Lost in Translation: Towards a (much needed) framework to understand the value of Knowledge Exchange.

Lara Salinas
University of the Arts London

Introduction and aim: The landscape of Knowledge Exchange (KE) in Higher Education Institutions is complex and moves along the spectrum of research, innovation and education resulting in a myriad of practices. Consequently, there no single definition and the term is often used as a shorthand for x-disciplinary collaboration between academia and business, public and third sector organisations that delivers innovation. In the United Kingdom, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) supports HEI to carry out KE activities aimed at ‘create social and economic benefit’ (HEFCE, 2017, np). HEFCE provides funds on the basis of how well universities are doing in their interactions with businesses and the community. In order to establish so, higher education providers yearly return the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction survey (HE-BCI): a low-burden questionnaire that captures income metrics and numeric but non-income metrics as a proxy for impact. It is acknowledged that HE-BCI is ‘likely not to capture everything given the complexity of such interactions’ but that it should reflect ‘the majority of HEP’s third stream income’ (HESA, n.d.).
Salinas (2018) has argued that currently (late 2018) there are no official mechanisms in place to report and assess the non-monetised benefits that KE activities deliver to private, public and third sector organisations due to two main factors: Firstly, due to the fact that KE activities initiated through informal mechanisms that ‘may not require contractual and transactional services’ (Hughes et al. 2016, p.43) are likely to be omitted. Secondly, due to the dominance of quantitative metrics as a proxy for impact which places overemphasis on economic value and largely oversees the social benefit that KE activities generate although it is widely recognised (Hughes et al. 2016, PACEC, 2015).
Therefore it would seem that new success metrics that acknowledge wider public benefit of KE activities are required (Dowling 2015). In this light, the research aims to provide a framework to better identify, capture and communicate the value of KE practices. This framework shall acknowledge the diversity of KE practices and contribute to enhance universities’ understanding of the value of their KE activities, and in doing so contribute to a more inclusive evaluation of KE activities.
Research methodology: This paper reports on a 10-month research commissioned by the University of the Arts London to better understand the distinctive value of KE activities in the arts and humanities and to explore creative approaches to how might that value be more effectively identified, captured and communicated.
The research is empirical, exploratory, descriptive and do not aim to reach evaluative conclusions. It follows an inclusive and participatory approach. The paper reviews literature of evaluative frameworks and methods to inform the design of a framework that highlights the non-monetised value of KE practices. This framework is further developed iteratively six half-day workshops with thirty academics and officers experienced in KE.
Results and implications: Drawing on the overarching principles for evaluating KE proposed by Fazey et al. (2014) the author proposes a multidimensional framework that takes into consideration (1) how KE conceptualised by the different actors involved; (2) inputs, enablers and barriers; (3) mechanism or mode of interaction and (4) outputs, outcomes and impacts. The framework is illustrated by diverse KE activities.
Conclusion: It is argued that the framework contributes to better identify, capture and communicate the value of KE practices; and that using the framework as a lens to understand universities’ KE activities provides valuable insights for universities to develop their KE strategies. The potential of further research to explore how this framework might be implemented to evaluate KE practices is discussed.