Activities designed to enable knowledge exchange (KE) work best when they are designed with particular objectives in mind. Selecting KE activities purposefully works better than using approaches just because they have been used before or because you feel more comfortable with them.

If you are starting out, you will be trying to attract interest, support and possible collaboration. You will want to tell people succinctly what your research is about and why it may be useful to them. At a later stage, when you come to share your results, you will again need to think about your various stakeholders – and the key messages that will be of interest to them. If you have collaborated on the research, your partners, colleagues and networks will also be able to help identify other interested people. It is also worthwhile considering funding opportunities for additional KE and impact generation.

How to define the purpose of your KE activities

The objectives of your KE activities will be connected with the objectives of your overall research. A good place to start is to clarify the aims of your research. As well as contributing and challenging knowledge, what other impacts do you wish to have, where and why? ESRC commissioned research has identified three kinds of impact that research can have.

Researchers who have been successful at defining purpose:

  • discuss their research ideas, designs, possible stakeholders and emerging findings with others
  • put themselves in another person’s position and ask why they should be interested in your research
  • list the reasons and benefits that could arise from the KE activities, such as:
    • finding a collaborator, advocates, or research partner
    • testing out your ideas in a real-life situation
    • influencing business, policymakers and practitioners
    • testing different ways of sharing your ideas

Tools that can help researchers identify the purpose of their KE activities include:

  • Stakeholder mapping (ODI website) to identify and prioritise people and organisations to engage,
  • Theory of Change (external website) to clarify the steps needed, and the assumptions being made, on the way to meeting a long term goal.

By discussing your research with others and using tools such as those listed above you should be able to identify the nature and interconnections of impacts that you anticipate arising from your research. The KE activities that you choose will vary depending on your intended impacts: conceptual change amongst other researchers will require different KE activities than conceptual impact amongst policymakers.

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Top tips for effective knowledge exchange

  • Begin planning your KE with a set of objectives that are clear, simple and measurable.
  • Prioritise your target audiences and user groups according to their importance and influence relative to your objectives.
  • Try out ideas for KE activities out on people you know. This will help you find the most effective way of presenting them.
  • Allow sufficient time and money involved in carrying out your activities. Remember to include staff time as a cost.
    • Top tool: your finance or research office
  • Consider buying in specialist help where necessary
  • Build in some simple evaluation measures at the start so that you'll know if and how you have succeeded in meeting your objectives.
    • Top tool: choosing indicators.
  • Allow space for serendipitous connections and events to take place at any stage during or after your research