Knowledge Exchange is the process of facilitating mutually exclusive transfer of information, expertise and skills between the University and external stakeholders. These stakeholders range from public partnerships with museums, management consultants with FTSE 500 companies to incubators for high technical next generation medical equipment. Considered as knowledge exchange, rather than merely knowledge transfer implies that both the University and external partners have something to gain from these interactions.
The Knowledge Exchange Network is both ambitious and extensive. As such, many of the Unversity staff involved are not necessarily aware of the skills, partnerships and expertise of other members. We propose to treat the KE Network as a network in the social network analysis tradition, and apply emerging tools in interactive network visualisation. The purpose of this is threefold:
By showing the KE Network as a network, it provides a symbolic sense that this is a cohesive set of researchers that are mutually accessible and working towards a shared goal.
By making such a network interactive rather than static, we can provided a personalised snapshot of university relations as well as guide that can be brought to the human scale, rather than simply existing as a pretty picture.
By understanding the linkages (or lack) beyond within the Knowledge Exchange Network, we have an opportunity for creating new peer-supported connections and sharing strategies.
Because the KE network spans individuals across the entirety of the University of Oxford, it is likely that few members of the KE network have a sense of the overall connectivity of the KE network, as well as where to turn for a variety of skills related to administrative, technical and developmental expertise. Our goal is to help kickstart this shared understanding and accelerate the process of exchange within the knowledge exchange network while simultaneously empirically evaluating the efficacy of our approach.
Will interactive visualisations be useful as a tool for understanding organisational networks?
Does the visualisation of a network, when presented to the network members, alter the connectivity of the network?
Will the Knowledge Exchange network look cohesive without the core organising team at Research Services?
We are implementing a multi-stage research design including consultations, focus groups, network name generator surveys, and interactive visualisations. The interactive visualisations will not be shared publicly. However, we anticipate publishing results from the study to understand whether interactive visualisations of networks successfully enable collaborative linkages in this domain. We intend on surveying the KE network in order to render the visualisations and again several months afterward to examine whether specific user behaviours are associated with new network ties.
Interactive networks are obviously a centrepiece of this particular project. These diagrams are rapidly becoming a useful part of the research dissemination process. With the advent of browser-based tools such as D3 and Sigma.js, creating attractive, lightweight user-friendly diagrams is becoming a practical tool in the social scientist's tool kit. For example, Facenuke by the Sigma team is an attempt to show the connections between the nuclear industry and France's key political players.
These visualisations have the potential to simply "look sciency" without actually providing actionable information. Our long-term goal is to determine best practices for using these diagrams with individuals who have some familiarity with a social network, but are not network analysts. Past work by the PI (Bernie Hogan) and technical lead (Joshua Melville) have focused on visualisations of personal networks, primarily Facebook (requires Facebook login). These are networks that are well known by the network owner. The Knowledge Exchange Network, on the other hand, represents an excellent opportunity to examine a network that is not necessarily well known by all participants, even if an understanding of this network is crucial if the connections are to prosper.
We are also using this project to test many next generation features in survey design controls. Our participant survey was built from scratch to enable rapid, lightweight and dynamic name fields. We will be sharing the generic / anonymized source code from both our surveys and visualisations through the Oxford Internet Institute's GitHub code page.
This project is funded by Research Services at the University of Oxford.