Introduction to Knowledge Exchange and Public Engagement

What is it and why should you do it?

Knowledge exchange and public engagement cover any and all activities engaging non-academic audiences in or with your research, for example as partners, participants, collaborators and co-producers, or as audiences and users. These activities make it more likely that your research and expertise will make a difference to the ways in which questions, events or problems are understood and addressed around the world. No matter what your skills, experience, motivations and ambitions, getting involved in non-academic engagement can deliver significant benefits to you, your research partners and to wider society.


Knowledge exchange and engagement activities should offer routes to impact, increasing the visibility and accessibility of your research in ways that maximize the chance of it making a difference to the world outside of academia.



GLOSSARY: Knowledge Exchange, Public Engagement, Impact

Jump to:  KEI at LSE

Knowledge exchange is defined by the ESRC as a two-way exchange between researchers and research users, to share ideas, research evidence, experiences and skills. It refers to any process through which academic ideas and insights are shared, and external perspectives and experiences brought in to academia.

DEFINITION: Knowledge Exchange
• Sharing knowledge, experience, ideas, evidence or expertise with non-academic communities
• In ways intended to be mutually beneficial
• Goes beyond just telling people things –how do you know they are listening?
• Can happen at any time in the research process
• Is not restricted to the UK

Public engagement should likewise be thought of as a two-way process of listening and interaction, with a goal to generate mutual benefit.

DEFINITION: Public Engagement
• A sub-set of knowledge exchange, i.e. still a two-way process intended to be mutually beneficial
• Not communication to an undifferentiated group of people, there is no ‘general’ public. You still need to know who you want to engage with your work, and why
• Can be achieved in many ways, not just via talks or lectures

Effective engagement activities should maximize the non-academic impact of your work; done well, they can also enhance its academic impact by broadening your research horizons, opening up fresh perspectives and providing access to new research participants or data.  By improving the depth and quality of research, and feeding back into new questions, non-academic engagement can generate a ‘virtuous circle’ of research, engagement and further research.

It can also improve both your own understanding and that of your research partners, users and beneficiaries of the potential impact of your work; that is, of a capacity to deliver any change, effect or benefit brought about in the economy or society as a result of LSE research or expertise. Impacts can range from the concrete to the conceptual and include (in no order of importance and as illustrative examples only) effects on policy discussion and formulation; on the structures, processes or decision making of business and civil society organisations; on education and pedagogical techniques beyond LSE; and on public debate and understanding. Research impact can take any form and may be felt by any extra-academic individual, group or organization, anywhere in the world.   

• Is any tangible effect, change or benefit felt in the world beyond academia, to which academic research has in some way contributed.
• May be making something good happen or stopping something bad from happening
• Is not about media mentions / meeting with politicians / video downloads etc., but the things that happen as a result of these
• Matters in contexts beyond the REF; it is the reason why much research is done – and funded – in the first place

Knowledge exchange and engagement activities often will not have an immediate impact. However, they should offer routes to impact, increasing the visibility and accessibility of your research in ways that maximize the chance of it making a difference to the world outside of academia. Doing this may well require you to develop new or improve existing skills, beyond those that are core to academic work. Think about your engagement with non-academic audiences as ongoing: this is a life’s work, not a one-off activity.

Its value extends beyond the individual to the institutional. It helps to empower people, broadens attitudes and ensures that the work of universities and research institutes is understood by society at large. Establishing an ongoing dialogue between research communities and the public helps ensure that society benefits more fully from the outputs of research (which it pays for) by understanding their relevance. Public engagement can also increase impact by increasing influence, with government or businesses looking for evidence to inform decision making.

The value of KEI is now widely recognized, including by research funders. So, in addition to the benefits listed above, demonstrating engagement with your research is now a requirement for almost anyone seeking funding for their work. It is also crucial in the context of national higher education quality assessments, notably including the REF (Research Excellence Framework) and the forthcoming KEF (Knowledge Exchange Framework).

impact747x420KEI at LSE

Since its foundation, LSE has worked hard to secure its position both as a global research institute and at the forefront of efforts to maximize the benefits of social science. Our commitment to addressing public problems through the advancement of social science is underpinned by KEI and public engagement activities and reflected in our KEI strategy.

LSE’s KEI Strategy aims to:

  • Increase the visibility and accessibility of LSE research to non-academic research users;
  • Enhance LSE academics’ engagement with non-academic research users;
  • Develop the impacts brought about as a result of LSE research and expertise.

Knowledge exchange and public engagement is global, not restricted to the UK. LSE has an important role to play locally and globally; this is reflected in our research and should likewise be reflected in our knowledge exchange and engagement activities.