‘You are warmly invited.’ Exploring knowledge exchange seminars as sites of productive interactions and social networking
Tindal, Scott Robert
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This thesis examines Knowledge Exchange (KE) seminars and the wider social, political, and economic environment in which they are situated Two-way interactive exchanges between academics and Non-Academic Professionals (NAPs) have been identified as an important factor in explaining why some academic research is used by NAPs, or not (Meagher et al, 2008; Mitton et al, 2007; Lavis et al, 2003; Hanney et al, 2003). Despite this, very little research has examined the social occasions where such exchanges occur. This thesis aims to fill this lacuna by examining the process of knowledge exchange through one specific type of intervention (Walter et al, 2003) – that of KE seminars. KE seminars are a common, almost canonical, strategy for academics wishing to engage with non-academic audiences, yet are relatively unexplored within the KE literature. If ‘sharing research findings with a non-academic audience’ is the sole purpose of KE seminars, then the goal could have been achieved more cheaply through a mail-shot of a briefing paper to a targeted audience (Percy-Smith et al, 2002). By comparison, KE seminars require a considerable investment in resources in terms of time and money. These factors make them theoretically and substantively interesting. This thesis explores the rationale for hosting and attending KE seminars, what benefits participants feel that they gain from attending, and provides insights into how best to facilitate those benefits. Conceptually this thesis draws on Spaapen and van Drooge (2011) & Molas-Gallart and Tang’s (2011) concept of ‘productive interactions.’ The thesis research examines what makes interactions between academics and NAPs ‘productive’ in the context of KE seminars, and the wider social network, economic and political environment in which those interactions emerge and are shaped. This thesis is based on a case study of the ESRC Centre for Population Change (CPC). The empirical evidence comes from 27 semi-structured interviews conducted with CPC academics & administrators (13), and NAPs who attended at least 1 CPC-organised KE seminar (14); and an online questionnaire of 48 CPC staff members (representing 75% of the Centre). The interviews were analysed thematically and the online questionnaire was analysed using Social Network Analysis (SNA). The research design was devised to collect data on the motivations, experiences, and understandings of interactions between academics and NAP within the CPC’s KE seminars. The social network analysis was designed to reveal the CPC’s KE social networks which are pertinent to understanding how the CPC engages with NAPs. This thesis documents ways in which KE seminars are sites of ‘knowledge interaction’ (Davies et al, 2008) where multiple actors from multiple organisations with different knowledges come together to engage in a topic of mutual interest. It finds that KE seminars are worthwhile for participants despite being resource-intensive because they fulfil multiple functions which cannot easily be replicated through non-dialogical and non-corporeal interventions. The academic research being presented on these social occasions is just one source of knowledge among many others (ibid). KE seminars are also opportunities for participants to create new informal contacts and strengthen existing ones. In other words, they help develop informal professional networks which is an important component for successful KE (Olmos-Peñuela, 2014b; Grimshaw et al, 2012; Kramer and Wells, 2005; Greenhalgh et al, 2004; Philip et al, 2003; Molas-Gallart et al, 2000). This thesis makes three original contributions. It shows: how KE seminars fill a number of functions that cannot easily be replicated by indirect forms of nonacademic engagement, which makes the investment of resources for hosting and attending them not only desirable but often necessary; how corporeal co-presence is important for facilitating productive interactions (Goffman, 1966; Urry, 2002; 2003); and the major factors which help facilitate ‘productive interactions’ within KE seminars. It is a contribution to the KE field generally, and will also be helpful to KE practitioners and academics that are tasked with organising and hosting KE seminars.