How to undertake knowledge exchange

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Knowledge exchange can be as simple as sharing of research knowledge with a relevant audience, or more in-depth advice, workshops, or co-authorship of papers.

This guidance note is the third in our series on the journey from research to impact.

  1. The research to impact journey: an overview
  2. How to promote research
  3. How to undertake knowledge exchange
  4. How to monitor and record impact

Knowledge exchange (KE) embraces a spectrum of activities for researchers. At its simplest, it is the sharing of research knowledge with a relevant audience: a webinar or research summary. Other examples of different and more in-depth kinds of KE collaboration include, providing advisory services, staff exchanges or secondments, joint workshops, or co-authorship of reports or papers.

At its richest, it is a process of co-creating a research activity where researchers and stakeholders both contribute at all stages to the development of new knowledge and insight. Further details about how knowledge exchange has evolved and the 11 factors for effective knowledge exchange refined from the literature are presented in a blog and conference paper.

The simpler KE interactions tend to involve least effort but may also have least impact. Deeper KE can be more resource intensive (with implications for funding), with the trade-off that this is likely to produce stronger links and greater impacts, with scope to develop long-standing links and relationships that reach across multiple research projects.

It is helpful to recall that KE usually involves the exchange of information, knowledge and experience from all parties, acknowledging the value of input from non-academic stakeholders.

Energy demand researchers usually have an audience in mind when developing their research, and often have worked with stakeholders in other research (or even non-research) projects.  Thinking about how to develop KE work with these stakeholders is best done at the design stage of a research project, but can be done at any point, although the potential impact may not be so great.

Some things to consider at the start

  • What is the purpose of your knowledge exchange (e.g. get access to data, inform policy or regulatory changes, update guidance or institutional practice)? It is likely to be closely linked to your impact objectives.
  • What can you offer to your stakeholders (e.g. advisory function, priority updates, early access to analysis, bespoke briefings/meetings) and how could they benefit from your research (e.g. better-targeted investment, potential competitive advantage, productivity gains, more effective policy)?
  • What stakeholder knowledge input (including explicit and tacit knowledge) will be valuable to your research (e.g. advice on industry norms, datasets, experiential insight, access to wider networks, input into research questions, funding)?

Try to test your ideas and assumptions with a sample of your audience and explore this together, even informally.

When developing their KE strategies, CREDS’ researchers were asked to use the following prompts during impact training workshops.

  • What are the ‘key messages’ from our work?
  • Who are they for?
  • Why are these stakeholders important?
  • Where do we already have relationships?
  • What are their needs?
  • How do we prioritise?
  • What have we got to get right?

Thinking about messages and audiences (early, mid or late stage)

Using work done to identify messages and audiences, consider what would be the best way to involve existing stakeholders and, if you are trying to extend your reach, new stakeholders.

Your existing stakeholders

If they have been closely involved in your research, you could offer in-house briefings, advice on updating processes or joint publicity activities (news releases or webinars).

Existing stakeholders can help you to reach a wider audience if they promote your work with their professional bodies or trade networks.

Less-engaged stakeholders can also be offered bespoke briefings and meetings, invited to comment or to participate in information-sharing events, or to advise on future research work.

Finding new stakeholders

Who are the new stakeholders you want to work with?  Think about how these could add to your existing stakeholder network: is there an obvious ‘gap’ you would like to fill? Are there new audiences that might help to increase your impact?

Making contact with these new stakeholders can be facilitated by being introduced by someone who knows you both; so, using your existing contacts. If this isn’t possible, getting in touch with an organisation or individual can also be effective too, but be clear what you are asking them to do and outline why you think they would find it interesting.

Using your resources effectively

Make a prioritised list: who is the best organisation/person to contact? You may need to spend time identifying the right person, or better understanding which organisations can do most to influence change. Your existing stakeholders or colleagues may be able to guide you.

This planning is iterative – your available resource might focus your engagement on a small number of highly relevant contacts; a more ambitious goal might open up funding or partnership opportunities. Small initial steps at engagement usually precedes more time-consuming and in-depth partnership working.

  • This prioritisation will help to focus on the most productive options, as well as making the overall task more manageable.

What do you want your audience to do next?

For KE to help you along the AIDA funnel you need to be moving beyond awareness raising/for information, and thinking about what KE activities can be a springboard to deeper and more productive links with at least some of your stakeholders. You may want to speak to a staff event or to brief board members, or assist with mainstreaming new thinking, planning a change in policies or practices, or developing new research questions.

  • What next steps are important to you, and which stakeholder(s) would contribute most effectively?
  • Do you have a clear goal (and what are the interim milestones), or are you willing to be open to a range of opportunities and see which ones develop?

Some practical tips

If you have an established list of contacts you might plan to invite them to a workshop (in person, or online) to share your findings in more detail, or to consult on new research questions. You will need to ensure that you have a list of invitees, plan clearly what you want your event or communication to achieve, take account of the timeliness of your activity and set aside time to deal with responses. Consider if you will need support with this and allocate resources, or consider seeking additional funding, such as an Impact Accelerator Award. If you have KE managers in your own institution, they may be able to support you.  Other related services, such as public engagement, communications or events management might also be available.

If you are trying to establish new links, remember that you have to use personal information – such as email addresses – very carefully and in compliance data protection rules, such as the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR). This may impose some limits on sharing or collecting personal information. Your own institution will probably have guidance, and the Information Commissioner’s Office can offer advice.

Building relationships with stakeholders via KE activity takes time. Some stakeholders may need greater support to get involved than others, some stakeholders may have less technical insight than others, or have fewer resources to support their own involvement. What support can you offer to help your stakeholders make an effective contribution?

If you are going to invite more people and organisations into your KE conversation, be creative about what options you have to involve them.

  • Ask for their help – sitting on an advisory group, providing insight, access to their data or contacts or a letter of support for a research bid
  • Seek their input into new research – co-creation, advise on research questions, oversight or funding.
  • Offer to provide bespoke input and advice – changing processes, providing more information, targeted information or briefings.
  • Offer to support their contribution – training, payment of expenses or secondment options.

But remember to bear in mind your stakeholders’ requirements: what benefits does your research bring to them?

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