Category Archives: Researchers

The Intrapreneurial Researcher: an interview with Professor Nicholas Procter

NICHOLAS_PROCTERThis week’s interview is with Professor Nicholas Procter of the University of South Australia.  Professor Procter is Chair: Mental Health Nursing and Convenor of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Research Group within UniSA’s Sansom Institute for Health Research.

The group led by Professor Procter is highly regarded within the higher education and mental health sectors for its applied and interventionist orientation to research and teaching.  The group operates using a communities of practice framework which involves working collaboratively with mental health consumers, clinicians and sector managers to advance research, knowledge transfer and community engagement in mental health.

Professor Procter is currently Chief Investigator responsible for the management of more than $3.5m in grants from the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, state and federal governments to build mental health research and practice capacity and further mental health and substance abuse related research in South Australia, nationally and internationally, tackling key mental health issues of society.

In this interview Professor Procter explains his personalised approach to his research, how he looks beyond taken-for-granted assumptions, and the importance of authentic conversations.

Q. You have a strong focus on a “person-centred approach” through your research, teaching, publications and practice.  How does this personalised approach affect what questions you ask yourself before beginning a new initiative?

A.  It begins with thinking about the best way to connect.  While we have plenty of electronic means of communicating, it really does come down to the experience that another person has when contact is made, so I begin by thinking about what works best for the person I am co-creating the new initiative with: I put myself in their shoes.  I demonstrate that I hear what they are saying.  I think it best to build the relationship first and then try to identify how best to create shared value.

Q. You have said that one of the greatest lessons you learnt from a mentor was to look beyond taken-for-granted assumptions.  Why is that so important and how do you put it into practice?

A.  Leaders at all levels should be open to self-scrutiny and this means looking beyond taken-for-granted assumptions and the extent that they may be a block to getting things done.  I work a lot with people who are considered ‘vulnerable’ in our society.  It is true that many people with a mental health condition are vulnerable to such things as physical illness, abuse, neglect and perhaps even violence from other people.  At the same time it’s been my experience to be inspired by the resilience and remarkable coping with adversity that people, for example in suicidal crisis or with a mental illness have.  So my approach is a reflective and dynamic one.

Q. The building and maintaining of relationships plays a central part in enabling you to create impact in the mental health care field. What advice can you give others, based on your experience, about how to do this successfully?

A.  Many people tell me there is a need for strong and effective leadership in the mental health sector.  Leadership opportunities made available to me through my work at the University of South Australia are best realised with government and non-government sectors through having authentic conversations.  People with lived experience of mental illness tell me that they want to feel valued and respected when this happens.  They also tell me that when conversations are inauthentic that they are often left feeling misunderstood by others – including some well-meaning health professionals.  So on that basis building and maintaining relationships in the mental health field relies upon authentic conversations, communicating respect and showing warmth. Respect for both mental health consumers and health professionals is a conduit to trust. Having trust reduces ambiguity and builds leadership capability within the sector.

Q.  As a researcher leader, how do you approach the issue of sustainability in what you hope to achieve?

A.  Sustainability is at the heart of how I conceptualise the value proposition.  It relies heavily on local and global pattern recognition.  Some time back I secured a mental health grant for $450,000 over three years.  Within 18 months of the project our team secured an additional $300,000 in funding.  This added an additional two years to the project.  Additional funding and permanent work was to follow.  Success also came down to having relationships for longer term at the forefront of every interaction as well as a solid team approach.

Thank you Professor Nicolas Procter for your time.  For more information on Professor Procter’s work visit For any further questions on thinking big, feel free to email me personally at


The Intraprenuerial Researcher – an interview with Professor Andrew Beer


This week’s interview is with Professor Andrew Beer of the University of Adelaide.  Professor Beer is Director of the Centre for Housing, Urban and Regional Planning – its vision is to undertake and disseminate research on housing, cities and regions for the betterment of society.

The Centre led by Professor Beer, is highly acclaimed for the incredibly practical and immediately useable outputs it creates.  Here Professor Beer discusses his background, the connection between social sciences and entrepreneurship, and his unique approach to outcome-based research.

Q.  The work your Centre engages is renowned for being very impact focused, with the research conducted not just being theoretical but accessible for immediate implementation. That is – you have been very strategic in being clear on a problem and providing a workable, realistic solution.  This is not something researchers are typically associated with, yet it’s an approach that is in high demand.  How have you been able to achieve this so successfully?

A.  I didn’t start out working at a University but came from a background in government. Outcomes were very important and I carried that experience with me.  I became an academic not with a specific career path or search for status in mind but because I enjoyed researching, thinking, answering questions and then, providing a practical solution. It’s not a better or worse approach than being theoretical or idealistic – it’s just how I like to work.

When working with clients we sometimes need to help reframe the problem so that the answer is researchable.  And then we aim to provide a solution which can be implemented.  We would never offer an impractical recommendation…

It is important to really listen to your client and stakeholders and seek constant feedback.  You also need to be accepting of change, for example even in the delivery of our results, the format needs to be accessible and presented in a method consistent with how information is currently consumed by your intended audience.  We always keep our end-user in mind and constantly confirm that our assumptions about them are correct.

Q.  Was there a standout change which occurred as a result of your research which brought you the most satisfaction? 

A.  In terms of stand outs, perhaps the work my team and I conducted in relation to the closure of Mitsubishi, a major automotive plant in Adelaide, South Australia and the effects this had on the well-being of workers and their families including their health, housing and the community. The study was conducted over a three  year period and the final report was completed in 2006.  Based on the findings practical, impact orientated recommendations were made and subsequently adopted by government. What is even more gratifying is that report continues to be regularly requested and referred to by policy makers and media.  It remains a relevant tool for assisting in providing better outcomes when a community suffers from mass redundancies and retrenchments.

Q.  When the subject of using “entrepreneurial skills” as an academic in the area of social sciences, what has been your experience?

A. The culture of social sciences has been to not see it as commercial in that it does not produce hard intellectual property such as patents but rather know how.  However we need to recognise that what we are producing is knowledge-based services.

In light of predictions that knowledge and the service industries will push economic growth the way manufacturing and resources used to – the question we need to ask ourselves is “What form will our services take and how will they be disseminated?”. It’s an area where innovative thinking and the creation of new business models need greater focus.

Social science academics have a major role to play in addressing social, environmental and economic challenges. It’s time to combine the functions they already serve, which are;

  • being holders of; knowledge, history, networks and connections (as governments and industry players come and go); and
  • providing a voice for communities, special interest groups, intuitions and individuals;

with entrepreneurial and enterprise skills to increase the impact, engagement and sustainability of their expertise for the betterment of society.
Q.  For early career researchers do you have any advice on how to distinguish themselves and create real impact through their academic life?

A.  Whatever area you are focusing on at any one time be it teaching, research (both theoretical or applied), writing publications, giving presentations or engaging with the community and industry – you need to ensure you bring quality to what you do and ensure you are adding value.  Don’t just go through the motion.

If you want to increase your opportunities to work directly with public, private or not-for profit organisations you need to get out your door and start talking to people.  Engage with the stakeholders and customers in your discipline and start building relationships. You might do this through offering free services initially; providing a presentation; going on a committee. But again – only do so if you can add value, otherwise you are wasting their time and yours.

It is also important to make sure you carefully think about and be clear on what you are willing and not willing to do. Make sure you are strategic with your time and think through the long term implications some affiliations might negatively have on career.

So, set boundaries; ask yourself “how can I best contribute?”.  Ensure that you are adding value, bringing your skill set (know your weaknesses and strengths), and follow through on commitments.

Thank you Professor Andrew Beer for your time.  For more information on the Centre for Housing, Urban and Regional Planning please visit  For any further questions on thinking big, feel free to email me personally at

The Intrapreneurial Researcher – an interview with Professor Karen Reynolds

Professor Karen Reynolds
As mentioned last week, over my next few posts I will provide case studies of Intrapreneurial Researchers, the first of these being Karen Reynolds, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Flinders University and Director of the Medical Device Partnering Program in South Australia.

Q.  It was through your vision that the Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) in South Australia was created.  What problem did you see needed solving and how was it being addressed – if at all?

A.  I developed the MDPP in an attempt to stimulate and facilitate collaboration between research institutions and industry to promote innovation in medical devices.  The MDPP was structured to address the barriers to collaboration by providing a market-driven model for research that develops links with industry and end users from the outset, identifying opportunities for stakeholders to work together to achieve mutual benefits, and providing guidance and assistance through the development and commercialisation pathway.  The Program provides a transparent model for collaboration and streamlined mechanisms for research and development, drawing on the breadth of capabilities from its partner network.

Q.  How did you start building momentum for the MDPP?

A.  We initiated a consultative discussion with stakeholders from within South Australia’s medical device community including all three publicly-funded South Australian Universities.  A collaborative bid was then put forward to the State Government, through the Premier’s Science & Industry Fund (PSRF) and we successfully launched the Program in mid-2008.  Since the initial PSRF funding, the MDPP has attracted continued investment and given the tremendous interest from interstate organisations we are currently working towards extending the Program nationally.

Building momentum for MDPP projects specifically has been relatively easy.  Industry and researchers alike have recognised value in the program, and there has been overwhelming enthusiasm shown by companies to work with researchers and to invest in early stage products or ideas.

Q.  What significant impact has the MDPP made?

A.  The medical device industry is made up predominantly of small enterprises.  Whilst these companies tend to have very innovative ideas, in many instances they don’t have the necessary research and development resources, or contact with experts from the research and clinical communities.  The MDPP has provided a portal to access technical and clinical expertise and has opened the doors for these companies to obtain end-user feedback much earlier in the development process.

The MDPP has provided evidence that – armed with a simple, transparent and effective model for engagement, barriers to collaboration and innovation can be overcome.  Traditionally competing parties are now demonstrating that they are willing to engage and work together collaboratively, resulting in successful outputs.

Q.  What has the MDPP meant for your career and for what you wanted to achieve professionally?

A.  In establishing the MDPP, my personal driver was to reduce the barriers of collaboration between industry and researchers, to increase the relevance of university research to see new and innovative medical devices reach the market, and ultimately to improve health outcomes.  While my career has certainly become far less traditional from an academic perspective, I believe the impact that the MDPP has had been more far-reaching than if I had continued on a very traditional academic path. I have enjoyed the privilege of interacting with a very diverse range of people, and being able to provide input into many new medical device concepts.

Q.  What advice would you give to other researchers who want to “think big” in terms of how they can effect change in their area of expertise?

A.  Be able to communicate with a variety of audiences, consider all stakeholder expectations and desired outcomes; be willing to compromise and adapt.  Don’t be afraid to try something new, and be willing to drive change; you never know – it might work!  In the environment we work where we are judged against traditional metrics, it can sometimes be hard to put your own personal research and aspirations aside in order to see other opportunities succeed.  However with hard work, perseverance and determination you can succeed.

Thank you Professor Karen Reynolds for your time.  For more information on South Australia’s Medical Device Partnering Program please visit  For any further questions on thinking big, feel free to email me personally at

The Intrapreneurial Researcher

intrapreneurial researcher

Research institutions, startups and entrepreneurs have been linked for many decades.  As Brad Feld explores in his book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, a research institution can be a catalyst for entrepreneurial endeavours.

Whether it be;

  • the birthplace of a startup (Google was born at Stanford University, Facebook at Harvard);
  • researcher expertise and publication of findings for all to access; or
  • the inventor researchers, creating technologies and breakthroughs leading to new drugs, products, devices, methodologies, processes, platforms and understandings for the greater good of society.

But to generalise, the majority of researchers don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurial, or  want to – even if they are making breakthroughs in their industry.

Main motivations for researchers include career progression, furthering their research area of interest, standing among their peers, publication and attraction of grant funding. Where would entrepreneurship feature in this? It doesn’t, especially when their area of expertise is thought of as not “commercial” like say drug discovery, but rather “social” – such as shaping policy or knowledge building in areas such as humanities or behavioural science.

However whether a researcher’s area of expertise lends itself to a more commercial outcome rather than a social one, all researchers can benefit by applying some intraprenuerial thinking to take a fresh look at what they want to achieve.

Thinking like a startup could bring a new perspective and provide a previously unconsidered path for greater impact – all while still meeting the underlying motivators listed above.

The next few posts will explore some case studies where researchers have approached their research with an intraprenuerial mindset which was;

  • end user/impact focused;
  • strategic in identifying and building relationships with key partners;
  • clear on how the outcomes will be delivered;
  • realistic about sustainability and ongoing capacity to scale; and
  • conscious of their organisation’s goals and strategic focus while working within its framework to achieve successful research in which results achieve a real impact.

The above approach is a truly intraprenuerial one and I hope that the examples I will be sharing, where using entrepreneurial thinking and techniques may not have initially been an obvious answer, will spark some new ideas in relation to a current or upcoming projects you may have on the go.

And if you are or know of any shining examples of intraprenuerial researchers (don’t be modest!) I would love to hear about it via Twitter @emmabeames or email