Creative Fuse North East: Collaboration in Recasting the Third Mission

Creative Fuse North East is an AHRC/ERDF/Arts Council of England funded project connecting all of the universities in the North East of England to businesses within the Creative, Digital and IT Sector to explore the Scale-Up agenda. The collaborations opened up by Fuse have allowed the project to become a sum of all parts with each institution offering a different skillset and approach to the project creating space for fascinating collaboration across institutions and with CDIT SMEs.

This panel takes an introspective examination of the practices each university involved in Creative Fuse North East bring to the table and the impact institutional activity has had on support creative SMEs. This panel will also look at how the Fuse approach has changed institutional understandings of the Third Mission recasting it as a shared priority to not only help grow the North East’s Creative Economy but also apply skills from creative graduates to create new models of innovation.

This panel will also look at exploring the legacy of Creative Fuse, particularly in the context of Brexit, and how Fuse can work to assist creative business through the transition period in leaving the EU.

Creating meaningful communications for cross-sector collaboration: the case of Creative Fuse North East (Rebecca Prescott, Newcastle University)

The dynamic and symbiotic relationship between universities and the creative industries remains important. However, much of the discussion focuses on the tangible results of these collaborations – the new product, service or skill. Questions remain over how these relationships are both established and mediated, and how they can be used to form both productive, meaningful and enduring connections.

Drawn from survey data collected as part of Creative Fuse North East, this paper moves away from the outcome of university-business collaborations to examine the process of communication between business and university. Taking this research as it’s starting point, this paper asks; how do we talk meaningfully to each other? How does this communication serve in building more robust and productive relationships between universities and the clusters of creative businesses that surround them? More specifically, how did Newcastle University, acting as the project lead, manage the shifting ideas, demands and outcomes of a multi-institutional project? By answering these questions, the paper aims to explore Creative Fuse North East’s role as interface between business and the university, and in doing so present recommendations for future cross-sector collaborations.

Co-Producing Innovation in the Devolved Tees Valley (Sam Murray and Paul Stewart, Teesside University)

Creative Fuse North East is a university partnership across all the universities in the North-East of England which seeks to explore how the local Creative, Digital and IT (CDIT) sector can be supported in scaling up and how digital practice can be fused into cultural organisations. Through the Fuse pilot project academics have been working with CDIT SMEs to explore innovative ideas to enhance or change digital practice or create new tools, products or services.

This paper explores how the Creative Fuse North East Project has encouraged reflection on how Teesside University situates itself as being a Civic University becoming a thread in the creative fabric of the devolved Tees Valley region. The Creative Fuse team at Teesside University has designed specific interventions to work with the various actors in the project creating: pilots to help CDIT SMEs explore innovation, research on the potential of cultural policy working with the Tees Valley Combined Authority and exploring how the projects can connect with the various communities around us. Teesside University can be an intermediate between CDIT SMEs, local authorities but also have the capacity to engage citizens in the creative development of the Tees Valley. This paper explores these interventions as case studies and how they are supporting development of internal thinking towards collaboration and its role in the Tees Valley.

Through this process the university is connecting its history of a technical institution focussed on practical skills with enhancing a research agenda to complement its deeds with words. Continuing the production of a civic context, the interventions are framed as to how they influence the ideas of public and common space for a co-constructed ecology in the Tees Valley. The ecology is to dissolve our values in to daily life that a devolved Tees Valley can be a civic community.

With the HE sector being required to demonstrate more evidence of Knowledge Exchange and Impact, and with the AHRC launching its Creative Clusters call, this paper makes further reflections on how Teesside through fuse can contribute to furthering notions of what a civic university can be in Creative Britain.

Students as active catalysts for innovation within collaborations between universities and the creative sector (Mark Bailey, Manos Chatzakis, Josh Hornby, Nick Spencer and Nate Sterling, Northumbria University)

Universities can be seen as nurturing the talent which will, in the future, benefit the creative sector. From this perspective, collaboration between the creative sector and academia is geared towards producing future employees with greater skill sets. However, this paper explores how innovation can be fostered within the creative sector by positioning students themselves as active partners in these collaborations. Here, the goal is to use students as catalysts to spark innovation and, through this, enhanced learning.

This paper explores the role of students within collaborations between universities and SMEs, sole traders and freelancers, considering how their inclusion helps counter some of the potential barriers to fruitful collaboration. A series of innovation workshops will be analysed. These formed one strand of a wider research project, CFNE, which seeks to explore how creative graduates can be used to address barriers to growth and innovation and thus benefit the creative and wider economies. The workshops were led by an innovation expert from the team at ‘N’ university. However, crucial for us here is that postgraduate students were deployed as active facilitators. Their role within these workshops was to work with the business through a series of design-led activities to explore innovation readiness and strategy.

This paper will analyse these workshops in order to address how students can act as effective catalysts within collaboration between industry and university and why this approach is beneficial. We can speculate that key findings from this ongoing research will include that students act as non-threatening and low risk facilitators, able to create an open and honest climate. Furthermore, students are able to challenge and provoke businesses in a constructive manner in order to delve deeper into their assumptions and rationale. The paper argues that students can drive innovation within the creative sector as this process of questioning and exploring ultimately builds strong and sustainable strategies for innovation.

‘Cultural Hubs’ in the North East: An innovative approach for universities to engage and support creative SMEs (Alistair Brown and Ladan Cockshut, Durham University)

The Creative Fuse North East (CFNE) project is a research collaboration across the five North East universities exploring and supporting the region’s CDIT sector. Within the consortium, County Durham has presented specific challenges in assessing and delivering support to its disparate and often micro-level creative and digital sector.

The City of Durham is the engine of growth in the County and home of a world heritage site and top-ranked University. However, it also sits as an island within a sea of post-industrial semi-urban poverty to the East and a very rural population to the West. Delivering the project’s support to these areas, where the creative sector is substantial yet dispersed or hidden (due to many sole-trading home-workers) has presented challenges which required a bespoke solution for support delivery. The project’s Durham University research team found it rare for these isolated businesses to network with each other, seek support from a university seen as ‘remote’, or engage with more commonly available business support services.

This paper presents how the Durham University CFNE team employed the use of cultural ‘hubs’– tourist offices, museums, heritage sites, craft centres – as a kind of branch campus to carry out its SME support and engagement activity. The concept of ‘hubs’ posits an effective university-to-SME support model which can help address key growth challenges facing these micro-businesses. It also considers the opportunities and challenges that emerge when a university tries to expand its impact and support activities beyond its typical spheres of engagement.

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