Band of Industry Competitors Fuels Translational Research

April 18, 2013

I joined The Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS) just a few months ago as Project Manager, and since Day One our team has been gearing up for our annual Spring Industry Advisory Board (IAB) meeting. Last week it finally arrived! I was looking forward to hearing all of the final presentations from the 2012-2013 projects and learning which new projects would be funded for the upcoming year. I was particularly excited to meet the Board members face-to-face. Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to over twenty of them by phone to systematically assess their reasons for joining CChIPS, their perspectives on the role of the IAB, and strategies for sustainability into the future. It’s clear that our Board members are passionate about their work and proud they are contributing to the safety of children every day.

What is an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center?

CChIPS is one of 61 Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC)  in the United States. The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides seed funds for these centers, but they are governed by their IAB, which is also responsible for providing annual research funding. These dollars are pooled to fund translational research projects that are relevant to the IAB interest area. CChIPS’ mission is to make children safer, with a particular focus on automotive safety. Its IAB is made up of major auto, child safety seat and crash test dummy manufacturers as well as government and non-profit organizations dedicated to safety, and the research it funds has a direct impact on innovations and regulations that will ultimately save young peoples’ lives.

CChIPS Measures of Success

I have a background in program evaluation, so I was naturally curious about what made this Center function so well, 8 years since receiving its initial award from the NSF. If I could capture best practices and tease out some measures of success, perhaps this information could be fed back to the NSF to help explain what works in an I/UCRC.         

When I asked Board members what they valued most, both personally and professionally, about their involvement in CChIPS, they mentioned the following factors:

  • The importance of working to make children safer
  • The satisfaction with the pace and quality of research
  • The value of sitting in a room full of industry competitors, grappling collaboratively with problems that impacted them all
  • Building professional connections that were strong enough to continue even outside of CChIPS meetings

As one member explained:

“I think being involved in the IAB has had multiple benefits for our company.  Not just from the value of the research that we’ve been able to bring back and how that’s been able to change our products, but also being involved in the IAB has helped us generate other ideas and helped us forge partnerships with other manufacturers and child restraint manufacturers so that ultimately we can put together a better and safer product for kids.”

Another IAB member echoed this sentiment: “More brains make more robust conclusions and a better product.”

In addition to the benefits associated with networking, a common benefit that members often mentioned was the tremendous return on investment. With the single membership that a company pays into the funding “pot,” multiple research projects are funded. One $50,000 membership fee purchases hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pre-competitive research, an amount that no single company could afford to pay on its own. The funding mechanism thereby significantly leverages each member’s contribution, making the structure of I/UCRCs very appealing to sponsoring companies.

While not all of the research benefit is tangible or quantifiable, the ultimate goal of CChIPS is to put findings into action and improve technology in a way that will keep more children safe and sound. One IAB member explains that CChIPS meetings and discussions help members better understand the current concerns in the field. These concerns are the driving force that directs industry toward new innovations. “When you come from industry,” he says, “you look for the issues and for the solutions that are needed to solve them. This is your basis for developing a new product and new business.” Through CChIPS, he says, “We can contribute. We are problem solvers.”