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Dr Sandra Messenger and Dr Sarah Foxen, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

16 November 2020, 4:52 UTC Share

The future of digital Knowledge Exchange between researchers and Parliament

Are you a researcher or do you support knowledge exchange at your university? The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology are seeking your views on the use of digital communications in knowledge exchange.

In this blog, Dr Sandra Messenger and Dr Sarah Foxen explore the need for an increased understanding of researchers’ digital communication methods in the context of their aims to enhance and diversify Knowledge Exchange (KE) between Parliament and the research community. They close with a call to action, inviting readers to respond to their survey to help them and the wider community understand what works in digital policy KE.

Over the past decade or so, the digital demands on academics have increased significantly in their teaching, research and administrative duties. The possibilities and pressures to develop an online presence have also grown; be that a university profile, professional blog, ResearchGate, or account. Yet whilst the digital demands have increased, so too have the opportunities. Novel networks and new modes of communication mean that for the researcher who is looking for research engagement opportunities, they are not short of avenues to explore. Twitter, LinkedIn, Jiscmail and Konfer are just a few of those platforms, complemented by many more newsletters, mailing lists and alerts. Whilst the plurality of options may feel wide reaching and inclusive, it also potentially raises the time demands on the already time-poor researcher, who doesn’t want to miss out on anything. What is more, for those research users wanting to engage with researchers, and who are faced with so many digital communication methods, this raises the question of which one(s) to choose.

Digital knowledge exchange between academia and policy: ensuring parliamentary engagement opportunities reach the right people

The Knowledge Exchange Unit (KEU) in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) is the central body in Parliament, which facilitates, strengthens and diversifies KE between the research community and UK Parliament. In 2017, the KEU found that the biggest barrier to researcher engagement was lack of knowledge or guidance. For this reason, along with raising awareness and developing skills, a key part of the KEU’s activities comprises sharing parliamentary engagement and impact opportunities with UK researchers and intermediaries. The use of digital communication is key in doing this, and over the past couple of years the KEU has explored various digital tools, including mailing lists, Twitter and LinkedIn.

This KEU activity sits against an ever-growing landscape of knowledge exchange (KE) mechanisms between researchers and policy institutions, including the Universities Policy Engagement Network and Scottish Policy and Research Exchange as well as an ever-increasing number of policy impact units popping up in universities. Whilst this expansion in KE mechanisms means that researchers are better supported to engage with policy organisations and better aware of opportunities to do so, it does risk duplication or generating unnecessary digital noise; equally there is the risk of some things falling through the gaps.

So to ensure that Parliament’s digital KE activities are maximally effective and inclusive yet do not duplicate the efforts of others nor increase the digital noise, Sandra Messenger is working with the KEU on a project around its digital KE. Her project will deepen understanding of how researchers and intermediaries use digital communication tools to find out about, promote and take up engagement and impact opportunities, including with UK Parliament, and how they would ideally like to use them going forwards. The insights gained through this project will inform the KEU’s digital ways of working, with the aim of making it easier for researchers from diverse backgrounds to engage with Parliament. They will also provide rich insights for researchers, intermediaries and universities around how digital tools can support engagement and KE. One of the challenges with policy KE is capturing and evidencing engagement activities. So part of the project is also looking at how submission of information to Parliament in a digital format might provide potential for new methods of tracing the outcomes and impact of researcher engagement.

Finding out about the digital KE habits of researchers and intermediaries

To gain insights from the researcher and intermediary communities around how they use (and would like to use) digital tools for KE, Sandra has developed a questionnaire to survey both communities. We would be very grateful if readers could complete the survey and circulate it as widely as possible, and look forward to reporting our findings back to readers. To show our appreciation for completing the questionnaire, Cranfield University is offering participants the chance to win one of four Ł25 Amazon vouchers.

Complete the survey here. The survey will close on Sunday 29th November.

Dr Sandra Messenger is a Knowledge Exchange Manager at Cranfield University and is currently undertaking a Parliamentary Academic Fellowship with Parliament’s Knowledge Exchange Unit.

Dr Sarah Foxen is Knowledge Exchange Lead at UK Parliament. Sarah leads the work of the Knowledge Exchange Unit, which serves to strengthen and enable the exchange of information and expertise between the research community and Parliament.

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