The European Commission has invested more than €2.6 billion funding in almost 1,300 projects related to marine research during its 6th and 7th Framework Programmes (FP). Its investment in marine development and conservation is undeniable.
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"What is heartening is just how much good marine research is being done in the European Union (EU)," says David Murphy from the knowledge management company, AquaTT, in Ireland. "What is disheartening is that some projects fail to clear the last hurdle," he adds. This last hurdle is knowledge transfer, a process which goes beyond the dissemination of results, to also incorporate feedback and measure the impact of shared knowledge.
To rectify this pitfall, the EU funded a two-year knowledge management programme called MarineTT, which started in 2010. AquaTT from Ireland and EurOcean from Portugal collaborated on the project. MarineTT's purpose was to develop new tools to unlock the full potential of EU-funded marine research.
"We examined FP6 and FP7 marine research projects to see whether their knowledge outputs could have an application for different end-users, including policy, environmental management and industry," says Murphy, who coordinated the project.
The first step of MarineTT was to survey over 500 marine-related projects. All projects that responded were then examined in terms of what their potential impact could be after successful knowledge transfer. Lastly, a smaller number of case study projects were selected for knowledge transfer to policy and industry decision-makers to test the methodology.
According to Murphy, a trained marine biologist, scientists are proficient at communicating their findings to each other. In fact, all FP6 and FP7 projects publish results as part of protocol. However, Murphy feels "the strategy for communicating results to non-scientific users is often not developed enough", resulting in publications that are only digestible to a slim portion of society. Furthermore, too often project communication is purely one-sided, in that it is simply a publication of findings.
"In MarineTT we really tried to make clear that knowledge transfer is not a one-way, one-size fits all approach," explains Murphy. A major finding was how little scientists understood the potential application of their knowledge, where it fit into the value chain and how to go about engaging with stakeholders. "MarineTT promoted a tailor-made approach to knowledge transfer," says Murphy. Its purpose was to convince researchers to think about who can use the knowledge they are developing, and teach how to best approach interested parties and present results so that they appeal to readers.
There are also times when scientists do correctly identify which sector would be interested in their research, but then fail to broaden their focus. An example of this was a group of researchers who developed an early detection technology for the harmful algal bloom in Italy. It took MarineTT to bring this technology beyond Italian borders. In addition, MarineTT recorded seven other FP6 and FP7 projects related to harmful algal blooms, leading Murphy to wonder: "if there had been more interaction between these projects, would their outcomes have been more cohesive and innovative?"
MarineTT project developed a knowledge gate, which lists information gathered during a project. "Over 500 knowledge outputs from 128 marine projects are in our knowledge gate already. It is open to all stakeholders, enables transparency and will hopefully reduce duplication," explains Murphy.
The MarineTT project finished in 2012. Yet its legacy lives on thanks to the team's commitment. "We really believe in our approach so we are currently developing guidelines for researchers to help them identify the best knowledge transfer strategy," says Murphy. Murphy believes that once these guidelines are developed, researchers will use them. "Our hope is that – also thanks to our project – the current shift towards science having a bigger impact on industry, policy and society will continue to gain momentum," he concludes.