Guest post by Evelyn Wilson, Head of Knowledge Exchange Programmes at Creativeworks London and Director of The Culture Capital Exchange.

The Culture Capital Exchange (TCCE) is a membership body of 11 higher education institutions in London that exists to promote collaborations and networking with the creative and cultural industries (CCIs). As Pete Mitchell, Researcher in Residence at The Culture Capital Exchange says: “The current knowledge economy (in London, at least) is increasingly mediated, dependent on large and complex networks of formal and informal connections in which informational hubs and centres of connection, such as TCCE and Creativeworks London, play an essential role. ”

Creativeworks London was established to bring together key stakeholders from different types of organisations – universities, independent research organisations, and the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) themselves to form a partnership to enable the knowledge, skills and expertise held within these different groups to be exchanged through collaborative research projects for mutual benefit and growth. At the point when the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) announced it was setting up four knowledge exchange hubs in the UK, we were approached by colleagues at Queen Mary University of London – the lead academic partner on the proposal – to work with them to set up and establish the Creativeworks London hub.

Research collaborations are time consuming to set up, coordinate and make successful, and they require imagination, tenacity and taking leaps of faith. Lots of what we do is raising awareness within our academic and industry partners about the challenges associated with a successful collaboration given the different ways that academic institutions and CCI SMEs operate and the philosophies that guide them. By their nature, universities are very large institutions and the kinds of cultural and creative organisations that we’re matching academics up with are small and micro companies, so there are intrinsic differences in terms of time scales and values. We work continuously to make sure that all stakeholders are aware of these differences.

Our role is to facilitate the coming together of researchers and creative industry professionals so they can achieve a better sense of how each other works, and put together strong and workable research applications to our schemes that strive to solve problems and improve efficiency within the CCIs. Researchers can more easily achieve impact from their work by directing their studies towards an area of need in the industry being addressed by an SME. On the other hand, industrial professionals are able to collaborate with academics who can help collect evidence to better inform the development of a new product or service that they are trying to implement to maximise its success and impact.

The primary mechanism by which Creativeworks London facilitates collaboration comes down to what we call ‘intense personalisation’. We set up a sort of ‘sandpit scenario’ where academics and creative professionals come together to develop ideas and think about the benefits of collaboration and the research that they want to undertake in ways that are challenging.

The external environment is made up of SMEs in the arts, cultural, creative digital or other creative industries or sectors, such as design and fashion – there are many main stakeholders. We have a database of over 3,000 different industry and academic contacts and deal with people in all kinds of different positions. On the academic side we communicate directly with the researchers who are interested in industry collaboration and also with business development officers. Within creative and cultural SMEs, it very much depends on the size and organisation of the company. Our contacts are often artistic or executive directors, or departmental heads in charge of education, curation or design.

We also try to bring our networks together; for example, professionals from the CCI sectors are invited to connect with bodies such as Innovate UK. We try to keep open flows of information because it’s really important that different parts of our publicly funded lives come together and these conversations are held. When people with different perspectives, skills and backgrounds work collaboratively, there are more opportunities for novel and innovative ideas that lead to products and services that can make a real difference in the industry and further afield.