Online induction for students recruited in another successful call

Nine new PhD students started in the Faculty of Business and Law (FBL) on Monday 1 February 2021. This is the second group of students to have received their induction online and started their studies remotely while the Milton Keynes campus remains closed due to Covid-19. Current PhD student Olga Solovyeva captured efforts to welcome them into the online PhD community during the induction! Many of the students recruited in this round had responded to the highly successful Faculty-themed call, ‘Responding to COVID-19 and the Climate Emergency’. This call featured PhD research projects that consider the organisational and legal challenges posed by the pandemic and/or the climate emergency – urgent, complex societal problems that management, business and legal researchers can help to address.

  • Suzzie Aidoo, supervised by Dr Michael Ngoasong and Dr Aqueel Wahga – ‘Entrepreneurial orientation, network resource acquisitions, firm performance: a study among female-owned SMEs’.
  • Ioana Bratu, supervised by Dr Robert Herian, Dr Charles Barthold and Dr Clare Jones – ‘Technological power as a new legal order’.
  • Dimitri Kennedy, supervised by Dr Xia Zhu and Prof Elizabeth Daniel – ‘Servicescape: The impact of environmental and social design on students’ exploration, behaviour and wellbeing pre and post Covid-19 (Exploring the reconfiguration of Eduscape Post Covid-19)’.
  • Gavin Myers, supervised by Prof Siv Vangen and Dr Daniel Haslam – ‘Migration, identity and community: Finding common ground in a foreign country: Diasporic identities as a basis for inter-organizational collaboration in Caribbean charities in London, United Kingdom as a response to the dislocations’.
  • Chinedu Nevo, supervised by Dr Charles Mbalyohere and Prof Dev Kodwani – ‘New Frontiers on the Rise: Dynamics and Trends in the Renewable Energy Entrepreneurship in Africa’.
  • Amna Sarwer, supervised by Dr Charles Barthold and Dr Cinzia Priola – ‘Financialization, Migrant Women Workers in Social Care and COVID-19: A Crisis Within Crisis’.
  • Kalie Weninger, supervised by Dr Nela Smolovic Jones and Dr Nik Winchester – ‘Democratic Practices to Address the Climate Crisis’.
  • Samantha Hawtin, supervised by Prof Mark Fenton-O’Creevy and Dr Caroline Clarke – ‘A gendered exploration of the uncertainty experienced by managers working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic’.
  • Clark McAllister, supervised by Dr Nela Smolovic Jones and Dr Jamie Woodcock – ‘A Workers’ Inquiry into Seasonal Agricultural Labour in the UK’.

Dave’s viva success is now a Shaw thing

Congratulations to Dave Shaw who passed his PhD viva on 9 December 2020 with his thesis, ‘How can the creation and maintenance of partnerships contribute to national social marketing campaigns in England?’ Supervised by Dr Fiona Harris and Dr Haider Ali, the external examiner was Dr Christine Domegan (JE Cairnes School of Business and Economics, National University of Ireland) and the internal examiner was Prof Edoardo Ongaro. Dave (pictured with his dog Jessie) is currently working full-time as a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Hertfordshire. He plans to ‘take a holiday’ before starting on the thesis edits and he is hoping to publish some journal articles from the PhD, something the examiners encouraged.

One of our own completes his PhD

Congratulations to Julian Sidoli who passed his PhD viva on 19 January 2021 with his thesis, ‘Disputing in the Urban Environment’. Supervised by Prof Simon Lee and Prof Paul Catley, the exam panel was chaired by Dr Andrew Gilbert, the external examiners were Prof Bryan Clark (Newcastle Law School) and Dr Paul Chynoweth (University of Salford), and the internal examiner was Dr Clare Jones. Julian began his PhD by Published Work as an Associate Lecturer before joining the Law School’s central academic team in July 2020, combining a fractional lectureship with his practice at the Bar.

Researching the impact of Covid-19 on the future workplace

A project to assess the future workplace as a result of Covid-19 has received funding from the OU’s Rapid Response scheme.

Dr Hilary Collins, a Senior Lecturer in Corporate Programmes for Executive Education, has received £7,500 to assess the impact of the pandemic on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements for organisational development in the UK.

She said: 

This project is based on a need to research the underpinning developing changes and requirements for organisational development skills and interventions. There is a large overlap between jobs at risk due to Covid-19 in the short term, and jobs displaced by automation in the longer term. Many of the jobs that employers might need to fill by 2030 require a higher level of skills.

Dr Hilary Collins, Senior Lecturer in Corporate Programmes for Executive Education

A key output will be a new microcredential, ‘Management of change: organisation development and design’, this year. The project, which had previously run a workshop in Scotland to discuss the training needs of alumni from creative industries, held another one with employers in January 2021 and has more planned with the other Nations throughout the year.

“We do good things, don’t we?”: considerations about social enterprises’ evaluation approaches

This blog is written by Dr Francesca Calo, Lecturer in Management at The Open University Business School (OUBS). This blog was originally published on 2 February 2021 and was written for the OUBS Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise (PuLSE) blog.

In 2009, Alex Nicholls titled his article, in which he discusses the emergent reporting practices used by social enterprises, with the question “We do good things, don’t we?”. After more than ten years and a context that has changed quite a lot in the last ten months, it is the same question that resonates in my mind when I think about social enterprises and more broadly non profit organisations, specifically in relation to their potential role in the world post Covid-19.

Before Covid-19, social enterprises have been tasked with competing for, and delivering, health and social care contracts on behalf of the state (Alcock et al., 2012; Hall et al., 2012) on the perception that they provide higher levels of innovation, cost-effectiveness and responsiveness (Bovaird, 2014). Despite this rhetoric, the evidence that provision by social enterprises is ‘better’ than available alternatives is notoriously weak (Calò et al., 2018). While the evaluation of interventions in health and social care has arguably become increasingly more sophisticated, this has not been the case where social enterprise is concerned. However, the evaluation of the impact that social enterprises have, will become even more relevant after Covid-19 when resources should be invested in players that can do “good things”.

In a study that I carried out with colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian University, we assess the potential of three methodological approaches common in health evaluation – systematic review, realist evaluation and quasi-experimental investigation – and we apply them to the complex realm of social enterprises. Systematic reviews which collate and assemble all the up-to-date empirical evidence to answer a specific research question (Shemilt et al., 2010), have been considered a robust form of research because, if undertaken correctly, they are believed to increase the generalisability of results and assess consistency of evidence (Mulrow, 1994). Realist evaluation focuses on how a specific intervention works, for whom, and in what circumstances (Pawson and Tilley, 1996), and is designed to identify the combination of generative mechanisms and contextual characteristics in achieving outcomes (Fletcher et al., 2016). Quasi-experimental investigation aims to assess the effectiveness of specific health interventions (Craig et al., 2008) and determines what works in terms of measurable outcomes (Fletcher et al., 2016; Moore et al., 2015).

We faced different challenges when applying these approaches to the social enterprise realm. Two were common to all the methods employed.

  • First, difficulties were faced in identifying a suitable comparator for a social enterprise and consequently addressing the question of what would happen without the social enterprise intervention.
  • Second, generalisability of the findings was quite difficult. In the systematic review, studies included were heterogeneous in terms of contexts, interventions and beneficiaries. Also, in the realist evaluation, it was not possible to generalise results, generated by a single case study, to the heterogeneous world of social enterprise. In the quasi-experimental investigation, very little could be said about how the findings might be applied in new settings or among other populations.

Reflecting upon the limitations of the three methods used in this study, two main lessons can be drawn that could be useful for policy-makers, researchers and practitioners. The first relates to choosing the most appropriate comparator, the second relates to the possibility of generalising results linked to the appropriateness of employing methods commonly used in public health into the context of social enterprise.

  • First, we have understood that there is not only one right comparator for all the studies related to social enterprises. To choose the ‘right’ comparator, it is necessary to recognise the diversity of the existing service providers and community initiatives. The comparator group selected should reflect meaningful choices in policy and real-world practice and should be chosen based on the study question to be addressed. Context, therefore, is a key aspect to explore how to evaluate the intervention.
  • Second, some scholars have discussed the importance of creating ‘one size fits all’ tools to compare the social value generated by very different social enterprises as a solution for the need to increase generalisability (Kroeger and Weber, 2014). However, contextual variables can greatly affect how the social enterprise ‘works’ and the achievement of outcomes. Thus, tools that do not consider the complexity of interventions and the contextual variations involved will be of limited use in adding to the evidence base and informing policymakers. Conducting the same process with the same tool for all organisations and measuring the same outcomes could actually also have the perverse result of producing negative effects on an organisation’s ability to address its social mission. It can affect the nature of the social enterprise and reduce the legitimacy of the organisation, particularly if it is done in connection with accessing public funds. It could create an instrument promoting only specific areas of policy, or investing only in specific organisations, with a resultant reduction in the wide variety of social enterprises.

If in the future, after Covid-19, policymakers aim to understand the added value of social enterprise organisations, an integrative research approach based upon the context combining different research methods and design should be implemented to improve generalisability. Selection of comparator groups (if a comparator group is important to address the research question) should be based on an in-depth analysis of the context in which the social enterprise is embedded, and the comparator group chosen should be based upon the policy aims the evaluation wishes to address. Evaluate that “we are doing good things” doesn’t come without a cost. Each of the methods adopted in our paper was time-consuming and resource intensive and require if the researcher to possess advanced skills. Public officials should then recognise the complexity and resource-intensive nature of such evaluations, and resource it accordingly. Only in this way, the question “we do good things, don’t we?” will be addressed.

Read the original blog on the PuLSE website

References

  • Alcock, P., Millar, R., Hall, K., Lyon, F., Nicholls, A., Gabriel, M., 2012. Start-up and Growth: National Evaluation of the Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) (Report), Third Sector Research Centre. Third Sector Research Centre and Health Services Management Centre, Birmingham.
  • Bovaird, T., 2014. Efficiency in Third Sector Partnerships for Delivering Local Government Services: The role of economies of scale, scope and learning. Public Management Review 16, 1067–1090. https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2014.930508
  • Calò, F, Roy, M.J., Donaldson, C., Teasdale, S., Baglioni, S., 2021. Evidencing the contribution of social enterprise to health and social care: approaches and considerations. Social Enterprise Journal. In press
  • Calò, F., Teasdale, S., Donaldson, C., Roy, M.J., Baglioni, S., 2018. Collaborator or Competitor: Assessing the Evidence Supporting the Role of Social Enterprise in Health and Social Care. Public Management Review 20, 1790–1814. https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2017.1417467
  • Craig, P., Dieppe, P., Macintyre, S., Michie, S., Nazareth, I., Petticrew, M., 2008. Developing and Evaluating Complex Interventions: the New Medical Research Council Guidance. BMJ 337, a1655. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1655
  • Fletcher, A., Jamal, F., Moore, G., Evans, R.E., Murphy, S., Bonell, C., 2016. Realist Complex Intervention Science: Applying Realist Principles Across All Phases of the Medical Research Council Framework for Developing and Evaluating Complex Interventions. Evaluation 22, 286–303. https://doi.org/10.1177/1356389016652743
  • Hall, K., Alcock, P., Millar, R., 2012. Start Up and Sustainability: Marketisation and the Social Enterprise Investment Fund in England. Journal of Social Policy 41, 733–749. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047279412000347
  • Kroeger, A., Weber, C., 2014. Developing a Conceptual Framework for Comparing Social Value Creation. Academy of Management Review 39, 513–540. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2012.0344
  • Moore, G.F., Audrey, S., Barker, M., Bond, L., Bonell, C., Hardeman, W., Moore, L., O’Cathain, A., Tinati, T., Wight, D., Baird, J., 2015. Process Evaluation of Complex Interventions: Medical Research Council guidance. British Medical Journal 350, h1258. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1258
  • Mulrow, C.D., 1994. Systematic Reviews: Rationale for Systematic Reviews. BMJ 309, 597–599. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.309.6954.597
  • Nicholls, A. 2009. ‘We do good things, don’t we?’: ‘Blended Value Accounting’ in social entrepreneurship. Accounting, Organizations and Society 34, 755-769.
  • Shemilt, I., Mugford, M., Vale, L., Marsh, K., Donaldson, C., 2010. Evidence-Based Decisions and Economics: Health Care, Social Welfare, Education and Criminal Justice. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.

Ambition in a Time of Crisis

Dr Zoe Lawson is a social entrepreneur, MBA alumna and member of the OU Business School’s Alumni Council.

What is Ambition and is it Good or Bad?

Most of us if pressed for a definition would say that ambition involves some sort of striving for achievement. Whether we define it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is somewhat more complex and is often influenced by our cultural frame of reference. Western societies generally view ambition as a precursor for success, while in Eastern traditions it is sometimes seen as an evil that reinforces the ego and distracts from spiritual growth.

Aristotle talked of degrees of ambition, with ‘proper ambition’ being the ideal. He defined ambition itself as a ‘vicious excess’ and lack of ambition as a ‘vicious deficiency’. Today, we talk of healthy ambition as the sweet spot – the striving for achievement that is individually enabling and socially constructive. Conversely, unhealthy ambition is more akin to greed; it is inhibiting and destructive.

Whatever your view on the virtues (or otherwise) of ambition, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and the conditions of our lives and external environment at any given time have the power to boost or crush it. And we are currently living through perhaps the greatest global crisis in living memory. So how can we prevent our ambitions, plans and goals from being obliterated in this pandemic tsunami? Consider the following paragraphs.

Hope and Ambition are Bedfellows

Ambition is often talked about together with hope. We can have all the ambition in the world, but without some hope of the right circumstances arising for it to flourish, it is largely a theoretical exercise. Hope is a desire for things to change for the better, an anticipation of a positive outcome. It’s a critical element in resilience. What it is not, is a passive wishing exercise, some kind of wishy-washy concept based in woo-thinking. Hope is an active approach to life.

Research shows that hope helps us cope with adversity and pushes us to keep going. Even if the things you seek seem very far away right now, the possibility of a better future is a powerful motivator. Holding onto hope is therefore a key factor in managing your ambitions during a time of crisis. This does not mean surrendering to blind faith because hope is not a state of delusion or denial. It does not disregard the real challenges that evolve during times of exceptional hardship – lost jobs, positive diagnoses, dwindling finances. Hoping is not pretending, it is acknowledging the truth of a situation and working out the best way to get through it. Sometimes your next few moves will be Hobson’s choice but hope shows us that further along, the possibility of real alternatives will start to emerge. Hope requires a certain degree of optimism. But what if you’re simply not wired that way, or circumstances have got too much and you’ve lost sight of it? Here are three small but powerful ways that you can use to find it:

Reframe your setbacks. That ice cream sabotaged your healthy lifestyle goals anyway.

(Image by Heather Barnes at Unsplash).

  1. Acknowledge setbacks, then reframe them. This pandemic has thrown up all manner of significant and sometimes life-altering setbacks. Take some time to acknowledge them and then pay attention to what they offer you – a growth opportunity, a chance to learn something new, to hone your problem-solving skills. This reframing of the situation from a threat to an opportunity can be helpful. Note; it’s not always easy but then lots of worthwhile things aren’t.
  2. Clarify your goals. It’s hard to aim for something when the target isn’t clear. What are you living your life for? What are your deeper values? Knowing what you want can help you prevail despite the obstacles that life throws in your path.
  3. Seek out awe. This sounds quite obscure at first but bear with me. Awe is a sense of inspiration and wonder. Scientific research has shown that awe experiences contribute to feelings of hope. How do you find awe? Look for things bigger than us, for vastness. The ocean, the clouds, the night sky.

No Ambition without Adaptation in Times of Extreme Change

Bear in mind that times of change require flexibility. Uncertainty goes hand-in-hand with change and that is never more true than currently. The status of the Covid-19 virus and its social, political and economic impacts change, seemingly by the hour. Today, we might be healthy, tomorrow, infected and next week, in hospital. When the bedrock of our lives is threatened, our mental and physical health, our loved ones, our safety and security, then keeping hold of our ambitions can seem impossible and even futile.

As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, if we can’t change our situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. We need to recognise our spheres of influence and control. Adaptation is the key here, if we don’t want to abandon our ambitions for the future. If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.

What might adaptation look like for you? On a personal level, this shift may take many forms. The first thing may simply be realising that your ambitions have to take a backseat for a while, as you deal with other more pressing issues of health and survival. Maybe the industry you’re in has taken a hit and you need to reskill or update your network. Perhaps you can use your skills for alternative purposes right now – joining a hackathon to generate solutions for global issues or participating in a community action group. Maybe adaptation is more radical and involves downsizing your house, moving to a cheaper place or committing to buying less stuff in order to keep you buoyant through difficult times. Maybe it means leaning on others and admitting vulnerability.

Above all else, we need to include compassion in this process of change – for ourselves and for others and acknowledge that the situation is hard. These are exceptional times we’re living in now – history in the making. It’s natural and normal to feel fearful. It’s ok to worry about negative possibilities and the idea of unfulfilled ambitions. But don’t go down a rabbit hole here. Keep in mind the power of hope and how to cultivate it. Be ready to adapt, even radically if necessary. Look for the silver lining. Maybe it’s not actually silver but dirty grey. Look for it anyway because with a bit (or maybe a lot) of polishing, it will reveal itself eventually. Courage!

Building Resilience in Pandemic Times

Social entrepreneur Dr Zoe Lawson is an MBA alumna and member of the OU Business School’s Alumni Council.

Resilience; 

noun

  • The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

Like nylon. Ladies, think of that springy shapewear designed to disguise lumps and bumps. Men may prefer to imagine that stretchy, shiny cycling kit. Either way, it has a remarkable ability to immediately bounce back, even after the largest of dinners or longest of bike rides.

Ideally, we’d all be emulating nylon cycling shorts right now. Springing straight back into action regardless of what this pandemic throws at us. But things are far from ideal and, let’s face it, most of us were probably putting off such self-actualising goals like developing our personal resilience until we just had a little more time/money/space/motivation/whatever. And so winter has come and we, the grasshoppers, find ourselves hungry and searching for ways to cope emotionally in these extraordinary times.

It is certainly possible to build our own resilience but, like everything else from losing weight to tidying the garage, there is no magic bullet. It takes focused effort. Let Viktor Frankl be our guide here as he knows a thing or two about developing mental resilience in the most dire of circumstances. He was an Austrian psychologist born in 1905 and he was imprisoned in four concentration camps during the Second World War. His mother, father, brother and wife all perished there. He was freed in 1945 when the camps were liberated by Allied troops. In 1946, he published the book¹ ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ chronicling his experiences and describing his psychotherapeutic method. He said that he wanted to ‘convey to the reader that life holds meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones’.

Now, this isn’t a race to the bottom of the sea of suffering – it is not to say that unless we’ve got it as bad as an inmate in a death camp, we’ve got little reason to complain. That said, if you’re in despair because your private jet has been grounded and Harrods is closed, there’s only a nanoscale violin playing. Let’s be realistic here, most people are on a sliding scale between these two extremes. Some face losing their health, loved ones or livelihoods as a result of the pandemic. Others will see their savings, relationships or mental health take a battering. We’re all in the same COVID-storm but we’re in different boats. And many of us could benefit from donning our resilience lifejackets.

So what can we do to build this resilience that will keep us afloat and into the (hopefully) more peaceful waters of post-vaccine 2021? First of all, it’s useful to be aware that, as humans, we have a bias for the negative². That is to say, even of equal intensity, things of a negative nature have a greater effect on us than those of a positive nature. This comes from our prehistoric ancestors, when being alert to sabre-tooth tigers was essential for survival. And as much as happening upon a wild raspberry would have been a nice surprise, it wasn’t an immediate life or death situation. Hence our negative bias was born. Unfortunately, it’s still with us today and is the reason why we give bad news disproportionally more emphasis than good. Keeping this in mind can help us put things into perspective.

Very few people make it through life unscathed by heartbreak or loss. Even great wealth cannot protect us from this. Buddhist philosophy tells us that suffering is an inevitable part of the human condition – physical and emotional pain, uncertainty and change are hallmarks of life³. If we attempt to resist the emotions brought about by the suffering of life, we can make our suffering worse. Current scientific research suggests that acknowledging our discomfort, identifying the negative emotions and how they make us feel, and not trying to hide from or deflect them, can help us heal⁴.

Holding opposing emotions in tension

Studies on the resilient among us show that those who bounce back quickest are those who are able to appreciate the positives in every day, however small, while also acknowledging the presence of pain and suffering⁵. We cannot wait until the day when everything is perfect to be happy. That day may never come and, even if it does, it will not last. Thus, we need to find the positives in the here and now, while at the same time living alongside the negatives.

I would like to end by returning to Viktor Frankl and two nuggets of his wisdom that are most pertinent to remember right now. First, he said that ‘when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves’. The effects of this pandemic have made many of us feel powerless. But we do have the capacity to adapt, find meaning and learn, even in the midst of it. Last, he said that ‘for the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best’. It is up to us to do what we can to effect positive change – for ourselves, our families, our communities and the planet.

Good luck and Season’s Greetings for 2020 – roll on 2021!

References

¹ Viktor Frankl; “Man’s Search for Meaning : The Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust”, Ebury Publishing, 2008.

² Baumeister, Roy F.; Finkenauer, Catrin; Vohs, Kathleen D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology. 5 (4): 323–370.

³ Dalai Lama; “The Art of Happiness : A Handbook for Living”, Penguin, 2010.

⁴ Vanessa King; “10 Keys to Happier Living”, Headline Publishing Group, 2017.

⁵ Maria Sirois; “Happiness in Dark Times”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnDVwGxMTto, Accessed December 2020.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine: openness and collaboration to tackle the world’s problems

Dr Despoina Filiou is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy who joined the OU Business School in April 2020. She is a member of the Strategic Management and Leadership Research Cluster.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received regulatory approval for emergency use from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on 3 December. This came only months after a team of researchers led by Professor Zhang Yongzhen in Wuhan in early January made the genome sequence of Covid-19 publicly available.

This led to unprecedented efforts to develop test kits, to test existing compounds against the virus and accelerated investments in messenger RNA (mRNA) technologies to discover a vaccine. Up to the time when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the pandemic in early March, mRNA technologies have had no proven commercial potential but held the promise of leading to novel therapeutic discoveries, such as personalised medicine and vaccines for cancer.

Sharing the genome sequence in open platforms initiated a concerted effort within the scientific community worldwide to share research results and data on infection rates and progressed our understanding of the virus and its impact on human health. It supported BioNTech and Moderna to be the first two companies that used mRNA technologies to take vaccine candidates to final stages of clinical trials. Other companies intensified efforts on vaccine discovery but when research was based on established technologies, such as viral vector (the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine), it led to candidates of lower efficacy, requiring more complex development processes.

Both BioNTech and Moderna managed to access funds to pursue their research through collaborations with established pharmaceutical companies, the national institute for health and government funding. The Pfizer-BioNTech collaboration led to a breakthrough vaccine, the first ever mRNA-based product to get MHRA approval and to be administered soon after to vulnerable groups in the UK. Pfizer-BioNTech’s response to the pandemic was immediate, with the collaboration announced on 17 March to allow the partners to coordinate multi-site and country clinical trials.

The two partners are building on an existing collaboration, established back in 2018, when Pfizer started working with BioNTech, to explore mRNA technology for developing vaccines for cancer based on personalised medicine principles. Pfizer is not the only established pharmaceutical firm that BioNTech collaborates to meet the worldwide demand for inoculation. The complex regulatory processes for drug approval pose hurdles for newly-established firms in this sector as they lack experience; BioNTech has no products to market. On 16 March, BioNTech announced its collaboration with Shanghai’s Fuson Pharma to conduct stage 2 clinical trials in China, to assess the safety of the vaccine candidate and to support future Biological License Application (BLA) protection and subsequent production in the country.

This small window to BioNTech’s collaborative strategy shows the complexity of collaborations required for a fast response to the pandemic and faster time to market. BioNTech is not only collaborating with established pharmaceutical firms to develop and market its vaccines. It has a range of agreements with other organisations that hold patents in mRNA related and enabling technologies, giving BioNTech the license to use technologies at the frontier of research in its field.

The Pfizer-BioNTech case reflects the broader and diverse strategies for collaboration of newly formed and established firms in the bio-pharmaceutical sector. Since the 1980s, during the early stages of biotech development there is a wave of collaborations in the sector. The vast range of applications of mRNA technologies cannot be exploited by individual firms alone, which often lack all the requisite capabilities.

My research on the early stages of the bio-pharmaceuticals sector has shown that newly-formed biotechnology firms do become more innovative (in terms of patents) when they form alliances to exploit and commercialise their technologies with the support of a large pharmaceutical firm’s capabilities and expertise on development, manufacturing and marketing (Filiou, 2021). This same research shows that pharmaceuticals firms may experience inefficiencies when integrating new technologies with established product lines and this may even negatively impact on their innovativeness in the short term.

Covid-19 brings to the fore the role of openness and alliances in innovation. Sharing risks and costs of research in emerging technologies with no short-term commercial potential can pave the way to path-breaking solutions to new problems. For those interested in researching openness and innovation in this but also in other sectors, or in exploring how personalised medicine and the use and processing of patient data can revolutionise innovation, look out for our upcoming PhD studentships at The Open University Business School.

What happened to law clinics in lockdown?

Hugh McFaul is Co-Director of the Law School’s Open Justice Centre and Module Chair of ‘Justice in Action’ (W360).

The disruption caused by Covid-19 has had far reaching impacts and required all of us to adapt to life’s challenges under lockdown. University law clinics are no exception and law academics and clinic supervisors have had to act fast and think creatively to keep their clinical programmes running.

Another blog from earlier in 2020 discussed clinical legal education providing opportunities for their law students to provide much-needed legal advice, education and guidance to members of the public. This can be through provision of pro bono advice clinics, legal education workshops in local schools, prisons and community settings and by supporting litigants without professional representation during court proceedings. Making these types of engagements work during a period of social distancing isn’t easy and inevitably involves some creative use of online platforms.

The Open Justice Centre has been experimenting with online methods to deliver clinical legal education since the launch of the Justice in Action module in 2017. We have dabbled in virtual reality, online advice clinics, digital team building and mobile apps for public legal education.

Given our experience, Co-Director Francine Ryan and I were invited to guest edit a special Covid-19 edition of the International Journal of Clinical Legal Education (IJCLE) to investigate how law teachers have responded to the challenge of keeping their law clinics running during the pandemic.

We were delighted to receive contributions from law teachers running clinical legal education programmes in the UK, USA and India. The difficulties discussed are significant but all the papers demonstrate how the creative solutions adopted point to new pathways for clinics to engage with their communities. So, although 2020 may have been a write-off for countless summer holidays, weddings, concerts, plays and pub visits, there is some comfort in the progress that has been made in making legal education more innovative and accessible than could have been hoped for 12 months ago.