Ministry of Defence publishes Science and Technology Collaboration and Engagement Strategy

The Collaboration and Engagement Strategy outlines the steps the MOD will take to build on its relationships with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and academia.

The Collaboration and Engagement Strategy sets out the contextual background behind its publication, including references to the 2020 MOD Science & Technology Strategy and the 2021 Defence & Security Industrial Strategy. Both these publications stress the importance of successfully leveraging the capability of UK industry and academia to maximise the Defence and Security opportunities inherent in emerging and disruptive science and technology (S&T), and the generation-after-next capabilities they can lead to. The Strategy recoginses that the MOD has been slow to adapt, and is not making use of the full extent of talent in the UK. It outlines the organisational and behavioural changes Defence will make in its overall approach to collaborating and engaging with SMEs and academia to enhance these relationships.

techUK has outlined the key points in the Collaboration and Engagement Strategy below, including its vision and scope, the capabilities the MOD needs to become a 'partner of choice' for SMEs and academia, and finally the implementation of the Strategy. 

1. Vision and Scope

To fully capitalise on the capability available within UK industry and academia, the MOD’s vision is to become the partner of choice for academia and industry engaged in defence-relevant S&T. Specifically:

  1. ‘Partner of choice’ means the best UK-based talent and capability prefers to work with the MOD – and find it benefits them to collaborate.

  2. ‘Defence-relevant S&T’ will most likely require targeting individual researchers, academic institutes, other funders of research, spinouts and SMEs.

The Strategy does not cover the whole of the MOD’s relationship with the entirety of UK industry. The MOD's relationship with larger businesses and Primes is not included, and the mechanisms to engage with larger UK defence suppliers already exist and are detailed in the Defence & Security Industrial Strategy, commercial frameworks and other advisory documents.

2. Becoming the 'partner of choice'

To become the partner of choice, the MOD will do the following things:

  • Communicate and engage with external partners in the way they want and need to be communicated with. This includes being flexible with how the MOD engages with academia and SMEs, tailoring its approach to their unique characteristics and requirements wherever possible.
  • Make it as easy as possible for external partners to work with the MOD. Whilst maintaining essential principles such as the security and integrity of contracted research, the Strategy will ensure MOD policies and processes promote, rather than inhibit, ease of working.
  • Aim to provide the best offer available. The MOD will aim to make its offer the most attractive out of a crowded field. This means adopting an attractive approach that goes beyond just financial considerations.
  • Create positive MOD-industry-academia relationships. The MOD will use its considerable internal investment in S&T to positively shape the UK industrial/research sector, supporting them consistently throughout, thereby creating a more mutually beneficial innovation ecosystem.

3. Generating the capabilities needed to become a 'partner of choice'

These capabilities include:

  • An agile commissioning and contracting mechanism. Academics, academic spinouts and SMEs value agility, early adoption and a risk-tolerant approach. To be partner of choice, the MOD needs a commissioning and contracting mechanism that meets those principles.
  • An accurate understanding of what we want, and an ability to articulate that externally. The MOD needs to be able to simplify the narrative of what it wants and when, and then broadcast its needs externally in an easily understandable and accessible way for others to act on. ‘What we want’ also includes its expectations on external partners when they work with the MOD, such as on the security of their research.
  • An understanding of how academia and SMEs want and need to be communicated with. The MOD needs to tailor its engagement plan to get the most from individual sectors. Collecting feedback from partners to understand the drivers for collaboration within academia and industry, as well as how to communicate better, will help customise messaging.
  • The ability to learn from what other countries or competitors are doing. The MOD can learn from allies and partners. For example, what S&T they are investing in, and why they are pursuing a different approach or technology; or how they engage with their academic and industry partners. The MOD can then adapt its own approach, thereby giving the UK a competitive edge.
  • The ability to create resilient and long-lasting relationships with stakeholders. This means moving beyond the primarily transactional relationship that typifies MOD’s engagement with private organisations and being able to tap into and support the diverse mix of motivations present in industry/academia. Such motivations can include: financial; academic credential; publication opportunities; career progression and opportunities; job security; or the thrill of discovery.
  • Funding. Fundamentally, to do any of this MOD S&T needs to be able to access the relevant funding and distribute it at the pace and in the way required by academia and SMEs.

4. Implementation 

To achieve the above, in the first instance the MOD will implement the following systems changes:

  • Collect information on how to engage with academia and SMEs. Feedback will be continuously collected direct from stakeholders on how best to engage. This will ensure the mechanisms evolve and stay relevant to those they are meant for, not just those that have the capacity and resource to understand and use them.
  • Create capacity to build stronger relationships with the MOD's trusted partners. These could be regional or based on a specific capability. They will enable the MOD to build close working relationships with academics and ensure that good ideas are picked up.
  • Improve existing commercial mechanisms and procurement systems, and look to develop more flexible arrangements for working with Defence. While all applicable mechanisms and systems will remain available for use, in the short term the MOD will prioritise those existing ones that its believes are best for academia and SMEs. Longer term, it will look to invest in developing more agile and accessible tools which suit the needs of these partners.
  • Implement an internal mechanism within S&T to coordinate needs and requirements. This will foster greater cooperation between MOD Head Office, the armed forces, and delivery agencies by challenging the internal system to get better at understanding (and communicating to our supplier base) what it wants. It will help link different but related needs and requirements set out in publications such as the Defence Technology Framework (DTF)Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) and Science and Technology Strategy 2020, among other products.
  • Create a single S&T portal. This will provide a front door into the world of MOD science, technology and innovation, making it easier for external partners with good ideas to access the right part of the system. It will also act as a one stop shop for everything they need to work with Defence and understand what it wants from them.
  • Instil an agile, risk tolerant culture among decision makers. The agile contracting mechanisms will only work if they are managed by decision makers who are also able to think in an agile way – whilst taking a balanced view on risk. That also means being open to challenge from external partners.
  • Adopt more effective stakeholder/customer relationship management systems. This will reduce the resource burden and lead to more fruitful partnerships in the future. For example, by using stakeholder/customer relationship management tools.
  • Update the MOD's security infrastructure environment. The MOD will create a system to enable easier working with external partners at SECRET and above. There are already systems in place to do this with Primes, large companies and the bigger universities, but not with the individual researchers or SMEs. The MOD will need to update the operating system and fixed infrastructure (e.g. facilities) elements of its wider security infrastructure.
  • Foster skills mobility. Seconding external researchers into MOD/Dstl or placing MOD/Dstl researchers into industry/academia enables a greater exchange of skills between UK academia, industry and Defence, the ability to work on shared challenges, and overall uplift in UK capability. The MOD will look at both long- and short-term placements.
  • Be more flexible and strategic with how the MOD funds academics to maintain the skills supply chain. This can mean the long-term funding of people, rather than positions, or offering recruitment routes for post-doctoral students with transferrable skills.
  • Involve external partners in more MOD business. Academia/SMEs have a wide skill set beyond just research development contracts or S&T acquisition. The MOD will involve them holistically in more S&T business, such as through red teaming, acting as a challenge function for key S&T products like the Problem Book (which helps guides the development of MOD’s science and technology portfolio), or working together with MOD scientists in co-creation centres.
  • Actively learn from international partners. The MOD will develop internal research and advice on the defence industrial and academic relationships of key international partners.

5. Next Steps

To show commitment to this Strategy, the MOD is collecting information by taking a snapshot of this data after the release of this strategy. It will use this information to inform the improvements it makes to collaboration and engagement within the MOD

You can contribute to this by completing the 'Selling to and Working with Dstl' survey, which can be accessed here. 

Please contact the MOD  through Ask Defence on [email protected] if you would like to provide more specific feedback or would like more information.

Link to Science and Technology Collaboration and Engagement Strategy 

Fred Sugden

Fred Sugden

Associate Director, Defence and National Security, techUK