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Case Study: Knowledge Exchange

Partnerships to enhance research dissemination beyond academy

Dr Anne Boultwood, Birmingham City University

February 2012 - June 2013

The Knowledge Exchange in Design (KED) programme aims to enhance public engagement with design and provide career development opportunities for PhD and Early Career Researchers (ECRs). The programme is a collaboration between Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University, Coventry University and Sheffield Hallam University, and involves partnerships with a range of non-academic organisations, both commercial and cultural.

Content of Skills Development programme

Knowledge exchange is achieved through pairing researchers with partner organisations for a residency of 3-5 days. Residency projects might involve a problem-solving exercise, contribution to the planning or delivery of a specific project, or development of future strategy; the only stipulation being that the project must produce a tangible output, e.g. a report or presentation to the partner organisation.

Negotiation of residencies broadly followed this pattern:

  1. Organisation identifies problem/project;
  2. Initial meeting refines proposal to viable project and partner produces a brief;
  3. Researcher recruited and, in discussion, shapes the project to suit their expertise.

Examples of residencies already completed include:

  • At Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a student devised an audience participation game that provided insight into the future design of their ceramics gallery.
  • A student working jointly with Play DNA helped devise innovative online methods for promotion of the company.

Case studies covering good practice will be published online, providing a generally available resource to support future training. A concluding symposium will provide an opportunity for all those taking part to reflect on the programme as a whole and consider ways of taking collaborations forward.

Challenges encountered

  • Time-consuming nature of the negotiation and recruitment process;
  • Some organisations found the negotiation process too much to commit to;
  • Convincing researchers of the benefits of working on a project not directly related to their research;
  • Some projects did not attract applications from researchers;
  • Some residencies required different resources from those identified in the original application.

Skills Development and wider outcomes

A skills audit is facilitating the identification of the skills utilised in the projects. Analysis is ongoing, but it is clear that the residencies helped students develop skills in negotiation; analysis and evaluation; formulation and implementation of solutions to problems; development of innovative methods; project management; and employment of a range of communication styles and approaches. At least one researcher has identified an opportunity for expanding the consultation service she provided as part of the residency project to a wider audience, and is seeking funding to support that.

As we hoped, a number of residencies have led to further collaboration, and a few have either stimulated, or contributed to, larger, funded projects. As a result of working with a small film company, we have been able to commission a short film of the KED scheme (supported by internal funding from BIAD).

My top tips for applicants

  • Build some flexibility into the application to allow for unforeseen developments;
  • Do not underestimate the amount of time involved in the management of a programme such as this;
  • Be clear about the responsibilities of all participants in the programme.