This paper draws on the experiences of work-integrated learning from a Swedish-Norwegian cross-sector research project where actors from university, industry, government and volunteer sector collaborate on city center development. The empirical setting of the present study consists of six smaller cities in rural municipalities with limited resources and experiences of collaboration with higher education institutions.

The following research question is addressed: How can research and development projects serve as a vehicle for facilitating mutual knowledge exchange between academia and society in cross-sector and rural collaboration contexts? The aim is hence to suggest a tentative collaboration model that identify and integrate knowledge flows between actors involved in cross-sector collaborations in such setting. To gain deep insights in the complex dynamics of project collaboration we applied a mixed methods approach including surveys, structured, in-depth qualitative interviews, observations, workshops and student projects. The data collection was performed during 2016-2017. Findings indicate that trust, continuity, and relationship building are the basis vital for successful creation, development and maintenance of knowledge flows. Furthermore, there is a need to develop an integrative tool box with different methodological tools, work practices and strategies to plan, perform, compile to leverage the knowledge flows and coproduce sustainable results. Our tentative model aims to illustrate conceptualize lessons learned on work-integrated learning and collaboration with academia. We discuss how the model may support co-creative and mutual results over time.