The meaning of the word "valorise", according to my computer's dictionary is: "give or ascribe value or validity to (something)." It is, however, not in this sense that the word is used in European R&D projects. The EU Leonardo programme defines "valorisation" as "... the process of disseminating and exploiting project outcomes to meet user needs, with the ultimate aim of integrating and using them in training systems and practices at local, regional, national and European level." There are a number of key expressions in this definition that might require clarification: process, dissemination, exploiting, outcomes, user needs, ultimate, integrating, using them. Trying to specify what some of those words mean should bring us closer to understanding what "valorisation" is really about.
The use of the adjective "ultimate" - the Chambers 20th Century Dictionary says: "furthest; last, final; limiting" - seems to indicate that it is a question of a longer term and possibly underlying aim. It hints at something about the less immediate nature of this aim with respect to others. Uptake (if we can abbreviate "integrate and use" in such a way) is not the primary aim of the R&D project, but it may well be seen as fundamental from a wider perspective. In fact the success of a project could be considered in terms of the uptake of its outcomes, although this is not generally used as an indicator because uptake invariably takes place well after the project has finished. In addition, the very nature of R&D projects often sets valorisation beyond their boundaries at some future stage of a process that ideally extends in an unbroken line from the initial idea to its finalwide-scale uptake but in reality can be particularly fragmented especially in the field of education.
The dictionary says of integrate: "to combine (two things) so that they become a whole." Integration implies that something new and unfamiliar becomes progressively accepted and familiar through its use. In the process, the new and unfamiliar "something" will invariably get transformed and existing ways of doing things and the working context will also be changed. From this perspective, integration can be seen to be a learning process for those involved in it. In other words, valorisation is about strategies for "changing minds".
In the European R&D context people don't talk so much of outcomes as "deliverables". That is to say, tangible project results such as a report, a method, a database, a thematic network or software and tools that can be seen to be the results of the project. It is much easier for us to grasp such tangible objects than intangible processes. Accountability is handled through deliverables. European funding procedures require deliverables to be "promised" at the beginning of the project and then produced at the end as proof that the work has been done. Yet in a successful valorisation process outcomes are not treated as finished products. They are invariably transformed as tey are integrated.
Although R&D projects often involve some form of assessment of what future users will need, no prior study can ascertain exactly how the integration of complex outcomes will take place. This is because it is extremely difficult to predict how the outcome will be changed in the process and how the "receiving" context and ways of working will also be transformed.
Who does what?
Beyond individual words, this definition glosses over one key question: who does what? One might be misled into believing that it is the same set of actors that are the subjects of the different verbs used: disseminating, exploiting, integrating, using. Dissemination may well be carried out be those who originally organized the project, although traditionally dissemination is not a major part of R&D projects. Depending on the nature of the partners, exploitation of outcomes may or may not be carried out by some of the project partners. If this is the case, it will not be done as part of the project itself but as part of their on-going activities. Often project outcomes are designed for a set of users who were not part of the original project although some of them may have tested the outcomes. End users themselves will necessarily carry out the integration and use of outcomes.
A number of assumptions are inherent in the action of "valorising". One is that the outcome has a value for the audience with whom its creators seek to valorise it. Clearly the originators of the project are convinced of the value of what they have developed. In addition, the project that led to the outcome may well have "tested" the appropriateness of the proposed outcomes in terms of their validity for the future users. Testing the validity is not always done, however. When it comes to so called "good practice", its originators didn't necessarily create it with a view to having other people adopt it.
A second assumption, implicit in the idea of valorisation, is that the outcome can be transferred from the context in which it was developed into a new context and still retain its value or validity.
These two assumptions are interconnected. The value of the project outcome for the future "adopters" will depend on the extent to which they are able to get value from the outcome in their own context.
Here a third "assumption" frequently comes into play: when the outcome has been carefully crafted for specific contexts, it can be used in those contexts as it stands. This assumption makes a statement about the word "transferred", in the second assumption above. This implies that outcomes can be treated like "objects" that can be shifted around and used at will. The P2P project, in its policy stand, clearly demonstrated that such an assumption has limited validity.
Hypotheses and ways forward
Capitalising on the outcomes and experience of projects whether they be R&D projects or those done by teachers and pupils, cannot be satisfactorily carried out by the transfer of those outcomes or that experience like commodities from one context to another. Capitalising on the experience of others and the projects they have carried out requires a collective learning process that necessarily assesses the original idea or tools and then, when appropriate, transforms them into something that is appropriate in the new context.
There is very little explicit understanding of the transformation process in the so-called "transfer of knowledge" and the valorisation of project results in education. There is however a certain tacit understanding of how ideas from other contexts can be used as inspiration to develop new solutions. Work is required on how valorisation, seen as capitalising on ideas, experience and tools from other contexts and projects as a starting point for developing appropriate solutions, can be encouraged through informal and semi-formal peer exchange and networking. This work should also include the development of a practice-driven evaluation approach to support self-evaluation as a central pillar in the peer-based valorisation process.
Alan McCluskey, Saint-Blaise
ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, firstname.lastname@example.org