Article Technology

Do you even knowledge exchange, bro?

Look. Knowledge exchange is pretty complicated. It's not our fault though. We've even got a handy intro. Read on!

25 November 2014

You look left, and the charred remains of the world economy glow with fading embers. Right, and the dark chasm of complex science stretches out in the distance. Up ahead, a faint light.


What is this knowledge exchange?

As the two words suggest, knowledge exchange involves sharing what you have learnt to make other people’s lives a little easier.

The funny thing about exchanging knowledge is that, while it occurs on a daily basis through interactions with colleagues, collaborators, and even in your personal life, in order to be considered a knowledge exchange activity it must have an impact and require active effort (HA! and you thought it was easy!).

For example, in a collaborative project, after discussing and sharing experiences, the partners should notice a “transformative effect”. This effect can manifest in new products, policies, processes, skills or understanding; attributable to a collaborative effort. So in the end, everyone is better off for having engaged.

This, my friends…is knowledge exchange.


Am I knowledge exchanging?
Do you even knowledge exchange fry


And no, we do not just sit in a circle, holding hands happily sharing ideas and experiences while singing “Always look at the bright side of life” (even though that would be awesome). Knowledge exchange (KE) – is all about forging cross-disciplinary ideas. To be considered KE, these new ideas should:

  • Occur between academic researchers and businesses (or other non-academic communities)
  • Benefit partners
  • Lead to new knowledge, processes, mechanisms, technologies, networks or relationships (obviously not an exhaustive list) – i.e. innovation or improvement

Improvement can range from: inventing something cool ; or developing a more sensitive pipeline for single-cell DNA extraction; or a better way to compile your code or mine data more efficiently, to anything that can be classed as progress.

Some examples of typical knowledge exchange activities within a research organisation:

  • Collaborative projects
  • Industry or other non-academic organisation-facing events
  • Training
  • Providing a consultancy service
  • Contract research
  • Undertaking secondment/ placement

Isn’t knowledge exchange the same as public engagement?




Actually, this is not a silly question. Firstly, there is no such thing as a silly question. Secondly, this makes my job title sound less special!

All you need to know is that to be classed as a knowledge exchange, an activity needs to make a difference. It needs to lead to innovation beyond standard research outputs such as publications or presentations to a laymen audience.

Public Engagement is all about bringing the public on board with research through lectures, debates, science fairs, exhibitions, etc. For the large part, it is a one-way transfer of information and it doesn’t usually lead to inventing new technologies or generating any transformative effects. It’s supposed to and lots of effort does goes into this, but it isn’t quite there yet.

Public engagement = fun, with the aim to foster a public dialogue with scientists.

Knowledge exchange = meaningful and quantifiable fun, which makes collaborators happier and could make you wealthy and powerful! Maybe.


Am I knowledge exchanging?
Do you even knowledge exchange rageflip

Why bother, then?

It’s no secret that in the past few years the science budget has been eroded. You will need to compete with your fellow colleagues for crumbs for your research and justify your every step. Someone will always be breathing down your neck. Sleeping will be a luxury few can afford. Despair will creep up on you and there is only one thing that can save you …

Knowledge exchange.

Just like with exercise, if you don’t knowledge exchange now, you’ll be annoyed at yourself later. But, I hear you, even though we are all obviously altruistic, it would be good to know that you are not just giving away your hard work. Rest assured, knowledge exchange leads to different kinds of wins for all people involved. For example, for academia-business interactions, which are a KE activity, research shows that, “On all measures, faculty with industry relationships published significantly more and published at a greater rate than respondents without such connections.1


Knowledge exchange can be a stark exercise for the uninitiated.
Do you even knowledge exchange brace yourself



Other examples of knowledge exchange activity are Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), which involve business and academia getting some money from the scheme to hire a person to work on a collaborative project. An independent review showed that 74% of University partners won more grants after participating in a KTP and 75% of researchers with a KTP were able to reap other financial benefits (e.g. increased income from teaching and consultancy work).2

Joint projects often give access to extensive datasets, expertise, equipment, new skills and confidential information. It is likely that your organisation considers business engagement and intellectual property creation as one of the key criteria for promotion.

Look, I know you don’t want to, but the evidence is there. It is no longer enough to publish in high impact journals to get to the top. So stop thinking of knowledge exchange as an optional extra and start thinking of it as a means to success. Some other benefits may include:

  • Increased impact of your research (now a Research Councils UK requirement)
  • Enhanced reputation, chance of publication and grant application success
  • Access to additional funding, income and spin-out potential
  • Influencing policy and business strategy by applying evidence-based knowledge
  • Understanding research end users (and their needs) better

Persuaded yet? No? Really, after all that? Then read on, my friend.

KEC activities can and will influence your performance evaluation positively.

How knowledge exchange will make you invincible – a couple of case studies

We have been hosting a training session with an international biotechnology company PerkinElmer since 2012. People came from all over Europe to train in handling their technology. This included Aarhus University in Denmark, NewGene in the UK, University of Duisburg – Essen in Germany, CeMM in Austria, Bayer Healthcare and the Medical University of Vienna, to name a few. Now they are sharing the knowledge gained at this training with their colleagues and collaborators. For us, it meant further links and collaborations in the wider scientific community. For PerkinElmer, it meant coming up with solutions to issues and bespoke methods. This means new customers and happier existing ones.

That which benefits your organisation will benefit YOU. Improved tools, increased funds, new interesting projects, and promotion opportunities.

Another great example – Dr Tim Stitt, EI's Head of Scientific Computing, came across an article on Optalysys exascale computing that could be powered from a standard mains supply. When Tim realised that bioinformatics computing tasks could be a great use case for this exciting new technology, he approached Optalysys. This has led to a partnership being established, with the help of yours truly (i.e. EI’s KEC team), AND a successful £0.5million Innovate UK application in Scalable Energy Efficient Computing with more to come. The final product promises potential energy cost reduction of 95% – diminishing the environmental impact of running High Performance Computing and saving the organisation more than £40,000 per annum. This is happening thanks to one researcher taking initiative.

Knowledge exchange = Results. Isn’t that impressive?


What can your Knowledge Exchange (aka Technology Transfer) team do for you?

Yes, KEC activities can and will influence your performance evaluation positively. Don’t forget that impact tracking is now a requirement for many grant reports. So go get your Knowledge Exchange team to help you with:

  • Identifying commercial potential of projects
  • Collaborative and Translational Funding information
  • Grant and Business proposal writing (includes Pathways to Impact)
  • Customised market reports
  • Enhancing the impact of your research
  • Freedom to operate & patentability assessment
  • Structuring relationships with industry
  • Contract negotiation with industry
  • Delivering initiatives to showcase knowledge exchange
  • Developing skills and opportunities to engage with industry

Come at me, bro!Most of us like a challenge so we (our equivalent at your organisation) will be happy to help you with anything, really. Our purpose is to serve you, especially if it involves making the world a better place.

So what are you waiting for? Start knowledge exchange-ing!

Have you had success with your knowledge exchange activities? Do you struggle with any aspects of commercialisation? Leave your comments below.


Tags: KEC