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Knowledge exchange during physical distancing

In today’s blog, Dr Shonagh McEwan, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Advisor (CAHSS), in Edinburgh Research Office, shares new resources and insights into knowledge exchange during physical distancing.

Over the past few months, we have seen our researchers pivot their research and knowledge exchange (KE) plans as a result of a global pandemic and new public health guidance. All of a sudden, online engagement became a crucial part, if not the only way, to do knowledge exchange.

Around the same time as public health restrictions were introduced, UKRI announced new changes to the way impact is integrated into research applications (refer to our blog on this announcement, and our updated blog on new UKRI guidance on impact). UKRI’s view is that impact is core to the application process. KE activities are of course central to achieving impact; physical distancing is not something that should inevitably stop our ability to do good quality KE.

For many researchers, social media activities such as blogging or Twitter are already standard ways to engage non-academic audiences. But the need to adapt entirely to delivering knowledge exchange activities online – whether running online meetings, events, collaborations, digital exhibitions, meaningful engagement with online resources etc etc! – is both new and demanding. It has potential benefits as well as real challenges.

Doing online engagement

The Political Settlements Research Programme (led by Prof. Christine Bell, Edinburgh Law School) has been living and breathing these benefits and challenges since lockdown. As a large international research project, it has experience in digital communications and engagement. It rapidly adapted and shifted some of its research to focus on the impacts of C-19 on peace and conflict. It quickly scaled up its existing online communication channels, as a way to amplify and target this work.

It created a Covid-19 Hub on its website, to signpost to new C-19 resources, as well as targeted social media communications via Twitter, Facebook and blogging. This had immediate benefits for its non-academic audiences such as practitioners, policymakers and journalists, who were in need of expert analysis and access to latest data. Interactions with website content, resources, blog content, podcasts, webinars and social media followers has all increased since lockdown and reached new audiences.

The PSRP also moved face-to-face events online. For example, its Joint Analysis workshop is usually an intense, in-person one-day event at the British Academy. Instead, this event was broken up into five online sessions over different days. They decided to go ahead with the OxPeace Conference, co-hosted with Oxford University, on Zoom (refer here for information about the University of Edinburgh’s access to Zoom). The new PeaceFem App was launched via an online event, involving partners and high profile speakers.

This involved learning new platforms, new online meeting skills, resource intensive planning and organisation, and challenges with technical issues and slow internet connections. They found that audience sizes increased, however this at times came at the cost of high quality interaction and discussions. To ensure events run smoothly they recommend that you give yourself plenty time to practice ahead of the event; ensuring host and presenters are familiar with the technology and platform; and having someone dedicated to resolving tech problems during the event.

New resources to help you

The Knowledge Exchange and Impact Team in Edinburgh Research Office has created a new set of resources on how to collaborate; engage with new and existing partners; and run events using online platforms.

Read the research & knowledge exchange during physical distancing resources on our SharePoint page (UoE staff only).

This is part of the Support for Research during Covid Hub (SERCH), which also includes resources on Researcher Wellbeing, Adapting your Research Methods, Data and Digital Resources, Research methods training, and Research Ethics and Integrity.

Please also see resources from an experienced public engagement practitioner, Jamie Gallagher:

Further information and support

We continue to revise and update our resources. If you need help with doing KE during physical distancing – whether it is setting in motion new plans, or adapting existing ones – then please take a look at our SharePoint site.

View the research & knowledge exchange during physical distancing SharePoint site (UoE staff only).

We welcome feedback or further recommendations too! Please get in touch at

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Shonagh McEwan



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