Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christine Ahrend, First Vice President at Technische Universität (TU) Berlin, is responsible for research, appointment strategy, and knowledge and technology transfer. She also oversees the transfer strategy of TU Berlin. In this interview, she underlines how important the mutual exchange of knowledge is for the University and society.
Professor Ahrend, TU Berlin is actively committed to the transfer of knowledge and findings to society, business and teaching. What is the significance of this transfer strategy? How did it come about?
The first thing we did was take stock of the situation with professors well-versed in transfer activities. Then a group from the relevant service offices prepared a transfer audit for the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft with me. The results formed the basis of the transfer strategy now in place.
We saw that we were well positioned in five key areas: technology and economics, society, politics, teaching, and science communication. Art and culture is another growing key area. It became clear that there was a great deal of scientific policy advice available at all levels. The subject areas are very heavily interlinked in social, political and economic networks. We are looking into how we can organize mutual knowledge exchange more transparently, so that someone who is well connected in the field of mobility and traffic, for example, can help others with this network. The simple expression “knowledge management” is almost not enough to express the transformative effect that this organized knowledge could have for our research and our efforts to transfer the finding to industry, society, teaching and politics.
And how can the internal exchange of knowledge be improved?
There will be designated contact persons for the three areas of research with society, science communication and technology transfer: These will be Stefanie Terp, press spokesperson for TU Berlin, for science communication; Dr. Audrey Podann, advisor for strategic projects, for research with society; and Verena Rademacher, head of the Research Department, for technology transfer. They will ensure knowledge exchange runs smoothly at all levels of work: Who could contribute a solution to which issue? Who is active in policy advice? What networks with society are there at TU Berlin? What topics do we have that could be of interest to these networks? We are already pooling these kinds of networks and knowledge sources in the StadtManufaktur for Berlin living laboratories. We want to avoid the same work being done twice and instead develop ideas together strategically.
How do you intend to organize exchange with society? How can businesses and citizens get involved?
In the past, when companies, associations or other social actors wanted to get in touch with us, they would use various points of contact, for example the science shop kubus, the Center for Technology and Society, the StadtManufaktur for Berlin living laboratories or the Centre for Entrepreneurship. In the future, we want to bundle all the various access points to the University in one place. We are planning something along the lines of an “Office of Science and Society”. It’s like a front garden at TU Berlin, where all of society is welcome. Citizens can knock on our door, ask questions and even invite science over to their place.
What can the dialog between university and society achieve?
A strong and outstanding community of science benefits from being close to society. This does not mean compromising your own research quality, but rather integrating the citizens’ knowledge into solutions to complex, societal challenges, for example. It’s like tango, where the dynamic expressiveness comes from playing with the balanced body control of the dancers. Cooperation means that you know what you can do yourself and what you can do better with the help of others. This is essential when it comes to knowledge and technology transfer.
What are your expectations for the transfer strategy?
I would like to see TU Berlin become even more widely known for being a strong player in the field of knowledge and technology transfer. At the moment, even we are not yet fully aware of our own strength. Some of our spin-offs are well known and innovations and individual projects have received decent coverage, but the full potential of our transfer efforts and their overall impact is capable of gaining a lot more visibility.
Interviewer: Christina Camier.