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Research Reflections: Knowledge exchange and early-career researchers as ‘translators’
Over the past four years, Creativeworks London has built over one hundred collaborative research partnerships between Arts and Humanities researchers in London and SMEs within London’s Creative Economy. These have generated diverse benefits including the development of prototypes, software, and apps; business growth and innovation of various types; the enhancement of democratic citizenship and the building of new audiences and new publics; new training opportunities within the creative economy; and the creation of resilient networks and partnerships to support future growth. Creativeworks London has also undertaken research focussed on cultural geographies of innovation in London, on London’s changing audiences, and on London’s digital economy, which has been disseminated to a broad range of stakeholders nationally and internationally.
Reflecting on what has been achieved by the project, it is clear that Creativeworks London has enhanced the capacity and desire of researchers to engage in collaborative research with the creative economy, and also that the impact of this has been particularly strong for early-career researchers. This much is clear from the many end-of-project reports that stress a desire for future collaborative work and reflect on the potential impact of this on research design and methods. Comments from early-career researchers and doctoral students funded by Creativeworks London include: ‘The collaboration has affected my research by making it far more mobile, extending its reach far beyond the academic community and increasing impact’; ‘Working on the project has given me a new frame to apply the methodological techniques I have developed during my doctoral work’; and ‘As a researcher, being attached to the company and becoming involved in some of their activities and getting to know members of staff will be influential for both my practice and research’. An external evaluation of the project concluded that the work of the Hub has led both businesses and researchers to a different way of approaching engagement, and also that within this there is a key role for early-career researchers as ‘translators’. This seems to suggest that the research training and broader academic experience of early-career researchers make them better able to flex their research approaches and diversify the audiences for and beneficiaries of their research.
The knowledge exchange methodology used by Creativeworks London emphasised the importance of integrated research and knowledge exchange expertise, for example through the use of ‘Ideas Pools’. Here SMEs and researchers, supported by Creativeworks London’s research teams and its knowledge exchange delivery partner (TCCE) debated the pressing needs of the creative economy in a framework that was informed by emerging research on key aspects of that economy. This was an important stage in the development of collaborative research projects that both addressed business needs and progressed important research questions.
As one of the project’s post docs has argued it, a key element of the success of the Ideas Pools in generating strong partnerships between SMEs and researchers was ‘their role in communicating and translating between different collaborative languages, at multiple levels at once, which improved clarity of understanding between academics and SMES;. Again that metaphor of ‘translation’ emerges as important, and becomes shorthand for an ability to appreciate the value associated with different objectives for research, different temporalities of inquiry, and different outcomes. This ability to ‘translate’ between different institutional contexts was key to successful collaborations within Creativeworks London, and was found particularly frequently among doctoral students and early-career academics.
One strand of the Creativeworks London project indeed directed financial support specifically towards doctoral students and early-career researchers: the Researcher in Residence scheme supported these researchers to work with an SME to explore an important research question that would the benefit both the researcher and the SME. The range of research outputs from these collaborations was diverse and impressive, and the SMEs with whom they worked reported significant impacts on their business of the work undertaken.
Offering these opportunities to early-career researchers gives them both new contexts and new audiences for their research. This can lead to innovations in method and approach. It can lead to new funding opportunities and collaborations. Perhaps most importantly it can give these researchers a sense of the importance and potential impacts of their work, in a timeframe that is much more compressed than the process of peer review for a journal or completion of a monograph is likely to be. The potential role of early-career researchers as innovative and effective ‘translator’ between academic and business contexts and research needs has been a very exciting discovery of Creativeworks London.
Author: Professor Morag Shiach, Director (Creativeworks London)
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