Department of Strategy and Innovation

Bridging the gap

The role of boundary-spanners in university-industry collaboration.

Recognizing that innovations often emerge from the cross-fertilization of ideas across boundaries (Fleming and Waguespack 2007Katila and Ahuja 2002Rosenkopf and Nerkar 2001), organizations often encourage their staff to take on boundary-spanning roles (Tushman 1977). Employees who span unit boundaries can benefit from a vision advantage by bringing together hitherto disjointed ideas, knowledge, or perspectives or transferring ideas from one context to another (Burt 2004Hargadon and Sutton 1997Tortoriello et al. 2012). Despite the preponderance of boundary-spanning roles across a variety of innovation contexts, it is not fully understood whether and how individuals leverage the advantages, their boundary-spanning position affords.

Boundary spanners working on creative or innovation tasks have a choice of whether and when to mobilize contacts on either side of the boundary. For example, university-industry boundary spanners – i.e. individuals with networks across both academic and industry domains – have the flexibility to turn to either academic or industry contacts in their network in pursuit of support or input for the generation of ideas or solution to problems in their work.

Given the importance of boundary spanning for innovation tasks (Fleming 2001; Rosenkopf and Nerkar 2001), in this project we seek to understand how boundary spanners decide who to turn to for advice in their work.


The research team

Associate Professor Valentina Tartari, Copenhagen Business School: 

Associate Professor Valentina Tartari





Associate Professor Anne ter Wal, Imperial College Business School:

Professor Maureen Mckelvey

Professor Maureen Mckelvey, University of Gothenburg:

Associate Professor Anne ter Wal


Have you been invited to participate in a survey and/or an event related to this project? You may want to check our Frequently Asked Questions section.



What is the purpose of the event I have been invited to?

The event has a dual purpose: it is designed as (1) an academic research study into network behavior and (2) as a training session about how to build and leverage a strong network for your career.

  1. The research study is part of a wider research project, funded by the European Research Council, on how individuals use their networks across industry and academia. The project to which are you are invited to take part aims to understand how scientists use their personal and professional networks to bridge the gap between academia and industry.
  2. The training element of the session is designed to provide you with insights into how your current professional network looks like, how you may think about developing it further, and what kind of networking practices may help you achieve that. It is intended to be a personal “journey of discovery” that will help reveal how your network currently works and how you may make it work better in a way that suits your personality and style.

Why have I been chosen?

You are part of a unique population of “university-industry boundary spanners”: people with a job role that spans the boundary between academia and practice who are uniquely positioned to advance science and technology by bridging the gap between science and industry.

Your employer has agreed to participate in this research study and invites you to take part to (1) offer valuable training and support and (2) to gain insights into how you and your colleagues bridge the gap between industry and academia.

Only aggregate information from the study will be shared with your employer. Under no circumstance will individual responses (which are anonymous) be reported back to your employer.

Do I have to take part?

It is up to you to decide whether to take part. If you do decide to take part, you will be asked to sign a consent form. If you decide to take part, you are still free to withdraw at any time and without giving a reason.

How will my data be used?

The information you convey in this study will only be used for research purposes. That is, the data collected in this study will be statistically analyzed and results of that analysis are intended to be published in academic articles. Data collected as part of this study include:

  1. Data from the in-take survey about your network and personality characteristics (anonymous)
  2. Data from the interpretive task about a recent scientific discovery (anonymous)
  3. Data from the computer-based network exercise (anonymous)

Your data will be treated in full accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR and will only be used for research purposes. The research team will adhere to the following general principles regarding data processing:

(1)    All responses to the survey and experiment are automatically made anonymous. The survey system and experiment tools we use are designed in such a way that is not possible to link a response back to an individual, as it administers invites and response/non-response separate from the data retrieved. Contact information we used to send invites and reminders will be destroyed before the data can be accessed.

(2)    All data elements are anonymised, before they can be linked to each other. We use an encryption procedure that converts your email address (used to for registration) into anonymized tokens. This procedure is needed to link different data elements you contribute to, e.g. the entry survey and your inputs to the network exercise, without knowing your identity. Your email address is not stored with the data.

(3)    It will not be possible to identify individuals in the data. Hence, we will not make the results of our research, or any resulting statistics, available in a form that identifies an individual or team.

(4)    No individual, anonymized responses will be reported in any form of publication. Reports on data will be based on groups of at least ten responses.

(5)    The information will not be used to support measures or decisions relating to any identifiable individual and we will not use the data in a way that will cause, or is likely to cause, damage or distress to any individual.

Data will be held securely. Under no circumstance will the data be made available to anyone not directly involved in the research. This also means that the data will not be made available in any public data repositories. 

Who is organizing and funding the research?

The research is conducted by Dr Anne ter Wal (Imperial College Business School, London), Dr Valentina Tartari (Copenhagen Business School) and Professor Maureen McKelvey (Gothenburg University). The research is funded by the European Research Council though the award of a Starting Grant (grant number 715280).

Has this project been reviewed by a research ethics board?

The study has been subject to ethical review by the Imperial College Research Ethics Committee and has been granted ethical approval.



The page was last edited by: Department of Strategy and Innovation // 04/04/2022