Framework For Collaborative Interaction (FFCI)

Leveraging industry's & academia's expertise and ACT's experience for mutual benefit

NATO's Allied Command Transformation (ACT) is responsible for identifying and promoting the development of essential capabilities that are needed to meet future operational needs of the Alliance. To achieve this development of relevant future capabilities, ACT explores concepts, conducts experiments and supports research and acquisition processes of new technologies.

ACT realises that in complex topic areas where technology and knowledge advances fast, the staff from NATO and National Governments do not always possess all of the state-of-the-knowledge. Academia and Industry are obviously leaders in technology and knowledge. ACT has a key role in setting the requirements of NATO's future capabilities. It is recognized that engaging Academia and Industry as early as possible will reduce risk and increase cost-effectiveness of capability development efforts.

In that perspective, ACT has developed the Framework For Collaborative Interaction (FFCI), which aim is to enable collaborative work to be carried out in a non-procurement manner between ACT and industry.

What is FFCI?

The Framework For Collaborative Interaction (FFCI) is intended to encompass collaboration with both industry and academia. Engagements are focussed on solving a capability gap or problem of common interest during the non-procurement stages of capability development.

Benefits: For each of the collaborative activities, ACT and industry/academia should both contribute to and benefit from the collaboration. Actions that involve NATO procurement mechanisms lie outside FFCI. Click "Benefits" below to read more on the benefits of the FFCI framework.

Principles: NATO's interaction with industry is subject to legal as well as contracting rules and principles that prevent the preferential allocation of public funds. Click "Principles" below to read more on the principals in place to protect all collaborative parties involved.

Methods: Collaboration between NATO and Academia & Industry can take place at different levels of commitment. Click "Methods" below to read more on the different methods of interacting through the FFCI framework.

FFCI Principles

Throughout all phases of the collaborative process, the highest standards of integrity must be maintained. Personnel setting up and executing collaboration with industry must maintain the highest degree of honesty, trust and an impeccable standard of conduct. The general rule must be to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest when promoting NATO-industry relationships. Collaboration must be conducted with the utmost professionalism and be in complete accord with current regulations.

Fairness and openness must be maintained for potential follow-on procurement competition. When collaborating with industry on a specific capability development issue, it is ACT's responsibility to ensure that potential future competition for capability procurement will not be biased toward a specific product, manufacturer or service provider and that no company will be disadvantaged in terms of knowledge and information.

The collaborative system will employ procedures that are openly advertised to prospective collaborative industry in advance of, and during, collaboration processes. ACT must provide industry with timely, accessible and accurate information. It must also keep the Nations and other relevant actors informed of the nature and content of the information it shares with industry and of the progress of the work being done.

"Costs lie where they fall."
In this respect ACT funding will be limited to requirements for appropriate FFCI-related contributions required for NATO entities participating in the specific FFCI activity. Industry needs to pay for its own costs of participating in FFCI activities, or have a customer (e.g. Nation or National entity) pay for its costs.

Mutual benefits
Throughout collaboration, it is paramount that both parties (ACT, NATO and Nations on one hand and industry/academia on the other hand) mutually benefit from the collaborative projects.

Officers setting up collaboration with industry should ensure that they obtain "value for effort". They should clearly define their needs, the kind of collaboration they are looking for and the resources such collaboration will require on ACT's part. The final decision to set up collaboration will be adopted when benefits and the level of effort have carefully been balanced.

Fair treatment and positive partnering.
Companies wishing to collaborate with ACT will be treated objectively and without discrimination. European and American industries, large and small, should be given the same opportunities to collaborate with ACT. Also, it is NATO's shared responsibility to ensure that industry's Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are protected throughout the collaboration.

Professional proficiency.
ACT staff must be qualified to perform their assigned functions and thus must be well informed on the different aspects of collaboration with industry.

All actions must be clear and auditable and must always consider ways to defend against or mitigate likely follow-on contractual risks.

Collaboration processes with the industry must be standardised to maintain coherence and fairness.

ACT's personnel must be as pro-active as possible in identifying potential areas for collaboration, reaching out to industry and setting up collaboration. Streamlined collaborative processes and guidance regarding the means and ways to collaborate with industry should help personnel achieve this goal.

Dissemination of NATO classified information must be closely monitored and secured. Such information must be accessible only to people with the required level of security clearance and on a "need to know" basis.

NATO must retain decision-making role throughout the collaborative process.

FFCI Methods

Steps of collaborations

Collaboration through the FFCI framework typically happens through a number of logical steps:

  • The first step is the step of initial contact whereby industry/academia and ACT representatives identify a mutual desire to engage in collaborative activities. This first step is either led or supported by high-level management.
  • The second step consists of topics selection. This step is generally conducted at the mid-management level, sometimes with the support of experts. During a face-to-face meeting, a video-conference or an audio-conference, a number of pre-selected topics are discussed in details to identify which ones would be of interest to both parties and therefore be good candidates for collaboration.
  • During the third step, the subject matter experts of both parties are in charge of scoping specific projects for the earlier identified collaboration topics. This phase is often the longest of the process and generally comes with signing various legal documents (such as Non-Disclosure Agreements, Statements of Collaboration, Declarations of Mutual Collaboration) to protect all parties involved. It is to be emphasized that the use and signature of such documents is not a necessity of FFCI but is possible should any of the participating actors wish to use them.
  • Finally, once the project scope, schedule and resources are agreed upon, the project can be implemented and collaboration commences (step four).

Different forms of collaborations

ffci methodsThe figure to the left captures the different non-exclusive forms of FFCI collaborations.

ACT has identified five different FFCI engagement levels (Level 0 to Level 4) that represent the various types of interaction required to facilitate the industry contribution. The level primarily reflects two factors:

  • Complexity: Challenges to be faced in collaboration (For example: protection of proprietary information, risk to industry and potential costs).
  • Contribution: Potential benefits to NATO and National capability development.

Generally, a higher level of complexity correlates to a higher level of contribution, as illustrated in the figure to the right.

ffci collaborationsLevel 0:

  • Non-focused interaction (where there is no discussion about specific capability problems in any detail) between ACT personnel and industry representatives and where no commitment to proceed beyond this basic interaction is intended.
  • No special agreement is needed as it is clear there are implicit information exchange limitations (ex: no classified material, no Intellectual Property issues).
  • Typically, mechanisms at this level enable companies to receive general information about ACT core business while ACT receives broad information about the company's range of activities.
  • Examples of existing Level 0 mechanisms include introductory visits and informal meetings, as well as high level discussions, as presented at ACT Industry Day.

Level 1:

  • Exploration of specific capability problem areas or capability development projects to focus on what industry might be able to contribute to the capability development activities.
  • Some basic protection of background information will be needed.
  • At this level, the industry contribution could typically include identification of mature solutions available in industry and advice on their potential to develop a capability. Industry may also contribute through high-level advisory studies.
  • Several mechanisms at Level 1 exist, including: Request For Information (RFI), with associated clarifications and question & answer meetings; high-level study requests obtained through NIAG; and internet-based virtual forums (as used to prepare panel discussions at some previous ACT Industry Days).

Level 2:

  • Limited scope collaborative activities that address specific issues within a capability development effort.
  • Basic protection of background information will be needed and it may also be necessary to address protection of new information.
  • Industry contribution at this level could typically include: assessment of the range of potential solutions that could be developed to meet specific capability needs, assessment of interoperability shortfalls for potential concepts and solutions; and collaborative work to ensure interoperability of national systems with NATO systems such as national and NATO command and control systems, or data interoperability for multinational logistics systems.
  • Existing mechanisms at this level include: various types of collaborative studies that can be obtained through NIAG, NC3A and RTO; and workshop meetings, such as those used to prepare panel discussions for some previous ACT Industry Days.

Level 3:

  • Collaborative projects between ACT and industry to facilitate concept development and enable both ACT and industry to benefit from practical testing, demonstration or experimentation of potential capability solutions.
  • Basic protection of background information will be needed. It is likely that protection of new information arising from the tests, demonstrations or experiments will need to be addressed.
  • In general, Level 3 mechanisms will enable industry to participate in collaborative assessments of capabilities to improve operational efficiency and coherence for military capabilities being developed, for short, medium and long term applications. Examples include: field trials of mature solutions, evaluation of operational effectiveness, derisking of solution concepts, and assessment of feasibility of prototype solutions. In particular, activities at this level can include collaborative work to ensure interoperability of national systems/solutions with NATO systems/solutions.
  • Some existing collaborative mechanisms are already available at this level, but these currently require industry to contribute through support from a Nation. For longer term developments, the RTO has a mechanism for conducting Cooperative Demonstrations of Technology (CDT), in which industry can contribute through support of a participating Nation. Similarly, NURC has a Joint Research Project mechanism where industry contributes through Nations collaborating on a project. ACT collaboration with industry on development of simulation capabilities to support NATO Live Virtual Constructive (NLVC) training is a current example where industry is contributing to an ACT-led capability development project through a Nation.

Level 4:

  • Collaborative projects, producing new "discovery" or assessment that is of significant value to industry or NATO.
  • Substantial protection of information will be needed for collaborative projects at this level and possible foreground IPR will need to be addressed.
  • Industry contribution at Level 4 is likely to include interactive development of capability solutions that reduce development risks or improve interoperability. It could include design or construction of simulation models and development of prototype solutions.

FFCI Contact

Within HQ SACT, the OCAI (Office for Collaboration with Academia and Industry) is the main point of entry for all industry's and academia's requests.

OCAI's primary mission is to initiate and facilitate collaborations with Academia and Industry under the umbrella of FFCI.

As such, it will act as the repository of FFCI knowledge within ACT and safe-keeper of FFCI principles (transparency, fairness, positive partnering, etc.), providing required support to ACT staff officers and external partners wishing to engage in a collaborative project.

For all collaboration proposals stemming either from ACT or from industrial and academic partners, OCAI will also be the coordination body, in charge of identifying the appropriate actors to investigate and potentially pursue collaborative activities.

You can contact the OCAI at