I was asked recently to give a very short presentation at Westminster Higher Forum’s event on Developing the KEF and the following brief paper is an account of my response to the issue of Rewarding knowledge Exchange in the Creative Arts
I’d like to start by reading the opening sentence from a short paper called Compelled to Count by the writer, philosopher and Professor of Art, Sadie Plant. It’s a text written to accompany a solo exhibition of the work of artist Susan Morris that took place at Centre PasquArt, Biel/Bienne, Switzerland.
“Listing, counting, measuring, we live in a culture of compulsive counting, a society so obsessed with figures that if it were an individual, it would be seeing a psychiatrist.”
It feels somehow fitting given that the notion of metrics, and what they can and can’t do, runs to the heart of what we’re here to talk about today.
TCCE is a small membership based company. We work as connectors, curators and facilitators of creative knowledge exchange and research collaborations, mostly at the intersections between research and the arts and cultural sector, and by research I mean that in its broadest sense, we work right across the disciplinary spectrum. We’ve been around since 2005, we’ve produced literally hundreds of events as well as festivals, workshops, reports, publications and other such activities, bringing people together to exchange ideas and knowledge and more.
We conceived and delivered the Knowledge Exchange strand of one of the first AHRC KE hubs, Creativeworks London (2012 – 2016) and we led a national programme supported by HEFCE and Arts Council called The Exchange. We’re now just finishing another major Arts Council programme, along with Cass Business School and Manchester Met, called Boosting Resilience, designed to support resilience in the arts, specifically through intellectual property and creative assets.
So we’re very interested in the KEF. We’ve seen the amazing things that can happen when people work together and create knowledge together. It’s really good that Knowledge Exchange is finally being recognised because, as many of us know here in this room, it hasn’t always been thus and in fact KE, as a term, is one that has been really hard to use, so I hope that’s about to change.
It’s often external organisations that are very keen, certainly in our experience, to engage in KE. They’re keen, certainly in the arts, culture and creative sectors, to engage and to develop research partnerships with higher education, but I have to say they do also struggle – and this has fact has come out quite a lot here today – on how to approach institutions and who to approach. It’s messy and it’s confusing, and I think that’s something that all of us today, whether we are working internally within institutions, externally, or somewhere in the middle, like we at TCCE are, need to be mindful of. It’s a big challenge and we need to thinking about good solutions.
But I also think we have to be really ambitious about KE, it worries me slightly that the Concordat talks about ‘good’, but not ‘excellent’; it doesn’t mention the word values anywhere either, for example. As far as I can recall, it also doesn’t mention the word ‘culture’ either in terms of its 8 key priorities.
We need, I think, to work harder, to really ensure that the best processes, the best methods for supporting and championing and communicating and advocating for KE are developed and I think there’s a myriad of really brilliant and exciting methods that we can bring to bear to the challenge.
Reading the consultation and the Concordat, I feel that we are still very much more KT somehow than KE. The mono-directional notion there doesn’t really feel fit for purpose, for now, for today, for working in a VUCA environment, if we want to think of it in that way. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the fluidity and the complexity of knowledge creation and indeed co-creation, it doesn’t account for the many ways in which external practice flows into research and teaching, nor does it reflect what happens when research flows out, because it’s not always neatly transferred in the sense of ‘here is my A and I’m going to give you an A’ way.
One of my colleagues – just very returning to this notion of the metrics, as that’s in the title of our session here – has suggested that in fact for the smaller specialists the metrics aren’t right.
There was a lot of mixed feedback from people that I’ve spoken to, a lot of optimism, though most of it pretty cautious.
Another colleague suggested, and this may or may not be a good idea, that a narrative text for all of the seven proposed perspectives, would allow universities to demonstrate their unique skills and drivers and that those short descriptors could be very useful for external parties too. So maybe that’s something worth considering.
And the same person went on to say that we need to be thinking about the notion of clustering, again from a user’s perspective. So it might be really good from the perspective of HE but does it help users trying to navigate the already confusing KE landscape? So that’s another question to consider.
I just want to talk a little bit as well then about this notion of reward, and my initial thought on this, and it may be a very imperfect and messy one, is that, maybe the first reward for KE is for it actually to be rewarding in and of itself; to be recognised as being something rewarding to do, and to be properly championed within universities. As I’ve mentioned earlier it, KE, sometimes feels devalued, I think it’s fair to say. I think there’s a real piece to done on valuing and placing KE at the heart of the culture of an institution, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be absolutely central and fundamental to the work of so many of our institutions.
Some people have said to me ‘KE isn’t for everyone’, but I’m still not convinced that that is necessarily true. I think at the heart, really, of most people’s work and research, that people have a real desire to share their knowledge, to put their knowledge into the world, and, often, to acquire it back too. Certainly in my experience, and I’m sure it’s the same with most of you here, most academics, and indeed others engaged in research, tend to be kind of incredibly generous in that sense.
But also we can’t talk about reward without talking about money. Matthew raised the point there about the smaller institutions and that, with regard to HEIF allocation and so on, is really important, but I also think that smaller, competitive pots to really encourage those messy, more experimental, less codified forms of knowledge exchange go down really well, and I think if we can create scope for that going forward, that would be a very good thing.
In addition to the cash, just creating platforms sometimes, just creating spaces for KE, I think is really important because the very act, sometimes, of taking part in discussions, in fora where you have external and internal partners together working to solve a problem or think about bigger issues, can be a reward too for people, if by reward we actually mean something that someone appreciates, that someone values, and that someone therefore is also prepared to make time for, and I think time is a really important thing here in terms of the institutions.
We know, I think, all of us, that great things can happen when people are brought together around a common theme, but great doesn’t have to always be monumental, it doesn’t have to be epic. We’re obsessed somehow by grand narratives and by grand metrics too.
So I think we need to recognise that KE can be also a modest thing, it can be something in and of the everyday as well, and I think having things in common, experiencing things in common, bringing different perspectives to problems together in common is a good thing. I don’t know many people who in one way or another wouldn’t wish to do that, and I think that’s what we should reward, and in order to do that we’re probably also going to have to think quite seriously about some joined up funding strategies.