At the end of January 2010, our current AHRC-funded knowledge transfer fellowship (KTF) project draws to a close. That’s only a marker date, but it is the point at which the funding stops. Three months later, we need to have submitted forms, letters and financial summaries which, among other things, evaluate our project’s effectiveness and general, overall, wholesome family goodness.
And there’s our problem. We’ll have spent two years working with our KTF partners – and there are lots of them – and we have to judge how effective our involvement has been. But in many cases, the work that we did with the partners isn’t something which will have an overnight effect. It might, in fact, take years to establish just how much value our partners got from our intervention. This is a problem that the folks at the AHRC are wrangling with themselves; we report to them and they, in turn, have to report to government on the significance of the impact that this funding has had.
So, what’s to do? The answer to questions about the concrete value of our project to our partners is probably I’m not sure. Or perhaps give us two more years and we’ll tell you. These are, as you might expect, are not appropriate answers. The best answer, in terms of the most usefully informative and the closest to any sort of truth, will be drawn not from us but from our partners. Early indications of the value of interventions will be seen by the people who are most sensitive to subtle changes in the way their financial year is panning out. Still, there will be a lot of educated guesses here.
As I’ve mentioned, though, we’re not an isolated case. There must be hundreds of knowledge transfer and even standard business relationships out there which need years to mature, but require evidence of returns of value in a much shorter period. Jon hinted at this when he talked about interventions previously; if you set aside your presumption that a particular thing must be good for businesses – they must need a website, they must need a business plan – it becomes a lot harder to tell if your intervention is valuable.
How, then, can we effectively estimate the value of these relationships? I’m sticking with I’m not sure for the moment – at least it’s honest. We’ll talk to our partners, and hopefully they’ll say nice things about us, so we’ll at least feel better even if we still don’t know the answer.