James Ransom

June 16, 2021

An arms race towards local irrelevance

It was good to speak again at the UIIN University-Industry Interaction Conference this morning. Last year I spoke about the pitfalls of local economic impact studies commissioned by universities, and today I talked about how current approaches to local engagement are impeded by outdated strategic planning models. Although ‘place’ needs to be central to local activity, approaches to this are strangely place-neutral: a series of engagement strategies and university planning documents that are largely indistinguishable from one another.

This thinking builds on several threads from the past few years: on strategies, on impact studies, and on understanding obstacles and opportunities for engagement.

It’s always fun to be able to say slightly controversial things like “the current crop of impact studies, engagement strategies, and enterprise policies emerging from universities risk becoming an arms race to local irrelevance”. But the point is a serious one. A uniform approach to engagement and enterprise masks what is really important at a local level: understanding and helping those who are marginalised, reaching out to those who can benefit from the work of universities, and understanding what more universities can do to help places and the communities who live in them.

I presented three tools for universities to help bridge engagement and enterprise at the local level. These are saved here together with the slides and an earlier presentation I gave back in February at Teesside University on a similar topic. Two of the tools I have talked about before, but the third tool – open source checklists for universities – is a new one I will revisit in a future post.