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Mobilities and Knowledge Transfer: Understanding the Contribution of Volunteer Stays to North–South Healthcare Partnerships



In this paper, I review recent literature on the relationship between human mobility and knowledge transfer processes, and apply some of the more theoretical ideas to an evaluation of the kinds of mobility in which UK participants engage in the context of North–South healthcare partnerships (HCPs). Much of the contemporary research on highly skilled mobility highlights the role that short stays and circular mobility play in knowledge transfer processes. I consider the value of short stays in the travel–mobility–migration continuum and the contribution they make to the transfer, translation and effectiveness of knowledge. Healthcare partnerships are best conceptualized as knowledge networks, with various forms of mobility (both physical and virtual) playing a critical role in network-generation, evolution and impact. I outline the findings of two studies. The first is an evaluation of HCPs (Ackers and Porter, 2011) and the second an in-depth ongoing evaluation of one HCP known as the Liverpool–Mulago Partnership or LMP1 (Porter et al., 2011). The results raise questions about the relationship between the different types of mobility that participants in HCPs (predominantly professional volunteers) engage in, particularly the duration and repeated quality of stays, and knowledge transfer processes. Williams argues that “there are still major gaps in our understanding of the specific contribution of international migration to knowledge transfer, of the processes involved, and of the conditions that facilitate this” (2006 588). In this paper, I begin to close some of these gaps and advance our understanding of the relationship between different forms of mobility and knowledge transfer processes, in the hopes that this will build the evidence base supporting the contribution of North–South HCPs to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals 2 .