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7th October, 2019

Enacting Best Practice in Knowledge Exchange Processes

Mark Gray

In the knowledge exchange community, no topic is currently engaging the attention of professionals and academics quite as much as the government’s clear signal that improving the effectiveness of knowledge exchange is of prime importance if innovation is to underpin faster economic growth, as the government’s Industrial Strategy expects.


For many years ministers have been perplexed by what all too many of them have regarded as a challenge Britain ought not to face. The problem is this: that while Britain produces excellent research (15.3% of the world’s most highly cited articles in a country with 0.9% of the world’s population according to Elsevier), it is less good at converting that research to economic benefit (for example, the UK’s share of global patents in force was ranked third lowest among a group of comparator countries, again by Elsevier).

This supposed lack of conversion potential at all stages (in converting research to valuable IP, converting IP to investable propositions and investable propositions ultimately to sustainable companies) has occupied and diverted ministers for as long as I’ve worked in knowledge exchange.

Does it matter? In one obvious sense, yes. If the public narrative is that knowledge exchange is primarily about economic benefit, the conversion potential clearly does matter. In a world of conflicting expenditure decisions, having a strong case that KE will generate ‘bang for the buck’ helps. But ought it to do so in situations where future innovation is likely to be radical, discontinuous and not discipline (or technology) specific?

 Recently Middlesex University and TCCE developed a new, loose, network of those interested in ‘cyborg tech’ – the meshing of technology with humans through, for example, implanted technology. The network is considering not just how existing technology can be enhanced and give rise to continuous innovations, but how an interdisciplinary approach to the trajectory of that technology can help anticipate discontinuous and radical innovation.

How, for example, will the practice of medicine and the giving of care need to change in a world where healthcare can be engineered, ‘bolted on’ and ‘plugged in’? What will ‘being human’ mean? Will our bodies be ‘technology real estate’ and our physical or mental performance engineered? To get some conception of how this more radical innovation trajectory might work the Arts & Health Forum brought together people from the arts, humanities, sciences, engineering and social sciences at Middlesex in the summer. The resulting network is studying ways of keeping the themes it discussed alive through competitive bidding for projects within the consortium.

 It’s an excellent example of how knowledge exchange will probably need to evolve if genuine innovation is to be at the heart of our economic and social lives. Yes, we need to address the conversion potential perplex, but we also have to make innovative leaps if Britain’s research is to become the mainspring of its future and our own futures. We’ll need collaborative effort, imagination, interdisciplinary risk-taking and trust to do it. That’s not a bad recipe for a more productive knowledge exchange for the UK.


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