Image: A road going to the horizon. Courtesy of Laura Koshkina via Pixabay. License: CC0
Read more in this series
In the previous blog posts in this series, I’ve looked at what makes universities successful at ensuring that the results of their research make a difference outside their walls. Knowledge exchange professionals in universities make a big difference in making sure the results of research are exploited for societal impact and commercial opportunity.
But how will we know we are delivering world-class impact? How do we evaluate the effectiveness of what we do in knowledge exchange?
There are unique challenges in our field when it comes to demonstrating impact. There are often very long lags between the work of researchers, and our knowledge exchange team, and its subsequent society or commercial benefit.
For example, in drug discovery – at which The Institute of Cancer Research is an international leader – we have shown that there can be more than 12 years between first patent filing and approval of a new medicine.
Demonstrating impact may also require multiple interventions. For example, our most successful drug to date, abiraterone, initially had a false start in its path to patients. It required further research and a new licence agreement to be signed before its development was eventually successful. Even now, broadening the societal benefit of abiraterone, and maintaining the commercial income we gain from it, still requires our input.
It’s also very difficult to obtain a true baseline, and to describe what would have happened without the input of the knowledge exchange office. Attributing benefits – was it our work, or that of partners or subsequent developers which really led to the impact? – is often impossible.
There is no good answer to these issues currently – but there may be in future as new ways of analysing data are developed that enable us to spot trends and gain new insights into the ways we work. To respond to these challenges, the collection of both hard and soft data will be needed, not as a performance metric, but to provide the rich seam of information for future analysis.
But what can we do now?
Telling our story
We need to tell our story, to begin constructing case studies early and highlighting how KEOs contribute to successful impact. The KEO is often not included in press releases highlighting collaborations and licences, so it is up to us to document our involvement and the difference that we have made.
It is likely that the upcoming Knowledge Exchange Framework will require us not only to show the current state of our knowledge exchange efforts but also how we plan to develop and improve. This will in due course need to be backed up by evidence, and our data and our stories will be the source of that evidence and ultimately the means of shaping the future landscape for knowledge exchange.
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