In recent years the British government has repeated its calls for improved transfer of research knowledge and for greater engagement of researchers with practitioners and the public. This echoes calls from Burawoy and others, in the USA and elsewhere, for greater engagement by social sciences. In the UK the national research councils have raised their investment in knowledge transfer activities, six 'beacons for public engagement' have been set up, and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has enhanced its work in this field. In this context, the UK Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS), which includes 35 learned societies and some 550 academicians, resolved in 2007 to undertake a study of the role of learned societies in membership of the AcSS in promoting knowledge transfer and public engagement. This article outlines how the study was undertaken, the discussions around key terms, and the principal findings which were published in 2008 in a volume entitled Developing Dialogue. The article reports on the activities, capabilities, contributions and weaknesses and strengths of the learned societies that were studied. The Research Assessment Exercise, conducted in the UK in 2007-08, was found to have acted as a significant impediment to such work. The paper outlines six key points arising from the research, noting the variety of learned societies and their activities, the need for greater investment and training, and the leadership role that the Academy itself could play with increased resources. The study found that there is a long way to go before many practitioners, policy makers and members of the public are aware and engaged with much of the work and research in the social sciences in Britain
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