Expanding the culture of KE

Suzie Leighton, co-Director of The Culture Capital Exchange (TCCE) introduces their latest initiative: the National Centre for Academic and Cultural Exchange (NCACE) funded by Research England and supported by a collaboration of four UK universities. Its mission? To facilitate and support capacity for knowlege exchange between higher education and the arts and cultural sector to expand perceptions and definitions of knowlege exchange. 
In November 2020 The Culture Capital Exchange (TCCE) were delighted to announce their latest major initiative, The National Centre for Academic and Cultural Exchange (NCACE).  This  four year initiative launched with the support of Research England aligns with priorities in higher education (including the Knowledge Exchange Framework and the Knowledge Exchange Concordat), the arts and culture sector (including Arts Council England’s new 10 year plan ‘Let’s Create’) and the wider policy landscape around the civic role of universities, placemaking and the levelling up agenda.

NCACE’s key purpose and mission will be to facilitate and support capacity for knowledge exchange between higher education and the arts and cultural sector across the country, with a particular focus on evidencing and showcasing the social, cultural, environmental, as well as the economic impacts of such activities. At a time when the KE environment has never been richer or more relevant to society and the challenges that we face, NCACE hopes to collaborate and build evidence on the efficacy of our sector, with all those who are genuinely excited about the wider potential and impacts of knowledge exchange within and beyond their communities.  

NCACE is launched in collaboration with 4 regional university partners, Manchester Metropolitan University (also the centre’s evaluation partner) Birmingham City University, Bath Spa University and Northumbria University.  Its work and activities will be open to all interested HEIs, researchers and KE professionals, and we look forward to developing new relationships and collaborations throughout the life of the project.  TCCE and our hub partners will also be engaging our substantial national network of arts, cultural and third sector partners in the centre, and again, look forward to growing this network too.  

"...many of the subtle, yet potentially transformational social, cultural and environmental impacts of KE are often only anecdotally recorded and are under-evidenced." 

Central to the project’s aims is to continue TCCE’s work in platforming and promoting wider, more inclusive and future facing understandings and enactment of the term “knowledge exchange”.  When TCCE was originally founded as The London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise in 2005, (a HEIF 2 funded collaboration), the ubiquitous term used for our work with the arts and cultural sector was “knowledge transfer” or even “technology transfer”. Now the term “exchange” is the industry standard, and a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the collaborative approaches, shared values and generous attitudes required to undertake mutually beneficial exchange is much better understood.  However, too often this activity takes place within institutional frameworks and through modes and methodologies designed to support, value, and evidence “knowledge transfer”.

It is not surprising then, that many of the subtle, yet potentially transformational social, cultural and environmental impacts of KE are often only anecdotally recorded and are under-evidenced. 

Whilst this is an issue for the academic community in the context of assessing the impact of our KE and research activity, as well as evaluating how we deliver on our placemaking and civic roles, the issue is just as acute in the arts and cultural sector.  In 2018 a follow up report on the Cultural and Creative Spill Overs in Europe investigation concluded that the arts and cultural sectors may not have the methodologies or research tools needed for thinking strategically and delivering on the full spectrum of value for society, particularly in areas such as place making and social cohesion. The report recommended that further partnerships between the university sector and arts and cultural sectors in this area would be mutually beneficial. Just this week, the government’s Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal, Neil Mendoza, said the arts sector “finds it hard to quantify” its positive impact on communities, and urged the sector to demonstrate how they can help society recover from Covid 19.

Within NCACE, we will embrace the timely opportunity to explore and evaluate new modes and approaches to knowledge exchange informed by TCCE’s deep experience in the field, including major projects such as Creativeworks London, The Exchange and Boosting Resilience, and of course, the excellent and innovative work of our regional partners and the wider HE sector.

Acknowledging that expertise, relevant knowledge and valuable insight are situated in many different places and exist in many different ways, we are excited to explore approaches from, for example Citizen Research, and build on our thinking on the concept of Knowledge Flows.  In order to support these new ways of working, NCACE will offer a number of peer to peer, networking and professional development opportunities designed to raise confidence and capacity in those skills identified as key in the PraxisAuril 2018 report The State of the KE Profession such as relationship management, networking and partnership development and co creating knowledge with the arts and cultural sector.

We are also keen to widen the register within the area of KE leadership, highlighted as a priority for the sector within the McMillan Report.  The engine room of KE contains people who are doing extraordinary work, breaking the mould, forging new methods and modes of creation and collaboration. Yet they are often people who do not conform to the traditional image of leadership within academia. By platforming and helping to evidence the value of a range of difference and diversity in experience, thought, and approach and de-centering the usual and expected, we will be able to support and develop a diverse and exciting cohort of recognised thought-leaders in the field. 

For further information on NCACE please sign up to the TCCE e-newsletter or follow us on Twitter @CultureImpacts

Suzie Leighton
Co-Director TCCE and NCACE

Image copyright Bill Leslie, Leap then Look: An NCACE micro-commission 2020