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Knowledge exchange

Knowledge exchange (KE) can be defined as a collaborative, creative endeavour that translates knowledge and research into impact in society and the economy.

KE includes a set of activities, processes and skills that enable close collaboration between universities and partner organisations to deliver commercial, environmental, cultural and place-based benefits, opportunities for students and increased prosperity.

Knowledge exchange is undertaken by both academic and professional services staff. The Knowledge Transfer Centre (KTC) employs a number of KE professionals to support research commercialisation.

Approaches to knowledge exchange

  • Facilitating the research and exploitation process – working with external partners (from a single project partner to large consortia) to build and deliver collaborative projects and ways of working
  • Commercialisation and development activities: taking ideas further down the route to exploitation and translation.
  • Skills and people development: develop the relevant skills to work effectively with external partners in order to better embed and exploit the outcomes of your research
  • People and knowledge sharing: engaging with external organisations through meetings, conferences, networking and staff placements and exchanges. Formation of new networks e.g. alumni
  • Community and public engagement: initiatives to engage the public with research and participatory community projects. Staff or student volunteering, public lectures and exhibitions
  • Enterprise and entrepreneurship opportunities – taking part in enterprise and entrepreneurship training including working with an Entrepreneur in Residence and exploring enterprise opportunities as a form of research exploitation
  • Exploiting physical assets: providing specialist facilities for external organisations, including incubation support and accelerator programmes

Knowledge exchange including collaboration with organisations outside academia have a number of very significant benefits to academics. These include at least some of the following:

  • Joint projects very often give access to extensive datasets/expertise/equipment that would be either impossible or very expensive to obtain for yourself
  • You have the opportunity to work with non-academic experts who may have different working methods and ways of looking at research problems – this can help develop your communication skills and better understand the potential impact of your research
  • Collaborations open up a range of new funding opportunities, be they direct funding from the collaborating organisation(s) or funding from a range of sources aimed at promoting knowledge exchange activities e.g. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)
  • Knowledge exchange activities contribute towards the University’s block grant funding from Research England and Office of Students, this fund is known as the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF)
  • Knowledge exchange activities, including successful collaborations, allow you to increase significantly the impact of your research and the results of knowledge exchange activity may form the basis of impact examples for assessment exercises such as the impact case studies for the UK Research Excellence Framework and Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)
  • KE activities are an important aspect of research commercialisation. Spin-out companies and licensing of intellectual property to companies can generate additional income to the University and help build strong, strategic relationships with business
  • Potential benefits to teaching activities, including the development of student projects (undergraduate or postgraduate), access to case study materials for projects and practical classes, and opportunities to visit partner organisations as part of the students' career development
  • Enhances the employability opportunities for students through their own skill development by taking part in KE activities but also through the external network that they are building

Potential barriers to collaboration with external users

It is worth being aware of the existence of a number of potential barriers to knowledge exchange and collaboration between academia and external end user organisations.

  • Lack of knowledge of potential partners, collaboration mechanisms and funding opportunities
  • How to scope and pitch projects to industry
  • How to recognise the value of your research and expertise to external partners and describe it
  • Differences in research culture and language
  • Differences (or perceived differences) in research drivers
  • Financial constraints, intellectual property (IP) and confidentiality issues
  • Timescales, with universities often operating on significantly longer time scales than potential outside collaborators

These are not insurmountable barriers and the purpose of the KTC is to support you in your knowledge exchange journey. Please contact your KTC Business Partner.