Why 'knowledge transfer' is misconceived for applied social research

  • Davies H
  • Nutley S
  • Walter I
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‘Knowledge transfer’ has become established as shorthand for a wide variety of activities linking the production of academic knowledge to the potential use of such knowledge in non-academic environments. While welcoming the attention now being paid to non-academic applications of social research, we contend that terms such as knowledge transfer (and its subordinate sibling, knowledge translation) misrepresent the tasks that they seek to support. By articulating the complex and contested nature of applied social research, and then highlighting the social and contextual complexities of its use, we can see that other terms may serve us better. Following from this analysis, we suggest that ‘knowledge interaction’ might more appropriately describe the messy engagement of multiple players with diverse sources of knowledge, and that ‘knowledge intermediation’ might begin to articulate some of the managed processes by which knowledge interaction can be promoted. While it might be hard to shift the terminology of knowledge transfer in the short term, awareness of its shortcomings can enhance understanding about how social research can have wider impacts.

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  • Huw T.O. Davies

  • Sandra Nutley

  • Isabel Walter

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