- Supervisors & managers
- Leadership development for principal investigators
- Knowledge Exchange
Why is Knowledge Exchange important for principal investigators?
As a principal investigator (PI), your research will generate knowledge and you will want to transfer your good ideas, research results and skills with universities and other research organisations, business, the third sector, public sector and/or the wider community. Knowledge Exchange activities can help raise your profile within your university, nationally and internationally.
Funders of research are committed to an effective, demand-driven exchange of knowledge and expertise with business, public and third sector organisations and provide funding in various ways to support these aims.
What is Knowledge Exchange?
Knowledge Exchange, or Knowledge Transfer, is a key output of academic research. It conveys how knowledge and ideas move between the knowledge source and the potential users of that knowledge. It may occur through the training of postgraduate researchers who subsequently apply that knowledge in the public or private sector, or through direct engagement between the academics and public/private sector via collaborative or contract research, or through the exploitation of intellectual property through the creation of start-up companies, or in many other ways. The key common element is that information and expertise is exchanged with businesses, society and/or the economy.
What opportunities are there for Knowledge Exchange?
Your research organisation will have services to provide help and support for knowledge exchange these may be provided by separate functions within the organisation, eg business development or technology transfer offices but may well be part of your central research office and the research office will be able to help in the first instance.
The RCUK Knowledge Transfer Portal offers a single point of access for those in, eg academia, business, public, private and/or third sectors, who want to find out about Research Council knowledge transfer schemes and activities, and how to get involved. You will find links to Research Council funding opportunities, current events, networks and training courses, just to name a few. It covers the following areas:
- collaborative research is academic research undertaken in partnership with other universities or research organisations, with business, with government and/or with the third sector (eg charities). Collaborative research can take a number of forms, from a basic grant between two partners, through to a complex multi-partner research programme
- collaborative training enables researchers to develop the relevant skills to undertake excellent research, work effectively in business (and/or the government or other important sectors), and exploit the outcomes of their research. Training opportunities include vocational courses, collaborative studentship projects between academia and industry, and training in entrepreneurship
- people and information exchange recognises that individuals are at the heart of knowledge transfer. All Research Councils encourage increased levels of university-business interaction; all support the exchange of researchers between academia and industry, and stimulate partnerships between business and researchers. This includes support for brokering and networking activities, fellowship schemes that enable researchers to work in a commercial environment, and support for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)
- commercialisation and development includes a number of activities to encourage researchers to take their ideas further down the route to exploitation, and to reward them for excellence in innovation. The Research Councils' Follow-on Fund (plus a range of other Council-specific schemes) supports ‘proof-of-concept' type work and the RCUK Business Plan Competition provides training and mentoring in the development of business skills, and Enterprise Training develops researchers' entrepreneurial skills.
What are the benefits of collaboration with external users?
Knowledge exchange and collaboration with external users have a number of very significant benefits to academics. These include at least some of the following:
- joint projects very often give access to extensive datasets/expertise/equipment that would be either impossible or very expensive to obtain for yourself
- you have the opportunity to work with non-academic experts who have different working methods and ways of looking at research problems - this can be a very important learning experience for both sides
- such collaborations open up a range of new funding opportunities, be they direct funding from the collaborating organisation(s) or funding from a range of research council or other sources aimed at promoting knowledge exchange activities, e.g. KTPs, CASE studentships, Partnership Grants, etc
- the resulting funding counts towards REF income targets
- also for the REF, the results of Knowledge Exchange will form the basis of the new Impact Case Studies
- successful collaborations allow you to significantly increase the impact of your research
- they provide opportunities to create spin-out companies and develop a partnership approach to future interactions with external users
- there are also potential benefits to teaching activities, including the development of student projects (undergraduate or postgraduate), access to case study materials for projects and practical classes, and opportunities to visit partner organisations as part of the student's career development.
What are the barriers to collaboration with external users?
According to Abreu et al's Universities, Business and Knowledge Exchange (2008), there are number of important barriers to knowledge exchange and collaboration between academia and external end user organisations:
- lack of knowledge of potential partners, collaboration mechanisms and funding opportunities
- differences in research culture and language
- differences (or perceived differences) in research drivers
- financial constraints, Intellectual Property (IP) and confidentiality issues
- timescales, with universities often operating on significantly longer time scales.
Comment on this page.