The role of knowledge exchange skills in place-based policy

KE policy is busy right now. Just as we get to grips with the KE Framework, the KE Concordat is being prepared for launch; we also have a review of HEIF on the near horizon and the long-awaited review of HE-BCI metrics is getting underway. 


Devolved nations have similar challenges around the allocation of innovation funding (HEIF equivalents), regional regeneration, how to assess the impact of research in different ways. It’s hard for us to talk about UK KE policy in a single (place-based) breath and the complexity is growing as many English regions develop their R&D identities and compete for attention; the location of a UK ARPA being one current example.

The ‘levelling up’ agenda is complex and has many different contributing factors, addressed by a rainbow of disciplines. Universities play an important role because they have so much to offer on so many fronts – as local employers, providing workforce skills, R&D collaboration, business skills, community engagement and so on. Much of this falls under the KE banner, with KE professionals providing much needed ‘convening’ skills and understanding of the challenges of multi-partner collaboration.

Last week’s event from the Civic University Network, on Local Economic Recovery, demonstrated the role of knowledge exchange, even if not formally recognised as such: bringing stakeholders together, encountering different collaborative cultures, working towards common outputs and outcomes, and identifying funding and investment will all be activities and challenges recognised by KE professionals. Perhaps less explored is the need for universities and their various internal communities to be better joined up too, not necessarily to create single points of entry but to share opportunities and create a coherent response. This is where our conversations with ARMA (the Association of Research Managers & Administrators) and NCCPE (the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement) are important.   

As the first iteration of the KEF creeps closer, how do we demonstrate that the sector is meeting expectations for funders, policymakers and many different publics on the ‘place-based’ agenda? Narrative statements may help but we need to understand the contribution of data here too: whatever the outcome of the review, HE-BCI metrics alone will not provide evidence for our stories.  

A new paper by Andrew Johnston and Peter Wells of Sheffield Hallam University – Assessing the role of universities in a place-based Industrial Strategy: Evidence from the UK – published by Sage journals (Open Access) adds to the ‘place-based’ evidence base by analysing the distribution of research funding against the priority areas of the Industrial Strategy. The balance between top-down distribution of funding, which creates opportunities, and what a local or regional area wants to be recognised for (through investment terms) is a major challenge, and one which will require stakeholders to use all their KE skills to resolve.