Evaluating Academic Engagement with UK Legislatures: Exchanging Knowledge on Knowledge Exchange

This Knowledge Exchange (KE) project was funded by the funded by ESRC Impact Acceleration Accounts at the Universities of Birmingham and Edinburgh, and supported by the UK’s four legislatures and Research England.

The project emerged from consultation with the four UK legislatures in early 2019:

  • The Scottish Parliament
  • The National Assembly for Wales
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly 
  • The UK Parliament

In recent years, these legislatures have sought to increase and improve the work they do with universities and to encourage academics to increase and improve the contribution of their research to the work of legislatures. Such work aims to support evidence-informed scrutiny and law-making within each legislature, serving to maximise the public value of academic research findings in the UK. Legislatures’ aims resonate with those of UK universities, which face a combination of increasing pressure and incentives to demonstrate the contribution of publicly-funded research to improving society through, for example, the REF and KEF.

Against this backdrop, this project explored knowledge exchange between the UK’s legislatures and UK universities. It explored the challenges of defining KE, which are themselves connected to challenges of defining and measuring the effectiveness of KE. The project also identified a range of KE activities between Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), researchers and universities, and legislatures.

The project findings, published in its final report (see below), suggest that, given variations in practice and purpose of KE across the legislatures, a pragmatic approach to assessing effectiveness would focus on the activities, processes and commitments that underpin a ‘healthy environment for KE’, recognising that the specific components of this will be heavily affected by context and resource constraints. Specifically, the project identified the following key characteristics which define an engaged legislature and an engaged university:

An engaged legislature:
Has a clear KE strategy; actively engages with universities and professional associations to disseminate opportunities for engagement; shares expertise on KE with other legislatures; has dedicated staff time allocated to pursuing and improving KE activities; curates a range of activities to engage academic researchers at different career stages, from different institutions, and from different backgrounds; provides appropriate recognition of academic participation in KE activities; and, monitors characteristics of those participating in KE activities. 

An engaged university:
Permits and supports fellowships with legislatures; has staff who are committee advisers; allocates dedicated staff time within workload models or other arrangements to facilitate KE; has staff who submit evidence to legislatures and participate in committee hearings; recognises and supports KE in its own right, not solely as a way to achieve impact; has dedicated internal funding opportunities for KE; hosts inward secondments and supports outward secondments; appoints officials from legislatures to steering groups and/or advisory boards; co-authors publications with legislature staff; recognises KE in workload models and in criteria for promotion; and, submits funding bids which include legislative staff as partners. 

Key researchers

Danielle BeswickDr Danielle Beswick

Principal Investigator

International Development Department

Senior Lecturer

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Marc GeddesDr Marc Geddes


University of Edinburgh

Lecturer in British Politics

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Outputs and impact

The main project output is the cross legislature report, which includes an executive summary. Alongside this, shorter reports were produced for each of the four legislatures based on their specific activities and the data collected on these.

The research team are keen to support other stakeholders in thinking through implications of this research for how knowledge exchange between legislatures and Universities can be increased in terms of quantity, quality and effectiveness. We are in engaging with Research England, UKRI, and the Universities Policy Engagement Network in this effort and would welcome approaches from other interested parties. 

Partner oganisations and sponsors

The project was funded by the ESRC Impact Accelerator Accounts at the Universities of Birmingham and Edinburgh.