Advocate Experience by Simon Hadfield | PraxisAuril Conference 2024

Written by Simon Hadfield, Commercial Services Officer at the University of Salford.

The PraxisAuril Conference 2024 focused on ‘Change - The Impact of Knowledge Exchange in a Changing World.’ I attended to enhance my skills in knowledge exchange, an area that is relatively new to me but represents concepts that have existed under various guises (technology/knowledge transfer, etc.) since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when many technical and civic institutions were founded. Fast forward to today, knowledge exchange is a widely adopted term with higher education institutions prioritising key principles to foster stakeholder and academic collaboration to address real-world challenges. The conference promised insights into solutions, emerging frameworks and best practices and I was excited to attend and take away some useful nuggets to further support my role and wider working relationships. 

Holding the event in Blackpool opened the northwest of England to a national audience of knowledge exchange professionals. The town’s faded grandeur – from past Victorian splendour to modernist ideals - provided a visually interesting destination. Once a thriving holiday destination for many northern communities, Blackpool's current socioeconomic challenges stood in stark contrast to the immaculate conference facilities at the Winter Gardens. Inspiring plenary speakers from Blackpool and The Fylde College and the University of Manchester framed the economic tone and context (personably and proudly) perfectly for the approximately 350 delegates in the main room. As the two-day event unfolded, high-level discussions centred on economic impact, training, regional differences and inequality, politics and leadership, geographical infrastructure and the north-south divide. There was a collective determination to address challenges and find innovative solutions with a focus on people, place and economic purpose. 

A series of smaller workshops proved particularly helpful to my role, showcasing practical implementations of these larger ideas. Discussion highlights included the social sciences, humanities, and the arts for people and the economy (SHAPE), drilling down on commercialisation processes and activities. Just like science, engineering, and technology (STEM), creating partnerships, ecosystems and new macroeconomic strategies are vital for successful knowledge exchange projects. While research, impact and metrics are central to delivery, universities should not forget their local roots and foundational purposes. Creating and developing new research and knowledge exchange is intrinsic to economic prosperity. Despite significant challenges, the conference fostered a sense of optimism and alliance for industry progression. The conference provided a well-rounded learning experience and I look forward to continuing my development and application as this sector advances and fosters greater shared meaning and collaboration. 

Simon Hadfield, 
Commercial Services Officer at the University of Salford