Insights from BCC Research

Interview—Is Tech Transfer For The Social Sciences?

Social Science

If you work in or collaborate with partners in Europe or Central America, tech transfer and SS probably isn't a new concept. But if you’re in the U.S. or other parts of the world, SS is an overlooked area of technology transfer.

Why is this? Why aren’t SS innovations more encouraged and visible in the tech transfer field? How could fields like Economics, Sociology, Anthropology and Psychology create impact and assist in solving the problems our world faces today? How can more TTOs, innovation outfits and incubators collaborate with SS researchers to commercialize their work and effect change?

To begin to answer these questions, we turned to tech transfer and SS experts, Tom Hockaday, author of University Technology Transfer: What It Is and How To Do It, and Chris Fellingham, Licensing and Ventures Manager at Oxford University Innovation.

BCC: Why is much of SS research commercialized in many countries except the U.S.?

Tom: Relationships between social scientists and tech transfer is new, triggered in large part by 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF introduced a measure of Research Impact, which was worth 20% of the overall points, which affected how much money universities received from the central government. The REF encouraged researchers to ask, “What impact is our work having?” Researchers began to consider, “How can we discuss and present the impact we’re having?”

From what I read and hear in conversations with colleagues in the U.S., they’re just as interested in impact. It’s just that researchers in SS aren’t obliged in the U.S. to think about impact to the extent that they recognize the tech transfer as a channel that can help them.25-30 years ago, some researchers thought technology transfer and commercialisation of research was the work of the devil, but many others wanted to get involved.

Nowadays, there’s more and more acceptance, comfort and experience. You can go and talk with somebody down the corridor and ask, “How was it engaging in the TTO?” But there’s not yet the familiarity in SS, how it plays out, the successes, etc.

Chris: There are complexities. There’s an interesting angle around the Benelux countries, the relationship between the economy and universities. There’s much more of a sense that university should be integrated in the local economy. Academics, business, local government—they're much more integrated, so SS comes much more naturally. That’s the attitude. National cultures. It creates a natural demand. I don't think we have that in other parts of the world.

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Written by Sarah Greenberg on Feb 9, 2021 10:00:00 AM

Sarah Greenberg is the Manager of Content Marketing at BCC Research. She creates our blog, social media and email content.