As a fledgling academic, there are a lot of academic phrases and buzzwords that I have to get to grips with. ‘Knowledge Exchange’ has been one such term, but I’m discovering that, like many other examples of academic jargon, it’s just a basic principle of research in bureaucratic disguise. Speaking with others on the subject, it seems I’m not the only one left wondering what constitutes Knowledge Exchange. But at the Faculty of Arts & Humanities Knowledge Exchange and Impact conference held on Thursday 20 April 2016, I was inspired by the speakers whose passion in their respective fields shone through in their presentations, allaying my worries that the only role ‘Knowledge Exchange’ would have in my academic future would be a struggle to frame a funding bid so as to be appealing to keepers of research budgets.
The passion that many of the speakers showed – I’m thinking in particular of the Keynote Speaker, Gordon Davidson, who is Editor of BBC Radio Kent, and Dr Amy Nettley, a Social Impact researcher and analyst – demonstrated that Knowledge Exchange is really about sharing the wealth of knowledge and expertise we gain during our academic lives with the public and people outside academia. As Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University, Professor Rama Thirunamachandran pointed out during the conference, Knowledge Exchange has always held a vital role in universities – a raison d’être, if you like – and it’s rewarding to see staff research make an impact on communities beyond the walls of the university.
‘Impact’ was a perfect theme to help me appreciate the potential that the research we conduct as academics has to touch the lives of those around us. From increasing awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning (LGBTIQ) issues in Buddhism or uniting members of a parish through a fusion of electronic and organ music, to improving small businesses with the use of social media or offering young immigrant artists the opportunity to study at university, all the projects presented at the conference were those that took the researchers’ expertise/ knowledge of an important issue and then used it in a very real way to reach out to others and effect change in their lives.
All the conference speakers are evidently knowledgeable on their topics and gave excellent presentations, but for a novice like me Dr Amy Nettley had some useful tips to bear in mind when framing a Knowledge Exchange project. Firstly, consider the people you have as your audience, and with them in mind, decide what you want to achieve. I found her tips useful because as a doctoral researcher I know it’s important to think about the intended recipients/ audience of our research, whether its children using Professor Louise Wilkinson’s online resources about the Magna Carta (I think we all hope our research could reach as many people as hers!) or locals sharing their experiences of Pamplona through Kate McLean’s small maps. After all, this is where the impact happens. Measuring that impact is another matter, perhaps best left to experts like Dr Netley and her mobile Investigation Station! I also see passion as being vital to achieving impact through Knowledge Exchange, and perhaps that’s what made the projects we heard about at the conference successful.
It was also great to witness the launch of the Faculty of Arts & humanities Knowledge Exchange Prize. The prizes awarded on the day were to recognise the achievement of colleagues who completed high impact Knowledge Exchange projects in the previous academic year (2014-15). The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Thirunamachandran was on hand to announce the prizes and to award certificates to five project leads who will also receive financial support for their projects.
I’m preparing for my PhD upgrade at the moment, a time when my research is under particular scrutiny to see what contribution my research will make to the field. Perhaps it’s my (relative!) youth, but I found seeing how other academics and professionals at the Knowledge Exchange conference have put their knowledge into a real-world context truly inspiring. It’s made me take a moment to look into the future, beyond the end of my all-consuming PhD research to a time when what I will hopefully have achieved would leave a tangible impact on others in a way that I’m passionate about.
Mo Pietroni-Spenst (PhD Candidate, Canterbury Christ Church University)