University of Gothenburg
Lindholmen Science Park
Photo: Anders Bergstedt

Collaboration as a fundamental idea

We have quite a lot of exciting collaboration. Here are some examples of what the collaboration in research and education can look like, both interdisciplinary in academia and close collaboration with companies and organizations.

Research collaboration on automated processing in the social services

Agneta Ranerup, professor of informatics, describes a fruitful and cross-disciplinary collaboration

– Since 2019, I and Lupita Svensson, researcher at School of Social Work at Lund University, have been collaborating in a project on automated handling of the social services. The research project is called "Digital discretion in social services: The case of automated decision-making" and is funded by FORTE. The introduction of the Robotic Process Automation technology has gained momentum in recent years and there is a great interest in the public sector, you can almost call it a hype. Our study aims to increase the understanding of existing scope for action in digitalized decision making and operations. The study is qualitative and involves several different municipalities, where we can mention Trelleborg – a medium-sized municipality with long experience of Robotic Process Automation, Mölndal – a municipality with around a year of experience, and then also a large municipality such as Malmö. We collect data through interviews with administrative staff, managers and politicians, who are part of the social services business. We have also included the documents that clarify the political intentions in the study.
– Our two different research perspectives – informatics and social work – complement each other well, but we also both have an open and critical approach that facilitates our collaboration. By conducting research in different municipalities in parallel, we can describe and compare experiences that go beyond the wave of interest in the field that came in 2018. We hope that our work will be valuable to other researchers with an interest in Robotic Process Automation, but above all for the municipalities that for one reason or another consider these issues!

Photo: Johan Wingborg
Photo: Catharina Jerkbrant

A company is an effective way to turn research into practical solutions

Professor Aarne Ranta on research collaboration with companies:

– It is always fun when research leads to something that can be utilized straight away, says Aarne Ranta. When utilizing, you need to test the research together with those who will use it.

– The most common way to test your research for users is in a regular collaborative research project. In step two, it feels quite natural to start a business. That way you come a little further and it is easier for other companies to have research collaboration with another company. It is easier to sign contracts and it is a competitive way to conduct useful research. This kind of reasoning made us start our company Digital Grammars in 2014, after a few years with various collaborations with companies in previous EU projects.

To start a company is as I see it the best solution for research collaboration with private companies

– But it is important to keep business activities and the research under the auspices of the University separate. Research a such must be free and unbound. I make sure to distinguish between everything that applies to the company in terms of equipment and my time. It is important be in one place at the time also mentally. Then it becomes quite easy to draw the line and possible conflicts of interest are avoided.

– An example of an interesting collaboration is a language tool that we built for a language called Z, where the system translates Z-code into English. In the project we could use knowledge from previous research. As a result the language tool has now come into use in Altran in the UK, when they bought the system. It was in many ways very different to work like this. The system was much larger than what we could have built if it was an ordinary research project. It takes a lot of time to develop something that big, there are many details about routines and functions that must be solved and which are not really research but advanced technology development. The commercial system should be able to handle thousands of pages of code in a few seconds.

– In a pure research project in academia, you do not usually build something as large-scale and detailed, there are simply no funders for it. But in a company we get the opportunity and the whole thing will also be an evaluation of the technology, how it scales up to practical purposes. It also became a very close collaboration. The ordering company stated their needs and how they wanted everything to work, and they were the people who had a good understanding of the technology around the solution. We as researchers had extensive experience of language tools and had to transform this expertise into a creative solution.