The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and University Alliance have embarked on an exciting new collaborative project to better understand the complex dynamics of knowledge exchange.
I am thrilled to be chairing the project that involves researchers from across the Alliance group of universities (including UWE Bristol and Kingston, Greenwich, Coventry and Sheffield Hallam universities). It will look at knowledge exchange (KE) activity in nine cities and regions throughout England and Wales.
It is often said that universities benefit their local communities in ways that are not readily captured or rewarded by existing measures of research excellence or cultural and economic value. Equally, it is frequently thought that arts and humanities research adds value to the UK’s economy and cultural life beyond that which is captured in headline periodic exercises or reporting returns to government.
Principal Investigator Professor Alex Williams (Kingston University) and his team will be looking at the ways in which traditional data sets are missing ‘the hidden story’ of arts and humanities research. That is, the vast amount of research activity in the arts and humanities that irrigates local communities and the national scene but which does not fit easily within the parameters of our existing processes of audit and review.
This will involve assembling a massive data set of arts and humanities knowledge exchange activity to develop innovative ways of visualising and analysing it for the purposes of policy formation, in order to give these disciplines their due in the planning and funding processes of UK universities.
University Alliance is well placed to contribute to this significant endeavor. The nineteen universities of the Alliance are all deeply rooted in their local communities and have a strong commitment to helping them thrive and grow.
They are also well known for the strength of their arts and humanities research and innovation, which makes a real difference nationally and internationally. This project will help the Alliance better understand the full spectrum of the translation of knowledge in their arts and humanities faculties.
Following the success of the AHRC’s Knowledge Exchange Hubs, the research council is now planning for the next stage of development in its KE strategy and funded programmes. It is looking to this project to inform quantitative approaches and qualitative arguments that will capture the deep impact and resonating value of arts and humanities research.
There is much to play for in this policy arena as the formation of UK Research and Innovation in 2018 provides an opportunity for rethinking the relations between the arts and humanities and the full disciplinary range of the rest of the UK’s world leading research base.
The changing civil landscape following the EU referendum also presents the possibility of realigning the missions and priorities of the UK’s several arts agencies to the betterment of local communities, in a fully translational environment between universities and cultural producers.
In the six months of the project we hope to raise some provocative questions and to offer innovative solutions to questions of data capture and policy formation that have itched knowledge exchange in the arts and humanities for many years.
While our research will take a ‘hidden story’ as its object of study, we hope that our findings will be, if not quite the ‘greatest story ever told’, then of significant interest to a wide audience of scholars, practitioners, and policy makers.