New research, led by Oxford Saïd Professor, shows how knowledge leaders can turn academic research into organisational impact

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New Oxford-led research identifies the ways in which organisations can overcome the difficulties of translating research-based knowledge into workplace practices

Professor Sue Dopson

The challenge for organisations is to identify, support and nurture knowledge

Embargoed until 07:00am, Tuesday 15 December 2015

Press release

How knowledge leaders turn academic research into organisational impact

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Knowledge leaders need better institutional support to effectively apply management research and successfully drive innovation and change within organisations, a new study has found.

Published today in Human Relations, it identifies how organisations can overcome the difficulties of translating research-based knowledge into workplace practices. It comes at a time when governments internationally are striving to boost societal and economic impact from research investment by focusing on commercialising and scaling up research and innovation, including a £310m commitment to support the discovery, development and commercialisation of research in life sciences in the UK. But knowledge is ‘sticky’ and structural and cultural factors often impede the flow between people, places and organisations.

The paper is based on a broader UK government-funded research partnership, led by Professor Sue Dopson, Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, with researchers at the University of Melbourne, King’s College London and Warwick Business School. Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) the study examined 137 senior managers in six leading organisations in the UK health industry.

‘We examined how managers use academic research in their decision making to affect organisational innovation and change,’ said Professor Dopson. ‘We identified the importance of ‘knowledge leaders’, who act as more than mere facilitators or translators of the research, but develop a deep-seated personal investment to apply this formal knowledge to their specific setting and create the momentum for organisational change. The challenge for organisations is to identify, support and nurture these knowledge leaders and help drive the transfer of academic research to developing an evidence-based health sector.’

‘Our study reveals how the most effective leaders ‘unstick’ and mobilise research to make it more useful to society’, said the paper’s lead author, Dr Michael Fischer, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne and University of Oxford. ‘Instead of attempting to translate and shift it further down the chain, they find ways to personally act as the knowledge itself. They create emotional engagement by actively ‘becoming’ the knowledge.’

The team identified three different types of effective knowledge leadership:

  •     Through transposing research, leaders act as carriers – they personally bring established research inside their organisation and enact it by creating organisational change.
  •     In appropriating research, leaders select and combine various research findings to reassemble these inside their organisations.
  •     By contending research, leaders select and challenge established research-based models as a way to drive innovation and alternative solutions.

However, being a knowledge leader is sometimes easier said than done. ‘Knowledge leaders are few and far between, but their leadership is key to moving research across university and industry boundaries,’ said Dr Fischer.

The findings have major implications for governments as well as management consultancies, universities and other knowledge-intensive organisations in how we develop effective knowledge leadership. The researchers make a series of recommendations for companies and policymakers to nurture knowledge leaders and accelerate the flow of research across university and organisational boundaries.

1.    Create opportunities for much closer collaboration between universities and organisations to stimulate the flow of people and research across boundaries.

2.    Creating ‘safe spaces’ for knowledge leaders to engage with research, innovate and shift practices.

3.    Identify and develop ‘hybrid’ individuals skilled at straddling boundaries between research and organisations.

4.    Increase postgraduate engagement and sponsorship in industry-focused research problems to spark cross-fertilisation of knowledge.

For more information or to speak with Professor Sue Dopson please contact the Press Office:

Josie Powell, Senior Press Officer, Saïd Business School
Mobile +44 (0)7711 387215; Tel: +44 (0) 1865 288403
Email: josie.powell(at) or pressoffice(at)

Jonaid Jilani, Press Officer, Saïd Business School
Mobile: +44 (0)7860 259996; Tel: +44 (0)1865 614678
Email: Jonaid.jilani(at)

Notes to editors

1.    About the paper

The full paper can be found here at 07:00am Tuesday 15 December:

2.    About the authors

Professor Sue Dopson, Rhodes Trust Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Saïd Business School

Dr Michael D. Fischer, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne and Saïd Business School

Professor Louise Fitzgerald, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Saïd Business School

Chris Bennett, Saïd Business School

Professor Ewan Ferlie, Professor of Public Services Management, King’s College London

Dr Jean Ledger, Research Associate, School of Management and Business King’s College London

Professor Gerry McGivern, Professor of Organisational Analysis, Warwick Business School

3.    About Saïd Business School

Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford blends the best of new and old. We are a vibrant and innovative business school, but yet deeply embedded in an 800 year old world-class university. We create programmes and ideas that have global impact. We educate people for successful business careers, and as a community seek to tackle world-scale problems. We deliver cutting-edge programmes and ground-breaking research that transform individuals, organisations, business practice, and society. We seek to be a world-class business school community, embedded in a world-class University, tackling world-scale problems.


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Emily McDonnell
University of Oxford
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