How to be part of a creative exchange

Make your work accessible and communicate what academics can offer industry if you want to make connections. Plus the latest higher education appointments

November 27, 2014

Move over knowledge transfer, there is a new kid on the block in the arts and humanities when it comes to working with industry and it is called “creative exchange”.

Creative exchange focuses on the new knowledge that is generated when academics work with industry. It offers a different take on academia/industry links: knowledge transfer implies that information from academia is given to industry, whereas a knowledge exchange suggests that academics and industry swap information with each other.

Simon Bowen, a research associate at Newcastle University, explained that creative exchange may more accurately describe what is going on in these interactions. The aim is to get people to think about “alternative possibilities” that can lead to new practices and ways of working, he said.

“[It is] how you bring collaborators into a project and how the ideas that you develop and express in what is made draw on the experiences of the industry and draw on the learning and knowledge of the academic,” he added.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has invested £4 million to establish The Creative Exchange, an initiative that explores the potential of the “digital public space”. The knowledge exchange hub, led by Lancaster University in partnership with the University of Newcastle and the Royal College of Art, is looking at new ways of how academics can work with businesses and the public in the fast-growing creative economy.

An example of a project that has come out of the Creative Exchange is a system developed to produce bespoke souvenirs that represent how a visitor feels about a work of art. The idea came about as a result of a collaboration between an arts organisation with a pop-up exhibition space, a digital designer with an interest in three-dimensional printing and an academic with experience in performance production.

So what should academics be doing if they want to get involved with creative exchanges of their own? Naomi Jacobs, a senior research associate at The Creative Exchange at Lancaster University, explained that academics should make time to be reflective about any projects.

Scholars should try to communicate the value of working with academia to time-pressured small businesses, and explain that although the benefit might not be immediately obvious, there will be one, she said.

Dr Bowen added that academics should think about how they can get the message across of what they can offer to businesses. It could be joining industry networks or sending PhD students to conferences that are focused on professions.

“It is not about being ivory tower academics and saying you come to us. It is about thinking about how can we make what we do accessible and start to make those connections,” he said.

Dr Jacobs added that supervisors should think about the skills that their early career researchers will need in the future and how to incorporate them into training.

“It is not just about skills of research and writing and doing a PhD, it is also about how you can go out into the wider world and explain your research, engage businesses and the public,” she said.

“It’s a new world, there are social media, pressures from industry and new skills need to be taught,” she added.


Middlesex University has appointed two visiting professors in the field of the creative arts. Renowned choreographer and the founding artistic director of The Place and the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Robert Cohan, joins the School of Media and Performing Arts. Meanwhile, founder of the Mute record label, Daniel Miller, has been appointed a visiting professor of music.

The University of London’s School of Advanced Study has appointed its first chair in digital humanities. Lorna Hughes joins the school from her current post as University of Wales chair in digital collections and will take up her new position on 1 February 2015.

The N8 Research Partnership has appointed Peter Simpson as its new director. Dr Simpson, currently director of discovery sciences at AstraZeneca, will take up the post on 6 January 2015. The N8 partnership comprises the eight most research-intensive universities in the North of England (Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York).

The University of the West of England has appointed Jane Harrington to the role of deputy vice-chancellor. Professor Harrington has worked at UWE Bristol for several years and has held management roles at all levels within the Faculty of Business and Law.

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