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Knowledge travels: getting interdisciplinary research into policy and practice

Lyall, C

February 2010

Introduction

Increasingly, in this era of the ‘knowledge economy’, governments seek return on their investments in research. While those public funding bodies that support research in the natural and physical sciences and engineering may find it more straightforward to point to tangible impacts in terms of intellectual property generated or indeed to the economic contributions of spinout companies, the impacts that social science research (as well as the arts and humanities) may have on public policy or professional practice is often harder to track (Meagher et al., 2008). Yet, basing public policy and practice upon sound research and evidence is frequently cited as a desirable social good – one toward which research funding bodies, researchers, policymakers and practitioners should aspire (Davies et al., 2000). At the same time, there are growing calls for more interdisciplinary approaches to societal problems, along with encouragement for greater collaboration and networking among institutions, researchers and research users. Pressure to encourage interdisciplinary research often comes from the need to solve complex socio-scientific problems, where one discipline on its own cannot provide an answer. This working paper discusses the contribution of interdisciplinary research to the process of knowledge exchange. It considers how best to reach out beyond the boundaries of academia in order to engage with the worlds of policy and practice and discusses some of the research design and research management issues that this may prompt.

This working paper represents a work in progress which will eventually form one of the chapters in our forthcoming book Interdisciplinary Research Journeys: Practical Strategies for Capturing Creativity which is being written by Catherine Lyall, Ann Bruce, Joyce Tait and Laura Meagher and will be published by Bloomsbury Academic later in 2010.

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