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AHRC publishes KE Hub Report

Date: 14/03/2017

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has today published a major report summarising the outcomes of a four year, £16 million research and knowledge exchange programme that brought together arts and humanities research and the creative economy sector through a specially designed programme.

The AHRC KE Hubs for the creative economy brought expertise from 29 universities across the UK. They collectively achieved a systematic step change in how the creative economy sector engages with the UK research base.

Professor Andrew Thompson, the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Chief Executive Officer said: “The Knowledge Exchange Hubs (KE Hubs) were a pioneering investment by the AHRC in collaborative research and knowledge exchange. The AHRC wanted to nurture new relationships between universities and the creative sector in ways in which cultural and creative industries were able to access and benefit from cutting-edge research to drive the UK’s competitiveness and success on a global scale.

Over the four year programme the KE hubs engaged with over 1700 businesses, providing direct support to 350 of these enterprises. This new report provides insights in to the methods, findings and achievements of the four KE Hubs to date. Some of the key findings include:

New products and services for creative businesses

The Hubs offered creative and cultural businesses the opportunity to unlock the research potential held within a university through the co-creation of ideas, processes and products. They shaped new methodologies, such as Sandboxes, Chiasmas and Ideas Labs to co-design products and services, helping creative businesses to understand their users and audiences better. To date, the hubs have contributed to the development of 494 innovative outputs, of which 192 products and services have been launched. Such as, Beasts of Balance games designers, launched in November 2016, and combining research and skills in design, storytelling, mechanical engineering and creative methodologies to produce a very successful table-top game with glowing reviews (featured among The Guardian's 25 most anticipated video games of 2016, with LA Times reporting it "completely reinvents the game of balance".

Models of engagement for micro enterprises

The Hubs successfully developed models of engagement for small and micro businesses that have not traditionally engaged with academic research. The Hubs have helped these businesses to secure a further £4.5 million in investment as a result of their direct engagement with the hubs. For example, ReachRobotics whose MekaMon robots are the world's first customizable, battling robots controlled by the users' smartphones, was one of 10 robotics companies accepted onto the prestigious Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator - an intensive start-up programme supported by Techstars. Silas Adekunle, Co-founder and CEO of Reach Robotics says,
"Without REACT, Reach Robotics would not be here today, their support and funding was very critical for the life and growth of the company at the early stages. It allowed us to build critical proof-of-concept prototypes which we were then able to use to gain venture capital"

Changing university practice

The KE Hubs produced a cultural shift within existing university processes and procedures. Developing more streamlined and agile contracting and payment processes, which has enabled the Universities involved to work with small and micro businesses more efficiently and effectively. They also successfully tested new and novel approaches to IP, identified in The Dowling Review as one of the main barriers to university / business collaborations. For example, Design in Action operated an IP shelter in the form of a co-creation space that initially allowed businesses to operate within a safe and secure environment within the university, and then allowed project partners to license back IP at no cost if they wished to commercialise or exploit an idea. Retaining the IP within a university shelter provided small and micro businesses with significant confidence and protection.

Professor Thompson Concludes: “The KE hubs programme has demonstrated that arts and humanities researchers play a vital role in the creative economy, collaborating with businesses to generate new ideas, bring people together and develop skills and talent.

“The AHRC has a fundamental leadership role to play: it can co-ordinate activities that happen in different places, spread learning throughout the HEI system, and invest resources where they can be most effective.”

The AHRC now wishes to build upon the lessons from the KE Hub programme and to continue to connect academic research to the cultural and creative industries. Capitalising on opportunities such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to develop a clear research and innovation strategy that underpins growth in the sector.

The full report, Creative Exchanges - The AHRC Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy (PDF, 5.3MB), is available to read and download here. If you would like a hard copy of the report please email: communications@ahrc.ac.uk with your name and address and we can send on out to you.


Notes to the editor

For media enquiries please contact, AHRC Head of Comms, Mike Collins on: m.collins@ahrc.ac.uk or 01793 416083

The four Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy were:

  • The Creative Exchange (CX) (Lancaster): The Creative Exchange brought together pioneering companies and the best academic thinkers to explore the potential of what is being termed Digital Public Space. Through new products and services, user experiences, and business opportunities, their goal was to encourage, enable and empower the creation of digital content for public services and creative businesses.
  • Creativeworks (London): By developing a consortium of 43 London-based universities, museums, cultural institutions, and SMEs, Creativeworks London brought new collaborative research opportunities to London’s creative businesses. Together, they researched and examined how knowledge exchange can work in practice to give businesses a competitive advantage through outstanding innovation.
  • Design in Action (Dundee): Design in Action endeavoured to embed design-led business innovation into the Scottish economy, thereby opening up new pathways for business growth and development across Scotland. The hub brought together all of Scotland’s art colleges for the first time in this collaborative knowledge exchange programme.
  • Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technology: REACT (Bristol): REACT supported researchers in the arts and humanities to work with creative enterprises in collaborations that championed knowledge exchange, cultural experimentation and the development of innovative digital technologies. Through building new collaborative networks, the project brought new products to market and drove new research agendas within academia.
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