(Some of) the trouble with tech transfer

Technology transfer is an old-fashioned idea and I think we should get rid of it. Not because it’s old, but because it doesn’t work. Technology transfer assumes that the research world looks like the practice world, and you just need to “transfer” research from one place to the other. The obvious problem is that the research world doesn’t (or doesn’t always) look like the practical industry world. Folks are doing different things in different places, and if we’re going to make sense of how (or whether) they relate to each other, we’re going to have to do work to make that happen. “Research mapping*” to “technology transfer,” because mapping is an active task you perform when you want to figure out how to get from one place to another, and its inevitable that you create some new information in the process.

Technology transfer also tends to imply the idea that whatever is being transferred is good and works. The experts come up with something and then pass it on down the line for use by everyone else. In some ways, that’s great: research is great; sharing is great; getting science to do stuff in practice is great. What’s less great is the ease with which sharing can turn into making assumptions about what someone else will do with your information. You know how it works, you’re going to tell other people how it works, but maybe sometimes they see other ways and those work pretty well too. And if they’re experts in how the practical industry world works, because it’s their life to work with them, then their opinions probably count for a lot.

The gist of the article I just published in the Journal of Wine Research is that Washington state winemakers and growers use research in a lot of different ways, and it’s probably best to respect that – both in terms of supporting the diversity of the industry and in the interest of getting people to listen to the scientists. The point is simple, but it’s packaged with some interesting interview and survey data about what scientific resources winemakers/growers are using and how they see the role of science in their practices. The official Journal of Wine Research version is behind a paywall, but I’ve posted an author’s manuscript version here (please cite the version of record from JWR). I’d be interested in your thoughts.**

This article includes data I hope folks will find useful for thinking about doing industry-oriented science communication, but only starts to hint at the bigger arguments for doing science communication differently, as mapping instead of as tech transfer. The rest? Well, my official dissertation submission date is November 3, 2016, but a few more articles are working their way through the system in the meantime.


*With apologies to any Deleuzians, because this usage conflicts with Deleuze’s ideas about mapping. I’m still working out whether and how I’m going to alter my terminology to deal with that.

**The trouble with publishing articles as you go through your PhD, I find, is that the way I think about this and my research on the whole has changed a fair bit since I wrote and submitted this article about a year ago. If you’re interested in talking theory about technology transfer, research utilization, or the relationships between scientific and industry practice, please give me a ring. I’d love to chat, and this article won’t necessarily give you a good picture of my current ideas on those subjects.

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