Using knowledge exchange to help research make sense

09 November, 2021

Clare Downing

Reading time: 5 minutes

CREDS Centre Manager, Clare Downing, reflects on the motivations for undertaking a research paper on knowledge exchange – as a way to encourage researchers to think more about embedding it within their research projects for greater impact.

As we develop new ways of living to meet the challenges of climate change, taking people with us on this journey of change is fundamental. This means reflecting on how we all talk about what net-zero really means.

Typically researchers outline the science well, but this can be difficult for the public to understand; politicians have power and can be influenced (although sometimes by vested interests who want to maintain the status quo) and activists appeal to our emotional and moral responses. We need an engaged public who understand the challenge and this can occur by getting the science, politics, and activist communities to work collectively. This is where knowledge exchange (KE) comes in.

Bringing people together

The CREDS knowledge exchange team know that KE is about bringing people together to share know-how and develop trusted relationships where all parties gain a better understanding of what is going on. We use this process within academia to maximise the impact of research.

To support researchers practically and for KE work to feel more accessible, the CREDS team has just published a systematic literature review (SLR) across eight thematic areas, taking ten papers from each area, resulting in a review of 80 papers. The literature review revealed 11 factors for effective KE that are applicable across many fields. In applying these to energy demand, we believe that KE provides an important tool in promoting evidence based energy demand policy with engagement from multiple stakeholders in the effort to meet net-zero targets.

The literature review revealed that selecting appropriate stakeholders and developing the right messages for the right people, at the right time, in the right way is key.

Choosing the right approach

We chose to write an academic paper (the messages) to support energy demand researchers (the stakeholders) in their KE efforts as this is a primary KE method amongst the research community.  We grounded our paper in the origins and development of KE as a concept because we felt that this approach would be understood well by researchers and would be using the right tool, targeted to the audience we want to reach.

Hence a key lesson from the literature and our experience is to adapt the output to meet the needs of the target audience. We will use the knowledge we’ve gained to develop further tools such as, ‘How to Guides’ and other case studies as the needs of our research centre consortium and wider stakeholder network evolve. Again, the iterative and evolving journey for the way that our paper came about and the information that it will generate, reflects the lessons that we found in the academic literature.

As we unpicked the various themes from the literature, two important aspects of successful KE became obvious:

  1. Personal relationships between people and
  2. A clear strategic direction (what is the purpose of the engagement?) that also reflects the reasons that different actors wish to participate.

The paper ends with combined lessons that could be used by researchers, UKRI and policy-makers to guide and support their own knowledge exchange.

Overcoming barriers to doing knowledge exchange

Our motivation for writing the paper was to acknowledge the challenges and barriers that researchers face, to give them options and reasons why these barriers exist, and how they could be overcome. Many of us in the writing team are both researchers and knowledge exchange practitioners so our dual role gave us valuable insight.

We have used CREDS as a case study because it illustrates how to do KE well, and because it has also been our test bed for the past three years. We have trialled many new ideas, some of these have borne fruit and some have not grown as well! Our own knowledge grew across this journey as we uncovered new knowledge in the peer-reviewed literature.  We now have further ideas and concepts that we can apply and test within CREDS. It is important that our own expertise in KE practice matures and improves over time alongside our research team colleagues.

In a moment of reflection, I feel that our journey to publish the literature review easily reflects some of the challenges we drew from the literature facing researchers attempting to do KE. These challenges include:

  • The work was not part of our day jobs but something in addition that we all felt strongly would be beneficial in the long run.
  • Different types of knowledge were necessary therefore we brought two Msc student into the team who had recently completed their studies. They gave us some great new ideas and perspectives but were unfamiliar with our ways of working so integrating them into the team took longer than if we had used just existing members of the team. However, once they were familiar with our processes, it enabled us to do a far more extensive literature review than we would have been able to do without them.
  • Reading the 80 papers and paper writing took place during multiple lockdowns for Covid-19 in the UK so there were many delays as people dealt with personal sickness and caring responsibilities, making deadlines harder to meet.
  • We had a physically distanced team with half the team in the northern hemisphere and half in the southern, so booking meetings for us to talk in real time was a major undertaking working across many time zones.

I encourage you to read our paper, published in the official proceedings of the ECEEE summer study 2021. It sheds some light on the circularity of the KE process. Doing KE is worth the effort because it improves the quality of the final output and ultimately supports us all on the journey to mitigate climate change.

Banner photo credit: Maia Habegger on Unsplash