“We at Chalmers, working in conjunction with Gothenburg University and Opticom, have recently implemented a Future Lab in mini format, and I’ve been absolutely delighted with the results – I didn’t think things would go so well,” says project initiator Ulf Carlson, Head of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Chalmers.
“The starting point was the statement in the Department’s strategy that reads ‘we shall find new ways of interacting and collaborating with R & D functions in the industry with the aim of increasing the usefulness of our activities.’ In simple terms, we need more concrete input from outside our institution, i.e. from our clients and customers in respect of how we create added value in what we do for those we have dealings with,” continues Carlson.
“I was thinking about the different ways and interaction scenarios in which we could get this information when I saw a presentation of Opticom’s Future Lab concept. Opticom’s experience of how much interesting information can be generated by allowing people from various sectors and industries to work together in smaller groups in a round table format sounded fascinating. Running a full-scale Future Lab project wasn’t on our agenda. However, we felt that a tailor-made version, a Future Lab in mini format if you will, that was tailored to our own specific requirements would be worth pursuing.”
“To get the ball rolling, we invited a small number of representatives on decision making level from a selection of our clients in Region Västra Götaland in western Sweden to join us for lunch, followed by a moderator-led round table discussion that lasted for a few hours, and the session proved to be highly successful,” says Carlson.
Carlson himself chose the companies and delegates who were invited to attend. As the event was arranged by the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, most of the companies present were associated with the fields of Chemicals, Forestry, Plastics and Pharmaceuticals. Attendees were: Akzo Nobel/Eka Chemicals, represented by John Sandström, Director of R & D. Södra Skogsägarna, represented by Karin Emilsson, Technical Director. Stora Enso, represented by Göran Bengtsson, Director of R & D Board. Astra Zeneca, represented by Claes Alhneck, Scientific Contacts Manager. SCA, represented by Jeanette Annergren, Product Development Manager. INEOS, Stenungsund, represented by Lars Josefsson, Chairman of the Board of Directors. Perstorp AB, represented by Lars Lind, Business Development Manager, and Business Region Göteborg, represented by Robert Onsander, Project Manager.
In addition to Carlson himself, the event was observed by a number of representatives from Chalmers, including another departmental head, Henriette Söderberg, two professors/areas of advance managers, Krister Holmberg and Thore Berntsson, and a further three professors from Chalmers and Gothenburg University.
“Working in conjunction with Opticom, I’d put a lot of work into compiling a relevant battery of questions for the round table discussions,” continues Carlson. “Being prepared with good questions is critical to the outcome of such conversations. I produced draft suggestions for the topics to be discussed, which were adjusted and hit backwards and forwards until we were happy with what we had. We had a really productive time developing the set of questions we were going to ask.”
None of the attendees were given advance notice of the questions with their invitation, only general information about the event. At the lunch, Mikael Selling gave a brief presentation of Opticom, introducing the two moderators from the company – Anna Lüthi and Mats Nygård. The delegates were then split into two groups, which were led into separate rooms and the exercise could begin.
“I sat in on one of the groups to observe what was happening,” says Carlson, “and it was very interesting and rewarding. The delegates were fully committed and came out with a number of highly valuable views and ideas, all under the professional management of the moderator who used our prepared battery of questions as their guide. The entire exercise was filmed so that all the suggestions and perspectives put forward could be incorporated and documented in the important Future Lab report, along with conclusions and recommendations, all of which formed part of Opticom’s deliverable.”
“The format – an introductory lunch followed by a two-hour discussion session – proved to be ideal,” explains Carlson. “It was a great event, short and sweet, and the delegates were tremendously satisfied. Most of the attendees don’t usually have time to give over to meetings like this, but everyone agreed that a few effective hours spent under qualified leadership was very rewarding. It provided a forum for putting forward perspectives in a structured way, all of which were eagerly heard. In addition, the meeting also provided an opportunity for the delegates to establish new contacts with colleagues they had not previously met, a bonus effect that proved to be highly appreciated. Many of the attendees, both from industry and academia, were heard to say ‘We must do this again’ when the event was brought to an end, and this is something we’ll certainly take on board,” says a very happy Carlson, “It’s a real thumbs up from me!”
“Opticom delivered, within the promised deadline, an extensive report containing a series of conclusions and recommendations,” continues Carlson. “We have now produced a condensed version of the report, which I’m going to be presenting to management and colleagues at Chalmers and Gothenburg University. The results will also be sent to the delegates.”
“As I’ve already said, I was surprised about just how many important views were put forward during the round table discussions,” says Carlson, “The results far and away exceeded my expectations. But none of it would have been possible without the involvement of Opticom, we’d have just been buried under the mountain of documentation.”
“We’ll now review the five main areas and important observations, prioritising a number of recommendations and incorporating them in our strategy for later implementation. Things will then be in concrete form and we can take the process forwards. The next step will be to select a few of the observation areas we want to examine in more depth, and it’s highly likely that we’ll be running another Future Lab session,” concludes Carlson