Project asset sustainability why is it so hard to achieve | Modis

Project asset sustainability - why is it so hard to achieve?

Caroline Sage, Paul Peeters and Laura Carrera Carballes Posted 27 July 2020

Over the past years, Modis has acquired ample experience in facilitating and managing multi-stakeholder collaborations developing innovative products and solutions in life sciences. Although such collaborations often yield important outcomes, it often proves challenging to make project assets maximally accessible and reusable for future endeavors. Establishing sustainability of project assets is important, as it will typically lead to:

  • Increased return on investment: By actively planning for project asset sustainability, any investment made in one project will yield outcomes that can be leveraged by other projects;
  • Cost reductions: By making assets maximally reusable, costs related to rework and even duplication of effort can be avoided;
  • Competitive advantage / Efficiency gain in future endeavor: By having access to a wide variety of assets that are ready for reuse in new projects, project teams can get a head start and start to deliver quicker and more efficiently;
  • Societal impact: By making project assets more widely available, the wider community can reap the benefits of the efforts delivered, and leverage those assets towards their innovations.

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Now, why is it so hard to achieve project asset sustainability? Based on our own experience, and on many conversations with the stakeholders involved in multi-stakeholder collaborations, we summarized our learnings and key tips and tricks regarding project asset sustainability in an infographic (ref to infographic). Key learnings include:

  • The magic of achieving sustainability lies in the project set up. In many cases, the horizon of a project is limited to the project duration. However, when considering sustainability of project assets, one needs to extend that horizon to many years beyond the project completion, and have a clear view on what is considered sustainability in that case. Ideally, sustainability is considered an integral part of the project work, with such efforts starting as early on as possible. However, in practice, developing a vision on sustainability at the project design phase when project assets are still to be defined, and let alone, created, even causes experienced research teams to struggle with it. Get all stakeholder aligned on sustainability sooner rather than later.
  • It takes a village to achieve sustainability. In typical project settings, a dedicated team for establishing sustainability is often lacking. And even when a line of activities and resources are foreseen, the skill sets required to do so may not be there. For example, far too often the R&D experts are expected to develop an aligned strategy and actionable plan towards sustainability, without checking whether this is at all within their ability and/or desire. Translating an asset that has reached proof-of-concept at the project level to a more widely accessible and reusable asset, and opening this up to the wider community, often requires skill sets well beyond those typical of a researcher. Any team tasked with establishing sustainability should include a much broader skill set, such as business development, legal, service or product innovation. Establish a dedicated sustainability dream team with a wide range of complementary skill sets.
  • Achieving sustainability is the result of hard work. Since sustainability is not the primary goal of many projects per se, getting sufficient resources allocated to these activities can be challenging. So is ensuring appropriate levels of stakeholder engagement. Finally, to our knowledge, there is no ‘golden bullet’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach towards establishing sustainability, requiring a case-by-case tailoring of the overall approach taken. Establishing sustainability typically requires many iterations of designing a strategy, getting stakeholder input and feedback, and testing what could work. Leveraging prior experience in establishing sustainability will speed up this development. Moreover, with actual sustainability lying beyond the project horizon, additional funding will be required to make it happen in practice. There are many options out there, and it is a matter actively exploring different routes and selecting the right ones. Get the right know-how in to speed up your own sustainability.

As showcased in the topics highlighted above, challenges can be found at various levels when trying to achieve project asset sustainability. Being aware of these challenges can already set you well on your way towards success. Applying our tips will allow a head start.

And if it all seems (too) daunting? Getting some help to expand your team’s or consortium’s joint skill set might just make a difference between thinking about sustainability and actually achieving it.

Have you ever been in a multi-stakeholder collaboration that also included establishing sustainability for its outcomes? We would love to hear from you what your key challenges were, and how you tackled those! Let us know at communications@modisbelgium.be

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