Knowledge Exchange

Back in 2012, the Wilson Review (A Review of Business-University Collaboration, 2012) encouraged universities to work closer with outside agencies and business to develop better public outcomes for the UK.  Now Professor Trevor McMillan of Keele University is leading a cross-university development group for the UK Government on what’s next for the new Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF).

This includes working out what is best practice in transferring practice and knowledge exchange between universities, business and society.  There is early recognition that such brokerage is a catalyst of human capital and as such may well require a focus on relationship building rather than simply ‘efficient transactions’ and income. Collaborative research is emphasised over simple ‘transfer’, and there is recognition of the benefit of improving innovation capacity – think of it as a form of virtual science park! See Sir Andrew Witty’s review of Universities and Growth (2013) and Innovation Brokerage (NCUB) available at:

HEFCE identified that effective knowledge exchange (KE) practice should:

  1. Deliver both HE benefits  and wider societal and economic benefits.
  2. Work in the context of legal and regulatory frameworks for HE
  3. Be efficient in use of public (and private) funding.
  4. And through all the above, be sustainable.

The East Midlands Police and Crime Research and Development Plan represents a best practice model of KE in action between the university and public sector, to align the ‘best of both’ for increased innovation  and public outcomes in the UK.

Communities of Practice

Wenger (2011) has helped clarify that KE can be brokered, curated and collaborated via Communities of Practice.  This is defined as ‘a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’. For a community of practice to exist, there must be:

  1. A shared domain of interest.
  2. A community, whereby members build relationships that enable them to learn from each other.
  3. A shared practice, in the form of a repertoire of resources for addressing recurring problems.

EMPAC, as a regional collaboration between 5 police forces and PCCs and 8 universities, is what KE describes as a strategic community of practice, which is predominantly working on challenge-led research and contributing towards impact acceleration.

Knowledge exchange starts within….

Universities are large and complex. People are often organised according to academic disciplines. Being aware of everything that is happening and ‘who’s doing what’ is a full-time job, for example in sorting out whose academic research has a possible application towards policing. Since ‘policing’ is about broad societal issues and public needs, it’s not just about Criminology or Law departments, but engineering, applied mathematics, political science, computer science, health sciences, psychology, business and so on. Then times that by 8 for the region’s universities for ‘who’s doing what’ beyond just what institution! Don’t get us wrong, this is not about ‘control’ it’s more about realising the benefits of being joined-up so things can be complementary. There are lots of real-world challenges out there, so there is plenty of knowledge exploration to go around!

If we take the University of Nottingham, just for example. There is much work here to build on the institution’s founder, Sir Jesse Boot’s vision from back in 1928, “…in each succeeding age the University will spread the light of learning and knowledge and will bind science and industry in the unity that is so essential for the prosperity of the nation and the welfare of our fellow citizens”. That vision of civic responsibility is now embedded amongst the University’s strategic aims, for transformative discovery, informing social policy formation, a commitment to enterprise and social responsibility and improving local places and communities. Within just one application – modern slavery – we find a transdisciplinary approach that has fused together no fewer than 16 teams across five faculties that offer a stronger, broad base than working in relative silos in a Beacon of Excellence, aiming to answer four key questions. In turn there are now discussions about a regional modern slavery police research forum so the various research activities across all our EMPAC universities can contribute towards common goals.

Measuring effectiveness

Interestingly, in the methodology of developing KE practice, Effective practice in knowledge exchange by Research Consulting (2016) ‘usefulness’ was scored, offering a metric to inform how knowledge exchange be assessed in the future. The criteria were: relevance, practicality, transferability, currency and credibility.  For EMPAC, this could complement the Impact Capacity Rating we have developed.

Score Classification
0-11 Materials of limited value
12-15 Reference materials – may be valuable in some circumstances, but do not constitute effective practice
16-18 Effective practice materials – the most relevant and valuable materials


Further reading:

Johnson, Rob, Fosci, Mattia, Prieto, Nathalia (2016) Effective practice resources in knowledge exchange for UK universities. figshare.








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