The KE Mentoring Programme by Jennie Shorley, Associate Head RKE, Manchester Metropolitan University

REF 2021 is gathering pace. Of interest to those in knowledge exchange is of course the increased importance of impact case studies to the overall picture of a university’s standing. Now at 25%, the economic, social and cultural impact of our research is, more than ever, key to our excellence as a university. 

This is, in many ways, great news for us in Knowledge Exchange, at the coalface of our university’s relationship with the outside world. The definition of impactful activities and reach should be “deepened and broadened”, which means that the roles of those tasked with developing impact should also be. It is, for some at least, disproportionate in terms of our university’s lack of development of knowledge exchange and impact staff.

PraxisAuril aims to be a single voice for Knowledge Exchange professionals, and our tasks in our board and committees centre upon how best to go about representing our members. As a recently formed organisation, the diversity and wealth of knowledge and experience of members is abundantly clear. We are enthusiastically taking up the challenge of how best to represent this group. 

It’s also nearly time for the PraxisAuril May conference. From speaking to many attendees for several years, I know that one of the key benefits to coming to conference is simply meeting other delegates. This is why we plan our breakout sessions around successes and challenges in the knowledge exchange field, and why the following discussions always spill over into coffee breaks and dinner. Those working in KE are brought together by our difference to traditional university roles and structures. And meeting someone else who has faced the same challenges really helps.

It is for this reason that we set up our mentoring scheme; from our pilot phase, our mentors and mentees have found benefits in working with others who are geographically distant, and with different approaches to the same challenges. As formal Knowledge Exchange roles are still relatively new to our traditional university structures, communication with those who have tackled these barriers before is a key part of our commitment to our members. 

Those engaged in our current mentoring programme demonstrate the wide range of roles that Knowledge Exchange covers, from those working in specific Enterprise and KEC functions, to academics and independent researchers. Reasons for becoming a mentee include: feeling alone in the university, with a lack of institutional focus on Knowledge Exchange; and to gain different perspectives on current challenges. Mentors are keen to give something back to a sector and a network that has supported them as they have created their own roles. It is clear that the national coverage of the scheme is of benefit to its members, lending a fresh perspective, and a “disinterested party” – some distance to the challenges at hand can be very beneficial. 

And it can really work: “For me, the best part of the Mentoring role was when I realised I was no longer needed as the Mentee had developed the confidence and knowledge to put forward their own ideas and plans for the future.”