The value of knowledge exchange (KE) in UKRI ambitions

Side view of audience clapping hands

Alex Chaix puts a spotlight on the PraxisAuril KE Awards which are taking place on the 29 November 2022.

A combined vision for the future

The awards recognise and reward the breadth and depth of contributions made by KE and technology transfer (TT) professionals whose research are making a real difference to our life.

In the coming together of the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) by all means is still a ‘young’ organisation. You do not bring together nine previously independent organisations, some of which have literally operated for 100 years, and hope to change our culture on day one.

However, what was clear even before the creation of UKRI was how we all valued the impact of the research and innovation we support, and the difference to our society and people’s lives that we contribute to. Now that we are one organisation this is even more apparent. UKRI is starting to find its voice, as evidenced by the publication of our recent strategy ‘transforming tomorrow together’.

We are increasingly finding better ways to work together and with the communities we support. Innovation and impact are centre stage to UKRI ambitions, but let’s be honest: it is the researchers, technicians, innovators, entrepreneurs and yourselves – the practitioners, KE and TT professionals – that deliver it (shout out to my UKRI researcher and KE colleagues, you do it too!). UKRI, via its tools, products and services, is an enabler of that, but we are often one step removed.

The wider benefits of KE

This new approach is why supporting the PraxisAuril KE Awards aligns well with our vision and ambitions.

I will describe the KE and TT professions as exciting but unappreciated, often being criticised for many things (did someone mentioned intellectual property?) but rarely acknowledged for your essential contributions. Although, last year the coming together of people to develop solutions to the pandemic helped, UKRI continued support for the KE Awards is there to help shine a light on your valued contributions to the delivery of the impact and innovations our society needs – thereby ‘transforming tomorrow together’.

It is important we remind people, be they colleagues in UKRI, in academia, in companies, civil society, politicians or the wider public, that what can be seen as the successes of a few is often linked to the effort and contributions of many.

Driving understanding and good practice

Our association with the awards is also a good way to help identify and share good practices from the very different activities, communities and sectors you work with. Not only do we want others in the KE community to emulate your successes, we also want to share them more widely with our academic, business and innovation communities, who might be less familiar with what you do or how you do it.

I have found that it’s often when you start looking at things from a different perspective that you can unlock potential or solve problems. This cannot be truer for KE and commercialisation, and how you manage the very different relationships and assets.

Participating in the assessment panel of the PraxisAuril KE Awards also allow me to better understand your challenges and struggles. Not surprisingly, it is often the worst answered question in the application form to the PraxisAuril KE Awards. I guess people are reluctant to share the problems or challenges they encountered. However, it is often the section that I found the most insightful and that can more often tilt the balance in your favour.

From a purely selfish point of view, it is very useful for me to read and understand the issues you face. After all, how are we to develop policies and interventions to facilitate the commercialisation of research if we do not know or understand what goes in the way of achieving it?

Demonstrating impact

Finally, the KE Awards are a great source of evidence and case studies for how public investments in KE capabilities, research and innovation (R&I) can help deliver benefits to society and our economy. The PraxisAuril KE Awards often bring together the dual support system which underpinned our R&I system, and is championed by UKRI, with what I would describe as the three pillars of UKRI support, products and services:

  • KE and commercialisation capacity building in English universities by Research England – whether Higher Education Innovation Funding, RED fund or the Connect and Capability Fund, for example
  • the infrastructures, knowledge and translation of intellectual assets, supported by discipline facing research councils
  • the innovation support for business by Innovate UK through its variety of products and services (Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research programme, Knowledge Transfer Partnership, Catapults, Knowledge Transfer Network…)

This year at least two-thirds of the finalists have drawn some support from UKRI, in some cases using Research England, research councils and Innovate UK products and services to deliver some great impact.

If we are to continue to deliver solutions to the great challenges our world faces, we are going to need to demonstrate now more than ever how our investments in research can deliver impact and benefits. The PraxisAuril KE Awards are a great source of inspiration for this, demonstrating impact locally, regionally and across the globe, so thank you for your contributions and the work that you do.

Top image:  Credit: izusek, E+ via Getty Images

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