Dr Helen Fitzhugh reports back on the experience of running PrOPEL Hub’s first ever Knowledge Exchange Bootcamp in January 2024, alongside colleagues Dr Nicola Murray and Dr Keira O’Kane.

What a way to start 2024! Keira, Nicola and I – all Knowledge Exchange Fellows for PrOPEL Hub partner universities – spent two and half days facilitating an intense ‘bootcamp’ session for 15 enthusiastic early career researchers in the social sciences, working hard to convey the principles, joys, challenges and consequences of good knowledge exchange.

Knowledge exchange is the process by which academic researchers interact with the wider world. This encompasses sharing research findings via documents, events and dialogue, but is actually a much wider and deeper process of respectful social interaction.

The type of knowledge exchange we were exploring at the Bootcamp focused on building relationships, developing joint understanding and finding routes to collaborative interaction, to make sure academics are good partners and critical friends with community groups, businesses, policymakers and more. 

The PrOPEL Hub has been unusual as a large academic project, funded via conventional academic channels, with a focus on knowledge exchange around people management and productivity. Via the project, our partner universities employed ‘Knowledge Exchange Fellows’ to build relationships with organisational partners across the private, public and third sectors.

As the Fellows started to accrue experience of knowledge exchange, sharing and reflecting on our learning, we knew we wanted to pass on this insight to others and make sure the knowledge exchange legacy of the PrOPEL Hub was not lost. The Knowledge Exchange Bootcamp for Early Career Researchers in the Social Sciences was born!

On a freezing cold early January morning we gathered at the University of Westminster’s Marylebone Campus, working together on sessions encompassing:

  • Understanding impact and knowledge exchange
  • Exploring your knowledge exchange identity
  • Relationship-building for knowledge exchange
  • Exploring communication
  • Project management for knowledge exchange
  • Resilience to tensions and challenges

These were dotted with activities to allow participants to share their research projects and knowledge exchange intentions with each other, refining their plans on worksheets and in conversation. We also watched as the many questions people had at the start of the day migrated across the posters on the back wall as they reflected on their learning – from questions still to be asked to questions progressed or resolved.

Our Keynote Speakers Professor Monder Ram (Aston University) and Dr Maire Braniff (Ulster University) provided inspiration to all of us (facilitators included) on how to be a truly engaged scholar, persisting on insisting on involvement and true knowledge exchange.

At the end of just 2.5 days, the atmosphere in the room was amazing. It truly proved to be an ‘intensive’ bootcamp experience. What we got out of the process – the warmth of feeling in the room and genuine intention to take further action to build a knowledge exchange movement – felt like a real life example and reflection of the knowledge exchange principles we had been teaching.

Speaking personally, I’m grateful that these 15 people went along for the ride with us in our first PrOPEL Hub Knowledge Exchange bootcamp. It made a special experience and cemented all of our desires to take next steps to keep building the body of training and interaction we can offer on knowledge exchange in the future.

To finish, here is just a flavour of some of the comments we received in response to the evaluation question – ‘What would you tell someone thinking about coming on this course?’

  • Do it!
  • I think this type of Bootcamp is essential for all early career scholars
  • Absolutely amazing! Especially to start a new year. Lots of insightful and reflective moments in terms of KE planning and practices
  • Totally recommend it! Prepare well, because it will help you learn more!
  • This course is life-changing as it provides practical and realistic steps to KE
  • As an ECR this is an excellent bootcamp to deepen your skills on and for knowledge exchange

If this makes you want to come along to a future bootcamp – let us know. We need to know there is interest to be able to set up new opportunities. We’ve already had enquiries from academics who are not ‘early career’ saying they’d like to come along too – so do let us know via the PrOPEL contact details / my own contact details if you are interested in being included in a mailing list of any future events such as this!