Making an Impact with a KTP: the VAF Connect Project

This article was published in the Edinburgh Napier University Business School Staff Newsletter, Winter edition 2016. 

Early in 2015, the Business School was awarded funding to forge a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the Voluntary Action Fund.  2/3 of the funding (£83,333) was awarded from Innovate UK and a further 1/3 from the KTP partner itself.  The project seeks to help VAF, a major Scottish grant-maker to understand how to unlock and release more resources into communities.  In 2016-17, VAF will distribute almost £15.4 million to over 240 organisations across a range of social policy areas, including equalities and tackling violence against women and girls, principally on behalf of the Scottish Government and a private fund for Glasgow Council, focusing on reshaping care for older people.  The KTP is of strategic value to VAF by supporting the development of innovative programmes to achieve social change and to diversify its funding sources.  To do this, VAF sees private sector responsible business practise as a business opportunity.

The project is now moving into its second year.  In the first year, near 30 “Rich Picture” workshops and focus groups have been held with VAF people, third sector organisations, Scottish Government and its agencies, Public Sector organisations and Scottish Businesses.  The data collected was used to understand a defined problem situation from multiple perspectives and followed a Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) to model systems and to take action.  A number of models have been presented and debated with critical friends – other grant-makers and Scottish Government Policy Managers.


In February 2016, the project was in the spot light, as the Dean of the Business School, Professor James O’Kane welcomed the Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP to launch the Responsible Business Forum at Craiglockhart campus with over 80 Scottish businesses attending the event.  The Responsible Business Forum is the first of its kind in Scotland, to help boost inclusive growth by strengthening the relationships between all sectors and highlighting best practice.  The network and event was bought about by the KTP research and delivered in partnership with the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and Business in the Community (Scotland). Other speakers included leaders from Hearts FC, GSK, KCP and Scottish Enterprise. Data was collected on the day for research purposes and 25 ‘Business Strategy and Sustainability’ students volunteered as guides, ushers and table rapporteurs.  Many business leaders commented on the professionalism and engagement of our students.


“The Responsible Business Forum provides a great opportunity to connect forward-thinking businesses with the third sector to better utilise limited resources within communities, based on shared values and understanding. At a time of growing inequality it is more important than ever for both sectors to strengthen relationships and work more closely in order to help build a fairer and stronger Scotland.”

Keith Wimbles, Chief Executive of VAF


KTP is now in its 40th year with a portfolio of over 800 projects across the UK.  As well as being well funded, considerable support is offered by Innovate UK.  The participating business receives a KTP Associate who is embedded in the organisation for the duration of the project with access to a sizable training budget and access to a Knowledge-based partner(s).  10% of academic time is supported and a weekly meeting on the business site is encouraged.  One of the most difficult part of getting a KTP is of course, finding a suitable partner.  Fortunately, three graduates from the Business School ‘get on board’ programme held Trustee positions on VAFs board and facilitated an introduction.

KTPs cover a wide business spectrum to address social, technological and economic priorities of the UK.  Do you have any business partners that can be approached about a potential KTP? Do you have any ideas that might be suitable as a KTP project and might need more support in sourcing a partner?  If so, the Business School is establishing a KTP steering group to develop a communication strategy and support network to grow the number of KTPs in the Business School.  Please contact Miles Weaver to find out more about KTPs, support in taking first steps and any expressions of interest in joining the steering group.

The VAF Connect project is led by Dr. Miles Weaver with Dr. Kenny Crossan and Dr. Hock Tan and contributes to the activities of the International Centre for Management & Sustainability Research led by Prof. Maura Sheehan at Edinburgh Napier University. Further information available in the following industry report:

Weaver, M., Paxton, S., Hock, T., Crossan, K., (2016). “Cultivating Responsible Business in Scotland through the lens of the Scottish Business Pledge.” Edinburgh, Scotland: Voluntary Action Fund and the International Centre for Management & Sustainability Research at Edinburgh Napier University.


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