In conversation: ARC Linkage Projects with Professor Bruce Smyth

Professor Bruce Smyth - CASS

Image Caption: Professor Bruce Smyth, a researcher from the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.

4 minute read

ARC Linkage Projects support Australian researchers to work towards practical solutions in industry settings. Professor Bruce Smyth, a two-time Linkage recipient, shares his own experience with this important government-funded research program. 

Building strong relationships with industry and not-for-profit organisations can drive innovation and create mutually beneficial opportunities for real-world change.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects (LPs) scheme is a government grant program designed to promote national and international research partnerships between researchers and industry.

Professor Bruce Smyth, from the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods (CSRM) in the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS), has a strong track record with LPs. Two of his research projects have received funding through the scheme over the past decade. 

Partner organisations are an essential part of Linkage Projects and, after years of experience, Bruce has forged long-lasting relationships with key stakeholders in his field –including several key departments of the Australian Government and Relationships Australia

In this interview, Professor Smyth reflects upon his and his colleagues’ success, expanding on the significance and benefits of this funding opportunity.


Q. Could you tell us a little about your recent experience of applying for an ARC Linkage and your current project?

My colleagues and I are currently evaluating 10 popular divorce smartphone apps. These apps seek to help separated parents manage their parenting arrangements. They vary in cost and features, and typically comprise a messaging tool, shared calendar, and expense tracker. Family courts around the globe are mandating the use of apps despite no evidence of efficacy or safety. Some apps can inadvertently do more harm than good by fuelling conflict or be technologies of power, control, and abuse. We’re developing a free web-based tool to help family law professionals and separated parents understand the benefits and risks of different apps. Our Partner Organisation is Relationships Australia.


Q. Why did you decide to apply for this particular scheme?

Many of the world’s biggest problems cannot be solved by any single discipline or by the ‘lone scholar’ model. Building strong relationships with industry and not-for-profit organisations can drive innovation, create mutually beneficial opportunities for real-world change and future projects. Aside from their higher success rate, LPs build research capacity for the good of the nation. We could not have conducted our interdisciplinary study without the support and knowledge of our partners, and vice versa. Projects come and go, but relationships can be long lasting and produce great research.


Q.What was most helpful for you during the partner negotiation and application development process?

Early genuine engagement with partner organisations is the foundation stone on which successful LPs are built. Developing respectful and trusting relationships is critical but takes time and effort. We usually start with an informal chat over a cuppa with a colleague in an organisation who might be willing to be a champion for the project and take it up the line with a concept brief (i.e., ‘the pitch’) setting out how a project fits with an organisation’s strategic plan. These early discussions can take anywhere between six months to two years. Once the project starts to takes shape, we rely heavily on the advice of Rebecca Payne and her team.


Writing grant applications necessitates a distinct set of writing skills compared to traditional academic outputs. It requires persuasive storytelling, combined with a thorough understanding of both the specific objectives and requirements of the ARCs funding scheme and the Partner Organisation’s objectives and requirements. To be successful, LP applications need to ensure they effectively communicate the benefit, value for taxpayer dollars, impact, and alignment with the ARC and Partner Organisations’ goals. As my colleague Professor Emma Shultz emphasised in our recent discussion of LPs: simply pursuing funding for a project solely for monetary reasons is unlikely to succeed.


Q. How do you think Linkage projects benefit both industry and researchers/academia?

Some projects simply cannot be done without university and industry partnerships. The life of a tree flows in both directions: from the roots up, from the leaves down. Co-design and co-production are more than buzz words. Our current LP has been successful and the team such a joy. Even though our partner investigators are outstanding researchers themselves, they work alone and say they have gained a lot from working as a team. We’ve benefitted from their real-world insights on how things work on the ground. Win–Win.


Q. What advice would you have for other academics considering applying for a Linkage?

There are some key learnings I would like to share. First of all, start early, especially engaging potential partners with a strong mutually advantageous idea; seek seed funding from within the College to do some early groundwork to demonstrate ‘proof of concept’; build a strong team that will get along – just one difficult team member can destroy a great project; set-up clear rules about how the team will work; lock-in the budget ASAP so the scope of the project can be determined early; be prepared for partners to drop out at the last minute – have a Plan B; find funds to allow someone to develop an ethics proposal: ARC funds cannot be accessed without ethics approval; and never ‘hit-and-run’ by using a partner for money or resources and then ignoring them forever after.


Featured expert

Professor Bruce Smyth

Bruce has been working as a social scientist in family law for almost 30 years. He’s been at ANU since 2007, and sits within the Centre for Social Research & Methods. Bruce was a member of the Ministerial Taskforce on Child Support (2004-2005), and is an ARC Future Fellow (2012-2016). In 2018 in Washington DC, he received the Stanley Cohen Distinguished Research Award from the American Association of Family & Conciliation Courts in recognition of outstanding research and research achievements in the field of family and divorce. He remains an active member of the ANU Human Research Ethics Committee.


Professor Bruce Smyth’s research was supported by the Australian Government through the ARC's Linkage Projects funding scheme (projects LP200100413 and LP0989558). The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Australian Government or the ARC. 

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