In engaging and training social science students in entrepreneurship, universities are also educating and informing the next generation of social science researchers, some of whom might then engage with research commercialisation. Entrepreneurship for social sciences also contributes to student’s employability, creativity, and resilience.
4.1.2 How to use this toolkit
This toolkit is primarily designed for entrepreneurship support practitioners and those who teach entrepreneurship, although some resources might also be relevant to social science entrepreneurs. It is envisioned that these tools might be brought into the classroom and used practically to support the development of social science ventures, and/or at a more strategic level to support practitioners as they plan and create social sciences entrepreneurship programmes.
4.2 Operations – Challenges and Differences
In 2019 the ENT COP identified the following overarching challenges and differences between social science and STEM-focused entrepreneurship:
- For social sciences students, differences in the language used when discussing entrepreneurship can demotivate individuals from participating in entrepreneurship.
- The skills required for social science entrepreneurship (business skills, a social impact focus, etc) can be different to those that need to be taught to STEM entrepreneurs.
- The support required to form a team, which often may be multidisciplinary and/or built around a tech/digital solution, can be challenging in social sciences entrepreneurship support.
These challenges led to the six funded projects, the outputs from which have generated insights and learnings that will help University support teams refine their entrepreneurship offerings. A number of key question areas were identified, the answers to which are also included within the toolkit materials below.
4.2.1 How do we define social science Entrepreneurship?
The COP produced the following definition and mission statement for university teams who support social science entrepreneurship:
“Social science is, in its broadest sense, the study of society and the manner in which people behave and influence the world around us. Social science entrepreneurship is the creation of ventures, services, or products, i) by founders with a background in the social sciences, or ii) by multi-disciplinary teams with business models and processes rooted in social sciences.
University teams who support social science entrepreneurship aim to encourage social science students and alumni to consider entrepreneurship as a means for enacting impact and change, while also supporting entrepreneurs from other backgrounds to adopt social science methodologies into their ventures.”
- What’s Different About Social Sciences Entrepreneurship (workshop writeup) – this session created a working definition of social science entrepreneurship and discussed the particular challenges faced by social science students in their prospective path to entrepreneurship.
4.2.2 How do we find and engage more social science entrepreneurs?
The COP was of the view that social scientists face some unique challenges that contribute to low engagement with entrepreneurship. i) communication around entrepreneurship – how people talk about it and the terminology used – might put off some individuals, ii) the skills that need to be taught to entrepreneurs, for example business skills and a social impact focus, are not always taught in more mainstream entrepreneurship programmes, iii) the support required to form a multi-disciplinary team was a hurdle, and iv) skills gaps were more obvious than for those in STEM-focused startups.
COP members identified approaches to increasing engagement, including: helping social science students find the right resources; demonstrating the value of intrapreneurship; helping individuals to identify when entrepreneurship is not right for them; providing support to form multidisciplinary teams; and raising awareness for other avenues for entrepreneurship even though you may not be the individual with the start-up idea.
Two workshops were held to explore these topics in greater detail. Recommendations include: encouraging social science entrepreneurship programmes to avoid using ‘business jargon’ – for example use language that is inclusive of all sizes of ventures (i.e. local impact, freelance, small business) rather than over-emphasising terminology such as ‘10x return, high-growth, disruptive innovation’. The recommendations are caveated with the acknowledgement that while contextualizing entrepreneurship to different audiences improves engagement, this takes resource and must be balanced with the capacity of the team to support a wider range of entrepreneurs.
Zinc undertook a to drive engagement between social science academics and startups during their third venture build mission. Working with and in support of the startup ventures, the research fellows were able to provide the evidence of just how attractive startups could be as career destinations for early career researchers (ECRs), and how the startups could benefit from the ECRs expertise and skills. A full list of outputs from this project are included below.
A second zinc project supported Tandem – a mission 2 venture, in delivering collaborative research between the company and social scientists from the universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen. By working with the researchers, Tandem gained a better understanding of the complex problems they were dealing with, informing their market validation through social science research. In turn, the researchers gained valuable real world experience.
- The Language of Social Science Entrepreneurship – this workshop aimed to understand the role of language used in reaching and supporting social science entrepreneurs, particularly in engaging underrepresented groups.
- Increasing Diversity in SS Entrepreneurship– the ecosystem of high growth startups and businesses perform poorly in terms of diversity and inclusion. The Entrepreneurship COP discussed and shared learnings in this area. This article shares some of the key outputs from the session.
- Zinc Research Fellowships – a short video showcasing scientists and researchers in Zinc ventures. Blog posts about research in startups and a webinar recording that makes the case for early career social scientists to work in startups.
4.2.3 What does the journey look like for the social sciences entrepreneur?
Following a workshop on ‘Mapping the Ecosystem’, during which Leah Thompson of Oxford outlined how the Enterprising Oxford initiative helped to promote, support, and highlight entrepreneurial activities, resources, and opportunities, COP members funded a project to audit the entrepreneurship ecosystems at their individual universities. The audit outputs identified and highlighted, good practice within the members social science entrepreneurship programmes.
Reporting from the identified two major areas to build upon in supporting social science entrepreneurship: founders learning and development, and entrepreneurial exposure prior to the accelerator programme. Entrepreneurs with little or no previous experience in these areas were less likely to have the skills required (or interest in developing these skills) to convert their research into businesses.
The ASAP report also identified three areas of intervention where social science entrepreneurship programmes could focus – building a data driven translation engine, channelling scale for business and impact, and finding purpose product market fit.
- ASAP: Social Business Model Innovation report –exploring how startups with a social science and impact driven foundations ideate and evolve their business models and how we can adapt to make future commercialisation programmes more effective for early stage social entrepreneurs.
- Ecosystem Journey Mapping workshop – Sharing the experience of the University of Oxford in creating and maintaining maps of relevant entrepreneurship activities, resources, and opportunities for members to access.
- Journey Mapping Mini-Project Report – What does the socials science student’s entrepreneurship journey look like? Through research and interviews a diagram was developed, defining the key stages of the user journey including a supporting narrative of typical key activities undertaken at each stage, parties involved, challenges faced, and relevant support needs. The narrative explains the enhancements or changes needed to accommodate the different needs of social science students. A report summarising the interviews and data collection activities was also produced, including a review of the literature to identify suitable frameworks and models that can be used to interpret the data.
4.2.4 What are the support offerings we need to have in place to support social science entrepreneurship?
The COP identified a resource gap specific to social science entrepreneurs, with particular requirements around: raising awareness around businesses skills; training in digital/technical areas; exploring social responsibility and impact; and in providing resources to inspire social scientists to pursue entrepreneurship and commercialisation.
Three projects were funded to explore what offerings could be provided to support social science entrepreneurship: the ASAP accelerator, the podcast series, and creative challenge events. These projects generated extensive resources filling the information gap for social science entrepreneurs. Links to the specific resources and content are below.
In 2020-21, an intrepreneurship project was piloted, providing a proof of concept for working models of intrapreneurship within the social sciences, brining together social scientists with industry partners. ABaCuSS developed practical skills for students coming from a diverse field of disciplines. In delivering this pilot, Manchester and Glasgow uncovered a high demand for intrapreneurship frameworks and PhD students who were keen to learn business-focussed skills. While focusing on entrepreneurship per se, ABaCuSS encouraged different ways of thinking for those taking part, perhaps opening up entrepreneurship options in the future.
- ASAP: Social Business Model Innovation report – exploring how startups with a social science and impact driven foundations ideate and evolve their business models and how we can adapt to make future commercialisation programmes more effective for early stage social entrepreneurs.
- Profit with purpose: The ASAP Impact Report – the ASAP team created a unique infrastructure to develop, share, and exchange knowledge and good practice and to inspire and encourage social sciences commercialisation.
- The ASAP alumni community drop in sessions – six drop in sessions were run for alumni to discuss challenges and get input on how to solve them. Success stories were shared on Miro boards.
- ASAP Podcast: The power of social business – building off the knowledge reports, the focus of each episode addresses specific challenges and opportunities faced by social science entrepreneurs: scaling for impact, leading with purpose, and using data as a superpower.
- The ASAP Playbook (accessible to Aspect member only) – The ASAP club aspires to establish a digital support structure for applicants who apply for social sciences and/or social-impact accelerators but are unsuccessful in reaching the final cohort selection. It enables them to receive sufficient encouragement to continue and excel in their entrepreneurial journey.
- ASAP club Toolkit – This mini-toolkit provides potential entrepreneurs with a target list of resources for the social sciences. Originally inspired by the desire to support unsuccessful applicants to the ASAP accelerator, these resources are relevant to any social science entrepreneur.
Read more about the ASAP Club project below, or click these links to access the project resources directly:
- ASAP Club Digital Toolkit – A curated set of resources to enable early-stage founders of social sciences and/or social impact driven ventures to take the scary step forward to make it a reality.
- Launch Event – Webinar recording from the 29th April 2021 Launch Event.
- Creator Fund Webinar – Webinar recording from May 2021 Event.
- Podcast Mini-series – Five new podcasts episodes interviewing incredible mentors and founders on each focus area – Coming soon!
- Podcast Series: Inside the Founder’s Mind – A 10-part podcast series including interviews with business leaders, entrepreneurs, and scientists that explores the entrepreneurial mindset and discusses key traits including resilience, stamina, and facing failure.
- Creative Challenge Events – These events aimed to inspire social science entrepreneurs by bringing artists and academics together whose work aligned with the Industrial Strategy challenges. The two Event Reports from the series serve as a ‘how to guide’ for others wishing to run similar events in the future.
- ABaCuSS – An internship programme designed for social science PhD students looking to diversify their capabilities and expand their network. Explore the resources on the project page.
4.2.5 How do we fund and structure our entrepreneurship support teams and programmes to as effective as possible?
The ecosystem mapping project audited support team size and structure across the eight Aspect member institutions and found that they ranged in size from 1.5 – 30 FTE, with the team size, not unsurprisingly, due to the budgets available in the different institutions. Having a single point of contact (a individual or a team) to help build the ecosystem and be involved or aware of everything that is going on at the university was singled out as a key resource.
As ASAP came to a close, it hosted a webinar highlighting key learnings from the running the accelerator programme. The delivery team noted that the programme structure for ASAP reflected traditional accelerator programmes, including mentoring, a community aspect, and tailored training. A key difference came in the tailored training and content, with social science entrepreneurs benefitting from topics like social impact, socially-minded business models, and illustrative case studies being integrated into the core content. The resources below explore these concepts in further detail.
COVID-19 presented new challenges across the entrepreneurship ecosystem when accelerator programmes were forced to move to virtual delivery almost overnight. The ASAP accelerator learnings webinar (linked below), podcast series, and supporting entrepreneurship remotely workshop write up highlighted the unique opportunity that this presented. Content produced for social science entrepreneurs was directed towards covering ‘softer’ entrepreneurship skills and on startup survival topics such as establishing emergency funds for founders, founder wellness, and mindfulness and breathing work. Read more in the resources below.
- Ecosystem Audit Project Outputs – Entrepreneurship support teams vary greatly in size across the Aspect member institutions. Universities cited having a central resource who is aware of all entrepreneurship programmes and activities as one of the most important members of the team.
- Supporting Entrepreneurship Remotely– sharing the learnings from an LSE workshop on their approach to developing a holistic virtual entrepreneurship hub.
- Innovating revenue generation to sustain university entrepreneurship hubs – learnings from this workshop are most relevant for entrepreneurship hubs facing pressures to generate revenue and/or facing a funding gap or considering growing the programme’s remit.
- Bristol’s approach to early-stage support – exploring Bristol’s experience in creating a user-centric pathway for entrepreneurial support, this workshop write up describes a situation in which entrepreneurship support is offered by different parts of the university with little to no communication with each other.
- Getting ‘bang for your buck’: Supporting social science student enterprise with a (very) small team – being understaffed is a common challenge indicated by university entrepreneurship support hubs. Through this workshop, Glasgow share their experience in developing and growing student enterprise support with a full-time staff of one!
- ASAP: Learnings from a Joint University Social Sciences Accelerator – the team who launched and ran the first iteration of the Aspect accelerator to support social science entrepreneurs share their experience and highlight key learnings on running this programme.
4.3 Resources - Guidance, Examples & Tools
Below is a full list of the Aspect resources and project outputs, that are relevant for social sciences student entrepreneurship.
- Entrepreneurship Workshop Series. A series of workshops aimed at developing social innovation based entrepreneurial activities, building institutional capacity, enhancing internationalisation and establishing the social sciences as a key driver for social innovation and social enterprise development.
- Mapping an ecosystem: The Enterprising Oxford Journey. This workshop shared the experience of the University of Oxford in creating and maintaining maps of relevant entrepreneurship activities, resources, and opportunities for members to access.
- Supporting entrepreneurship remotely. LSE’s approach to developing a virtual hub.
- How are social science entrepreneurs responding to COVID-19? From helping to fight the COVID-19 pandemic to re-imagining a society coexisting with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the social sciences have played a key role each step of the way.
- Innovating revenue generation to sustain university entrepreneurship hubs. A discussion of challenges faced by entrepreneurship hubs that are facing pressures to generate revenue and/or facing a funding gap or are considering to grow the programme’s remit.
- Supporting diversity in innovation and entrepreneurship. Since university is often a young person’s first substantive exposure to entrepreneurship, Aspect member institutions serve a critical role in setting an example for creating a diverse and inclusive environment and supporting underrepresented students and researchers, with consideration of the specific challenges and needs of different groups.
- Language of social science entrepreneurship. Understanding the role of language is imperative to supporting social science entrepreneurs, particularly in engaging underrepresented groups.
- Creating a user-centric pathway for entrepreneurial support. The University of Bristol shares their experience in conceptualising a user-centric pathway for entrepreneurial support.
- What’s different about social science entrepreneurship. This session aimed to develop a working definition of social entrepreneurship and discuss the particular challenges faced by social science students in their prospective path to entrepreneurship.
- Supporting student enterprise with a (very) small team. Getting ‘bang for your buck’. A Q&A session from the Aspect Entrepreneurship COP.
- Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Audit case studies. Shares examples of best practice and showcases exceptional stories of innovation, entrepreneurship and research commercialisation in the social sciences from each of the participating universities.
- Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Audit. Identifying and mapping relevant resources for entrepreneurs and alumni.
- Aspect Student Accelerator Programme (ASAP). A four-month student and alumni accelerator hosted by LSE to support and scale socially impactful and responsible ventures.
- Social Business Model Innovation Report. Exploring how social science startups ideate and evolve their business models.
- Profit with purpose: the ASAP Impact Report. Highlights the key results and programme activities from the inaugural cohort of nineteen social impact ventures from eight Aspect universities.
- ASAP club toolkit. A digital support structure for social science entrepreneurs.
- Creative challenge series. Aims to show the scope of social science research and the artist’s relevance in today’s society as explorers of the challenges and issues that surround us.Click here to access a range of content relating to the themes explored – including podcasts, books, articles, blogs, apps and music, in addition to the recordings of the talks.
- Inside the Founder’s mind podcast. Recorded interviews with entrepreneurs that aim to inform, inspire, and prepare social science students for life as an entrepreneur.
- Research Fellowships in Zinc Mission 3. A research fellowship programme where to researchers joined Zinc’s in-house R&D team.
- Research Funding Prize for Zinc Mission 2 Businesses. A research funding competition aimed at supporting the Mission 2 ventures to embed and generate research as part of their products and services, as well as to showcase the impact of social sciences on startups.
5.1 Overview - About this toolkit
A set of defined good practice in communications about knowledge exchange in the social sciences – to academics, universities, and private sector stakeholders – can be hard to come by. The communications and knowledge exchange COP (KE comms) recognises that many elements of research communication, business engagement, and entrepreneurship need high quality communication to support success. For the social sciences in particular, these elements are challenging due to a lack of understanding about the potential value of the social sciences to businesses.
The toolkit was created primarily via the outcomes of two workshops and corresponding surveys run by the KE comms COP. These workshops were designed to gather good practice, example case studies, and sticking points of communicating the value of the social sciences within academia and as part of academic engagement with business.
- Workshop 1: Communicating the value of social science
- Workshop 2: Academic engagement
5.1.1 Why do we need a SocSci KE Comms Toolkit?
The 2019 Aspect Learning Report noted that good communication within universities – between academics and the business engagement and commercialisation teams, and communication between universities and potential collaboration partners such as companies, is essential for research commercialisation and business engagement opportunities to take place. Some of the specific communications topics included:
- Informing businesses “What is social sciences”
- Engaging academics “Framing engagement as a chance for social impact”
- Clarifying and effectively communicating the value proposition for engaging in these activities
The resources in this Toolkit explore these topics and provide practical, hands-on advice for how to improve various elements of communications between academia,communications and KE professionals.
5.1.2 How to use this toolkit
This toolkit is designed for a university audience, primarily those working in communications, knowledge exchange, and business engagement. The tools will help to communicate the value of social sciences to both academics and senior management within the research organisation. They are intended to provide quick suggestions for how communication efforts can be the most effective and to highlight what does and does not work.
5.2 Operations – Challenges and Differences
The KE Comms COP have set out to develop good practice and explore challenges specific to social science communication including:
- The private sector is just beginning to understand the value of social science research to commercial ventures. At its heart, social science seeks to understand people, place and systems, and how we interact in the real-world with our surroundings. The insights social science can bring to most businesses is invaluable.
- The current impact and funding landscape encourages, even rewards, social science researchers to collaborate with the private sector. However, most researchers don’t have the background to engage with business in a way that maximizes benefit to all stakeholders. As research support professionals how can we better support learning and development?
- There is a lack of a unified approach to communications around social science commercialisation and working with industry – what are some wider communications and marketing strategies?
The sections of the toolkit below share some of the insights that have emerged from exploring these challenges.
Who does the responsibility sit with to make sure the communications around SocSci and it’s value and offering are communicated? Central comms teams at universities or the TTO?
In Spring of 2021 the KE COP met for a series of workshops that focused on:
- the barriers to participation in private sector activities for academics – such as business engagement activity, commercialisation opportunities and entrepreneurship.
- communicating the value of social sciences both internally within the academy and externally to private sector partners.
These workshops confirmed many shared challenges between the Aspect members in the CoP. Some of these included time and resources, understanding messaging that engages and motivates academics, broad remits in business engagement research support jobs where communications are essential to the role but potentially little prior experience in communications. Out of these workshops the CoP is developing a series of case studies to demonstrate the ‘how to’ of creating effective communications around private sector engagement both internally and externally. As part of our ongoing commitment to the CoP we will be engaging with capacity building activity to help upskill the research support staff within Aspect universities and beyond.
We distilled a set of ‘top tips’ from our Spring 2021 workshops, and will be sharing more resources, case studies, and opportunities to get involved with the CoP.
5.2.2 Five Top Tips:
- Some social science researchers can be apprehensive to engage with large cooperates. Small businesses, local companies, and start-up ventures offer opportunities to collaborate that may be more in-line with social science values in specific disciplines
- Offer training with networking opportunities to help translate research skills in to the vernacular and techniques used in the business world
- Specialist support staff is invaluable to identifying opportunities, building trust between researchers and businesses, and maximizing impact with the private sector
- Start small – across universities there has been success building from small opportunities to larger collaborative work with companies. This allows he researcher and company to build trust and let the practical applications of their collaboration drive the direction of the work.
- Support staff can work closely with researchers to understand and create a pitch around their unique offering to a business.
5.3 Resources - Guidance, Examples & Tools
Below is a list of the Aspect resources and project outputs, that are relevant for SS business engagement.
- Case study template containing a series of questions aimed at helping individuals create case studies for communications and knowledge exchange.
- Diagram illustrating the stages of communication.
- Summary of takeaways from the two workshops which includes tips on:
- Dedicated Social Science Support and Messaging
- Frameworks to Understand opportunities
- Role models and visibility through social media
- Event and themed based opportunities
- The Language of Entrepreneurship – The topic of communications and the role of language in reaching and supporting social science entrepreneurs was also explored in the Entrepreneuship Community of Practice workshop series. This writeup summarises the learnings from a literature review and a Q&A with social sciences students, to provide tips on how to best engage with and attract social science students to entrepreneurship.