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HEFCE has commissioned an evaluation to explore the progress of knowledge exchange projects funded through the social innovation sandpit, examine the barriers and opportunities that arose during pilot development and identify any lessons to be learned from the overall piloting process for future activity by funders. 

The learning from this evaluation is intended to inform funding organisations regarding the potential of universities to act as catalysts to facilitate and co-create services that can lead to direct societal impact, and to provide a transparent account of the resources needed to replicate this work elsewhere.

The evaluation demonstrates that universities can act as catalysts for the facilitation and development of collaborative innovative knowledge exchange programmes. Whilst these social innovation pilots (and sometimes topics) represented a change in role for many of the academics and knowledge exchange professionals, they proved that their knowledge and research skills were relevant in this context.

The factors that contributed to the success of the pilots included significant networking and partnership activity and having co-creation and co-design as central components of the development process. The challenges the teams faced included timing, managing contracts and securing ongoing funding to move towards implementation.

Overall the programme of work achieved its aims. A number of lessons can be drawn regarding: the type of guidance and support offered to project teams during the process; timing; managing expectations and ambitions; and the need to focus upon sustainability if the ideas are to move to implementation and have long-lasting impact.

Date: 7 December 2017

Ref: Independent research