Highly Anticipated COLUMBUS Conference Delivers

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By Milthon Lujan

Dublin, Ireland.- On 24 January 2018, more than 70 participants met in Brussels, Belgium, for the COLUMBUS project’s third and final Annual Blue Society Knowledge Transfer Conference – a project funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. The COLUMBUS conference, entitled “Making Marine and Maritime Science Count”, provided a forum to collaboratively explore the barriers, challenges and possible solutions to increasing the impact potential of marine and maritime research. Based on feedback from last year, the conference was designed to be an interactive panel-based forum, providing a refreshing change to traditional conference formats. Overall, the conference was very successful, producing interesting debates and vigorous discussions around the concept of Knowledge Transfer.

The conference was opened by David Murphy of AquaTT, the COLUMBUS Strategic and Operational Leader. Surprise guest Ricardo Serrão Santos (MEP) – a long-time supporter and member of the COLUMBUS External Advisory Board – gave the first welcome address, expressing that “it is always good to be in a room with like-minded people interested in the seas.” During this address, Serrão Santos emphasised the need for relevant decisions to be made “from [the] best scientific evidence,” adding, however, that such evidence “can be hard to identify.” The COLUMBUS European Commission policy officer, Marco Weydert, also welcomed the participants and discussed the European Commission’s move towards “reviewing portfolios of projects rather than focusing only on their outputs individually.” Interestingly, this method mirrors COLUMBUS’s approach to gathering knowledge from many sources to identify those that respond to knowledge gaps and needs.

The day commenced with an overview of the project’s achievements through a panel discussion. Facilitated by Alistair Lane of the European Aquaculture Society (EAS), partners involved in the COLUMBUS Knowledge Transfer journey shared their experiences, insights and reflections. Following this, a second panel of industry representatives were invited to explore synergies, commonalities and differences in their approaches to value creation from research investments.

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In the afternoon, the results of a flash survey of the COLUMBUS network were presented and discussed. The attendees enjoyed talking about the challenges and barriers involved in three key stages of the research lifecycle: pre-project, project implementation and post-project. Finally, a panel comprised of experts from the policy-facing research management sector discussed what strategic actions need to be taken to further optimise the research system and ultimately increase the impact of marine and maritime research.

A major objective of COLUMBUS was to show the effectiveness of the COLUMBUS Knowledge Transfer Methodology and that demonstrable impact was achieved during the project. A compilation of COLUMBUS Knowledge Transfer stories was provided to all those in attendance, along with 48 examples made available for download. The stories illustrate how the COLUMBUS Knowledge Transfer Methodology was implemented and how corresponding impacts were achieved by different COLUMBUS Competence Nodes. Since Knowledge Transfer is, in some cases, still ongoing, the published stories are still in a draft format. More than 50 stories will be finalised and uploaded to the COLUMBUS website at the end of the project (28 February 2018). To view the current compilation of stories, please visit the project website: 

COLUMBUS ran three other important events shortly before and after the conference. On 23 January 2018, External Capacity Building Training, entitled “Creating impact by knowledge transfer for the research community”, was provided to 12 participants. The event covered an introduction to the robust and validated COLUMBUS Knowledge Transfer Methodology, as well as considerations for research teams and organisations to support the growing impact of funded research projects. On the same day, a “Maritime Sensing Technologies” workshop was held, bringing together maritime technology developers, implementers, and funders. The aim of the workshop was to address challenges facing companies seeking to advance Technology Readiness Levels during the initial funding for research and development.

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On 25 January 2018, at the end of the conference, COLUMBUS partners met for their seventh (and final) Partner Meeting. The meeting celebrated the major achievements of the project so far, as well as discussions of plans to close out the project itself, which finishes at the end of February 2018.

Due to the success of the project, COLUMBUS aims to ensure a strong legacy. It will concentrate on defining recommendations and guidelines for how Knowledge Transfer could be incorporated into funded research as a key output of the project. For specific information on the COLUMBUS project, contact the COLUMBUS Project Manager, Cliona Ní Cheallacháin ( 

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