Saturday, 10 September 2016

Impact of Social Sciences – How can your research have more impact? Five key principles and practical tips for effective knowledge exchange.


How can your research have more impact? Five key principles and practical tips for effective knowledge exchange.

mark reedAnna_EvelyGenerating
new knowledge is a relatively straightforward concept compared with the
more unknown territory of getting knowledge to those that might need
it. To ensure knowledge is useful, relationships must be built: two-way,
long-term, trusting relationships between researchers and the people
who need the new knowledge we are generating. 
Mark Reed and Anna Evely share their top five principles for effective knowledge exchange.
Name an impact from research that hasn’t
involved knowledge exchange. If like us, you can’t think of one, then it
follows that if we want to have an impact, we have to become great at
knowledge exchange. But what does effective knowledge exchange look
like, and how can we get good at it? Three years ago, we set out to
document the sorts of knowledge exchange being done across the UK, to
find out what works. Our findings were published this week in Journal of Environmental Management,
and in this blog, we’ll share with you five key principles that emerged
from our work, as well as lots of handy tips for knowledge exchange, in
the words of the people we interviewed.
There are three reasons people commonly
give for not getting their research to the people who might be able to
use it. First, people don’t think they’ve got the skills or tools they
need to engage effectively with stakeholders. Second, even if they know
what to do, people don’t have the confidence they need to get their
ideas out there. Third, people are under the (often wrong) impression
that engaging effectively with stakeholders is time consuming and not of
central importance to their research. We hope that with the rising
importance of ‘impact’ in assessing research excellence in the UK, this
third concern is becoming less important as engagement efforts are
increasingly rewarded. But what are the skills and tools you need to
make an impact?
Figure 2
The circle above shows the themes about
effective knowledge exchange that emerged from our analysis of interview
transcripts. It shows how they map onto the five principles in the
table below. Each of these themes are summarised in greater detail here, based on the words of those we interviewed.
As researchers, we’re already in the
business of generating new knowledge; it’s what we signed up for. But
for that new knowledge to actually reach the decision-makers who might
use it, they need to: 1) find out; and 2) understand the importance to
them of what we’ve discovered. Traditionally, we’ve focused on how we
can best make information about our research available and accessible.
But even if we tailor information about our research really effectively
to different audiences, they still have to actually learn from it, and
appreciate its relevance to them, before it can become useful knowledge.
Very often, that requires a significant level of active engagement,
more than just disseminating information. To ensure this is useful
knowledge, and has impact for those who need it, relationships must be
built: two-way, long-term, trusting relationships between researchers
and the people who need the new knowledge we are generating.
As researchers have begun moving towards
increasing impact, and building relationships to do so, we often hear
great ideas and case studies about engaging with the people who might
use our research from other researchers. Those ideas tend to range from
the obvious (but we can’t believe we didn’t think of doing them
already), to innovative, unusual ideas (that we can’t believe more
people have heard of). For us, it was time to look at these ideas more
systematically. We wanted to find out what researchers across the UK
were doing, to improve our own practice, and of course so we could share
them with you. We published the findings of our research
this week (open access, of course), and we’d like to share our top five
principles for effective knowledge exchange with you here. And, of
course, in the spirit of knowledge exchange, if you’ve got ideas you’d
like to add to this, please comment on this blog and share them with us.
Table 1: Summary of principles for
effective knowledge exchange including illustrative quotes from
researchers and research users.

Principle 1: Design
what you want to achieve with your knowledge exchange and design
knowledge exchange into environmental management research from the
  • Set goals for knowledge exchange from the outset
  • Devise a knowledge exchange and communications strategy
  • Build in flexibility to knowledge exchange plans so they can respond to changing user needs and priorities
  • Allocate skilled staff and financial resources to knowledge exchange

Principle 2: Represent
Systematically represent research user knowledge needs and priorities:
  • Systematically identify likely users of your research and other relevant stakeholders
  • Embed key stakeholders in your research
  • Consider the ethical implications of engaging with different stakeholders

Principle 3. Engage
Build long-term,
trusting relationships based on two-way dialogue between researchers
and stakeholders and co-generate new knowledge about environmental
management together
  • Engage in two-way dialogue as equals with the likely users of your research
  • Build long-term relationships with the users of your research
  • Work with knowledge brokers
  • Employ a professional facilitator for workshops with research users
  • Understand what will motivate research users to get involved in your research
  • Create opportunities for informal interaction and learning between researchers and stakeholders
  • Work with stakeholders to interpret the implications of your work for policy and practice, and co-design communication products

Principle 4. Impact
Focus on delivering tangible results as soon as possible that will be valued by as many of your stakeholders as possible
  • Identify quick wins where tangible impacts can be delivered as early
    as possible in the research process, to reward and keep likely users of
    research engaged with the research process
  • Get your timing right

Principle 5. Reflect & Sustain
Monitor and
reflect on your knowledge exchange, so you can learn and refine your
practice, and consider how to sustain a legacy of knowledge exchange
beyond project funding
  • Regularly reflect with your research team and key stakeholders on how effective your knowledge exchange is
  • Learn from your peers and share good practice
  • Identify what knowledge exchange needs to continue after research
    funding has ceased and consider how to sustain this in the longer-term
You can read more about each of these themes in our new journal article in the Journal of Environmental Management.
If you want to find out more about what it
takes to be great at knowledge exchange, and gain confidence using
these skills, check out the not-for-profit training
we do, which is based on this research. So far we’ve trained
researchers from >20 Universities and research institutes across the
UK and in Europe, and have trained research managers from Government and
the Research Councils. Our goal is to build capacity for knowledge
exchange across the research community, so we can put our ideas into
practice and be the change we want to be.
This is an extract of a post from Project Maya and is reposted with the authors’ permission.
Note: This article gives the views of
the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog,
nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.
About the Authors
Prof Mark Reed is an
interdisciplinary researcher specialising in knowledge exchange,
stakeholder participation and the value of nature. He obtained his PhD
from the University of Leeds, where he was a Senior Lecturer till he
became Director of the Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability
at the University of Aberdeen. He is now a professor at Birmingham City
University, where he is led the REF submission for his School. He has
over 100 publications (>60 in peer-reviewed international journals).
Find out more about his work at: or follow him on Twitter @profmarkreed
Dr Anna Evely is
co-founder and director of international eco enterprise Project Maya.
Anna’s background is in sustainability and conservation she is
passionate about social media and permaculture. Anna is an
interdisciplinary researcher/campaigner/entrepreneur. Academically she
continues to work with the Sustainable Learning project on Knowledge
Exchange and has published on environmental sustainability and behaviour
change. Find out more about her work at: or follow her on Twitter @AnaAttlee
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Impact of Social Sciences – How can your research have more impact? Five key principles and practical tips for effective knowledge exchange.

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