‘Knowledge exchange is a two-way process where social scientists and individuals or organisations share learning, ideas and experiences’. (Economic and Social Research Council)
Before applying for the ESRC ‘knowledge exchange’ grant that is funding this project I had never used the term ‘knowledge exchange’ or considered what it might mean. My motivation for doing a Phd however had been because I wanted to train to be a researcher and learn ways of working with young people so that their voices could be heard in policy arenas and used to inform practice. What I remain passionately motivated by is ensuring that ideas and knowledge don’t become stuck in their silos and that they continue to move between policy makers, practitioners, young people and academic researchers. To me this is a four-way process of building, testing and rebuilding knowledge about young people’s lives and how best governments, organisations and practitioners can empower and support them.
Yesterday was Brook’s AGM and young people led evening event. The format of the evening was a short half hour of approving the accounts and other formal procedures followed by several hours of presentations, films and activities led by a group of Brook young volunteers who had spent the past two days planning the evening activities. The volunteers gave a short presentation (or flash mob sex-positive parade?!), showed a short video on participation and then led small group discussions with Brook members, trustees and other invitees. As we all moved around the table carousels the young volunteers talked about the projects that they are involved with and invited their audiences to share their thoughts and ideas.
This was an evening of ‘knowledge exchange’. Knowing this in advance I had prepped film-maker Susi to try and capture this knowledge-exchange-in-action on camera. The plan had been that one of the carousels would be a ‘good sex’ project carousel. To me this seemed like a golden opportunity to do some ‘knowledge exchange’ – that is to tell groups of people with interest and experience in the field about the project, show them the films and get some solid critical feedback. I had expected the evening’s exchange to go: Researcher (me) – audience – researcher, but the evening took several unexpected turns.
This was a young people led event and the young people decided that they were not going to talk about the ‘good sex’ project but were rather going to include a volunteer from Birmingham in their group and talk about young people’s involvement in recruitment. Instead, two of the good sex project volunteers and I were going to talk about the project to the whole room and finish the evening by showing the ‘good sex’ film. When the time came to do the presentation however I had disappeared to interview a Brook member, couldn’t be found and the film was introduced and shown by Brook staff. For me, instead of having a researcher-to-audience flow of knowledge, it flooded the other way as Susi and I were able to interview Brook members, trustees and young volunteers.
For me, the interviews with the three Brook members were especially moving and inspiring. We heard from Dilys Cossey who campaigned for abortion law reform and sexual health services for ‘unmarried’ women and who helped set up Brook nearly 50 years ago. Her account of the role of women’s movements in developing the sexual health services and legal rights that women have today left Susi and I feeling quietly humble and very grateful to all those women who have enabled us to live the lives we live today.
We also heard from Martin Goffe who talked about his work at a South London boys school in the 1970s and about how he created and ran an ‘integrated humanities’ GCSE that included sessions on sex, relationships and sexual health and trips to the local Brook clinic on the Walworth road. This was pre-national curriculum days when teachers had more freedom and flexibility to develop this kind of work, which Martin told us, included talking to the young men about pleasure; premature ejaculation, how to pleasure your female partners, how to know if your partners is enjoying sex or not. Much has changed Martin reflected, talking about his current work as a school governor and his efforts to squeeze SRE into a tight PSHE curriculum and support and encourage school teachers to deliver this work to young people.
I could have gone on asking questions for hours – drinking up the knowledge that members such as Dilys and Martin have built up over decades of activism, hard work and campaigning. This was just what our funders had ordered: an event where ‘social scientists and individuals or organisations share learning, ideas and experiences’. Luckily Susi was there to capture it on camera. Now comes the longer, slower processes of editing the footage that Susi captured and working out how to make these interviews public to continue the sharing and exchange of knowledge, experience and ideas.