One of the things that you notice when you come to another country is how some of the same words mean something different in a different culture/context. While I was in Toronto I managed to hook up with a range of people who described themselves as being involved in “knowledge exchange and mobilisation”.
Over lunch I met with Amanda Cooper of the Research Supporting Practice in Education program. I then got to have dinner with David Phipps (of the Research Impact blog ), Gary Myers (of the KMbeing blog) and Melanie Barwick who is a child and youth mental health specialist and a leading light of the knowledge exchange world. I also gave a presentation to the Ontario Knowledge Exchange Community of Practice.
So from this sudden entry into a new world I learnt that there is a very live agenda in Canadian research that looks at the impact of research on both the economy and the social world. I’m not expert but it seems to me that in the UK we’ve got two main activities which cover this sort of ground. On the one hand you have knowledge transfer which is essentially about seeking financial and commercialisable value from research activity. On the other we have the public communication of science/research agenda which is really about justifying the value of research rather than about passing on the cutting edge stuff. Somewhere in there we also have the idea of impact which is still rather undefined as far as I can see, but which is essentially going to end up as a minor metric in the Research Excellence Framework. What the people I talked to in Toronto seemed to be interested in was the passing on research findings to those who were most able to make practical use of them. This agenda is not about making money (although that is nice) but rather about building networks and connections that make research work meaningful.
I’ve learnt a new phrase in Canada that I like which goes – “that’s where the rubber hits the road”. Essentially knowledge exchange is about thinking about where the rubber actually hits the road and trying to make it hit the road a bit quicker. Universities are fantastic places, but as we all know they aren’t always that good at sharing. If you aren’t careful academic research publishing ends up as a way of keeping score rather than a way of actually communicating. For those of us who work in health, education and so forth actually communicating to (or even with) those who work in the professions that we study should be a really high priority. As we know it isn’t always and seeking out ways to make it is very important. This conception of knowledge exchange seems to me something really valuable that it would be really valuable for the sector in the UK to engage with.
There is a conference in the UK that I might try and get along to that is attempting to do this called Bridging the Gap. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?