Guide to Partnered Research Projects

An Overview for those Considering Collaborative Research in Art and Design

The Rhode Island School of Design has a tradition of successfully working with external partners to explore issues with application and relevance beyond the margins of traditional art and design curricula.
Our objective in these relationships is to expand and deepen our combined understanding through a rigorous process of deep creative inquiry, reflection, and assessment.
RISD’s Partnered Research Projects carefully curate diverse discipline-based insight in an exploratory learning framework suited to generating insight with relevant to wider artistic, scientific, political, environmental, social, and business contexts. Through these partnerships our students are exposed to the unique challenges of working in systems-rich environments with external partners, exposing them to the broader personal and professional implications of their work and it potential meaning and impact.
Potential external partners often approach RISD with a wish to gain insights not otherwise achievable through other modes of familiar of “in-house” research and development. They engage RISD faculty and students seeking access to its uniquely dynamic and productive research culture and setting.
For over thirty years partners such as Steinway, Marriot, Samsung, Mass Mutual, Maytag, Toshiba, LG,
Target, Hasbro, DKNY, Swarovski, Starwood Hotels, ESPN, and Kimberly-Clark, government agencies including NASA and the Department of Energy, and institutions like MIT and Brown University have collaborated with RISD students and faculty in collaborative pursuit of the discoveries that will have long-term implications on complex real-world challenges.

What is a Partnered Research Project?
The term “partnered research” refers to curricular activity in which RISD students and faculty are engaged collaboratively in a focused project to address significant challenges, as presented by a corporation, institution, or organization. Given its size and capacity to conduct meaningful research, RISD is highly selective about the format, focus, and learning objectives for its research portfolio. Projects are funded through and external grants, as well as corporate, foundation, government, and non-profit contributions.
As distinguished from some sponsored academic relationships, RISD’s Partnered Research programs are always developed to align with its core mission to foster new understanding and reveal new paths of inquiry through open, critical, and highly creative inquiry.
These projects extend the potential of conventional scholarly inquiry. They are rooted in RISD’s long-standing critical approach to rigorous exploratory knowledge creation, and its pedagogical aversion to pre-determined outcomes. As such, these research programs are best suited to research questions with broad, long-term implications and are not to be confused with service/product oriented consulting or “design for hire.”
In our projects, we seek opportunities for broad and lasting impact for our outside sponsor/partners, and wherever possible, the broader community.
In the earliest stages, we work closely with our partners to look beyond the ‘solving” of isolated challenges by identifying the intellectual precepts and modes of inquiry that might otherwise impede access to the most valuable insight and learning.
Partnerships take many forms within RISD’s curricular structure, whether as full and half-semester studios, graduate seminars, on- site summer courses, executive training, artists/designers in residence, conferences, symposia, or short-format design intensives. The appropriate combination and sequence of these is tailored to meet the complimentary learning objectives of our faculty and partners, on a case-by case basis. Priority is given to those research relationships with the potential to maximize impact and learning over multi-year, sequential engagements.
Where appropriate, curriculum-based partnered academic research projects can also lead to ongoing exploratory research, where students and faculty investigate and explore new lines of inquiry on behalf of an external partners, extending the logistical, intellectual, and technological resources of the partner to jointly explore application and implementation of the initial research outcomes.
While each partnered project is tailored to meet its unique objectives, the following examples illustrate the range of research learning models available to our partners:
One Semester/Two Semester Studio: A faculty member and 12-15 students engage in a 12-week, 3-6 credit research study. Juniors, seniors, and graduate students usually populate this model.
Wintersession Studio: This often involves interdisciplinary studies (more than one department) in an intensive, six-week session.
Design Workshop: Study in which a faculty member or commissioned designer, artist or architect work with a limited number of advanced students to intensively explore a specific applied design issue (e.g., Independent Study Project, Collaborative Study Project or thesis).
Graduate Advanced Research Studio: A graduate-level inquiry where a group of graduate students works closely with the sponsoring organization.
Interdisciplinary Studio: At RISD, interdisciplinary projects have always played an important role in extending students’ experiences beyond the context of their chosen major. Frequently the kinds of problems raised by partnered studios are best addressed by these interdisciplinary teams. It is therefore often advantageous for partnered studios to bridge departments to assemble classes composed of students and faculty from several disciplines.

What should you consider?
The process of developing and launching successful projects can take as long as six to eight months. It is, therefore, helpful to consider some of the follow questions when contemplating collaborative research with RISD.
1. What question, issue, or challenge do you hope to advance through in-depth collaborative inquiry? 2. What are the near and long-term challenges for your organization in addressing this question?
3. What benefits might academic research in art and/or design offer your organization?
4. What inter-disciplinary expertise might contribute to lasting insight in this topic area?
5. How do you envision that this inquiry might enhance the learning experience of students?
6. What deliverables might enable you to bring the insights and outcomes of the project back to your organization? These might take the form of web sites, blogs, process books, executive training, reports, brochures, videos, prototypes, etc.
7. Given the expenses associated with these projects, it is important to carefully consider modes of external support for the work. In addition to direct monetary support, partnerships can involve in-kind contributions of donated services, equipment, materials or facilities to assist with instruction. What unique modes of support might facilitate and ground this research in the process and technological setting in which its findings will be applied?
8. Given the broad spectrum of proprietary protections common to art and design production,
Intellectual Property Rights (IP) are negotiated in advance and tailored to meet the needs of each project and partner. Confidentiality terms are explicitly stated in the final project agreement. Early discussion of these issues is important to assure that all expectations are addressed.
9. Your involvement over the course of the project should be carefully designed to achieve an optimal balance between generative input and respect for the autonomy of effective creative research endeavors. Can you describe an ideal scenario for your participation?
10. Schedules will be considered and compared to RISD’s academic calendar prior to planning multiplatform projects. Please consider and identify any relevant internal milestones that might guide these discussions

Next Steps
In addition to facilitating the formative early stages of a project, the Partnered Academic Projects team coordinates all internal entities and offers logistical support through the documentation and evaluation phases of our projects. Past projects have addressed questions of relevance at global, regional and local scales with partners from diverse perspectives, including, start-ups, multi- national corporations, governments, institutions of higher education, religious institutions, non-governmental organizations, nonprofits, community groups, and individuals.
Please feel free to contact us. Following our initial discussions, we welcome the opportunity to visit potential partners at the locations they feel best convey their intellectual and/or technological contribution and the nature of the challenges they hope to address.
Our team are available to discuss your objectives and the range of opportunities and processes for collaborative discovery at RISD.

Daniel Hewett AIA LEED
Executive Director, Research
Faculty in Landscape and Interior Architecture
T 401.454.6626
M 617.444.9904


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