Tamsin Mann, Head of Policy, PraxisAuril shares her thoughts on the upcoming introduction of the Knowledge Exchange Framework.
Knowledge Exchange: A People Business
PraxisAuril is the UK’s professional network for Knowledge Exchange. We are, above all, a people business: our core activity is training people who undertake a wide range of activities that are bracketed together as ‘knowledge exchange’ (KE). We have 192 member organisations, reaching almost 6000 people. In 2018 we trained 850 people taking our cumulative total to well over 5000 since Praxis was launched in 2002. We reach across the globe: about 15% of delegates come from outside the UK and recently we have had a particular focus on in-country training in China. Our training teaches specific skills, soft skills but just as importantly builds a community that shares experience and advise right up to Director level. I’m telling you all this because KEF discussions tend to home in on metrics, but KE is a people business and ultimately comes down to individuals and the interactions between them: recognising this in any metrics-based system is challenging.
No 'One Size Fits All' Knowledge Exchange
Every university has some staff dedicated to KE. They may be based in a dedicated commercialisation office, in a research centre, a research (grant) support office or embedded within a department. Some specialised services, particularly around IP commercialisation, are outsourced. Organisational structures for KE are varied because they are determined by institutional culture (research intensive, specialised) and resources (financial, infrastructure, human). Universities adopt different organisational models for the internal and external audiences that they want to reach or attract, and these will change over time as an institution decides what meets its own objectives most efficiently and effectively. This diversity is something that PraxisAuril emphasises as a strength of the sector; there really is no ‘one size fits all’. This doesn’t mean that we can’t address the sector as a whole, as we do with our training or as the KEF Concordat will but it does pose problematic for measuring what ‘good’ is.
The Future of Knowledge Exchange
The problem with metrics is that they can’t capture the contribution of people. KE ultimately comes down to individuals and the interactions between them: PhD student, Researcher, Collaboration Manager, IP Officer, R&D manager, Investor, and so on. PraxisAuril wants to understand the value and impact of training in KE; how skilled staff can enhance KE opportunities and reduce the challenges. This is something for all of us to think about now and also as the KEF develops. We also need to appreciate better the links and complementarities between different training ‘lenses’ that exist across the KE spectrum provided by organisations including: ARMA, Enterprise Educators UK, Vitae and NCCPE. This will be an important, and unique, contribution to KE policy from professional development experts.
We also know that metrics can drive behaviour – driving a focus on spin-outs, for example, at the expense of another activity. We need to avoid that. And cultivating the ‘right behaviours’ needs extend to external collaborators too, particularly in sectors where there is a persistently low level of collaboration with universities. To drive demand the KEF not only needs to provide a way for universities to benchmark performance and be ‘aspirational’ in their KE but also provide a stimulus for organisations that may never have worked with a university before. We hope that by supporting our members to deliver high standards of KE, by providing compelling examples of success from across the UK, and by working with other stakeholders we can inform the KEF's development and help to achieve outcomes that work for everyone.