Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be. You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.Ged:
Hi, this is Ged Hall and for those who don't know me, I'm an Academic Development Consultant at the University of Leeds. You're joining us in the first episode of season five of our Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where we're diving into the effects of research impact on research culture, and focusing on different topics to ensure those effects are positive.
Today I am delighted to be talking to Professor Richard Holliman, or Rick as he prefers to be known. And, uh, how we'll continue to go on for the rest of the conversation. Rick is Professor of Engaged Research at the Open University, or OU, as we call it in the UK. Uh, and Rick's research focuses on the theories and practices of knowledge exchange.
Uh, and through this year has developed a concept called Engage Research, which I'm gonna ask him about in a minute because we use that term a lot at Leeds. Until recently, he was also head of the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the OU. Rick welcome.Rick:
Listeners, because this episode is the first in the season, I've invited Rick along to help me to explore the impact of impact on research culture within the UK to the present day.
Uh, we hope for our international listeners, this will give you some reflection information to think about. What impact, impact he's having in your context and how you can try and manipulate it for the best. But before we dive into this discussion, I've said we we're really interested in, in Rick's concept of engage research at Leeds.
So I'd love him to tell us a bit more about it and to make sure I've properly understood it in that, in that strategy that we wrote .Rick:
Well, it's an interesting, uh, , it's an interesting story behind the, the development of it, which I'll, I'll just give you a brief overview. So we, we, we, we did some work about 10, 10, 12 years ago at the Open University to explore ideas about engagement, knowledge exchange, impact across the whole of the Open University.
So all academic domains and um, , you won't be too surprised to find that we found quite a lot of confusion, , so people didn't really understand where, where does, where does knowledge exchange start and end and impact start and end, and where does the engagement fit into this jigsaw puzzle? So staff were a bit confused about different terminologies and some of them were self-centering,
themselves out of the conversation completely just because they didn't think that that, that the things we were talking about were the same things they were doing. So there were some, some really classic examples of that through the work we were doing. Anyway, so we, we found this confusion. So what we tried to do was to provide some kind of collaborative definition, context for this kind of work, which sits above those kind of disciplinary definitions.
Uh, and what we came up with with this idea of Engaged Research. So engaged research as we define it, encompasses the different ways that researchers meaningfully interact with different publics over any or all stages of the research process. So that was right away from issue formulation through to co-creation of new knowledge and then the dissemination and evaluation of that kind of knowledge.
So that's what we came up with. It was, it was very much a kind of pragmatic take on, this space, researchers working beyond the university effectively in ways that were, were really useful for people, uh, that they wanted to engage with. So that's where we started from. And then more recently we've taken that kind of pragmatism.
We've, we've tried to add, or certainly through my own work and some of the work I've been doing with colleagues, uh, this, this. Additional kind of, um, lens of equity. So I'm particularly interested now in this kind of idea how do we use engagement, uh, for positive change, which I think is where we kind of started this conversation with when you asked me if I'd talked to you.
So, so we're on the same sheet now. Do you know what I mean? Um, we're both interested in how do we use engaged research to affect positive change.Ged:
Yeah, that's excellent. And, uh, and thanks for doing that. And, uh, I can, uh, I can wipe my brow and, uh, with the dry , with the cold sweat that was on it. But, uh, I have understood it correctly and, uh, and hopefully we're, we're implementing it, um, in a true, um, in a true sense as well, uh, uh, at Leeds as well.
And so, one, one thing I wanted to do with this, uh, with. Rather than it be an interview, a kind of Q and A was kind of just sort of think, okay, here's a discussion topic. Let's have some, let's have your view on it. Let's have my view on it. Um, so first of all, um, I was kind of thinking from a, from a personal perspective, that put.
Potentially we really need to say what our, almost, what our stance is. Um, so, so I thought I'd, I'd go first as, uh, you know, maybe take home host, um, prerequisite in, in that sense. Um, and, and I guess thinking back to my PhD, um, which was in the early nineties, it probably gives a little bit away in terms of terms of age.
Um, I did, I did what most people would describe as quite a fundamental, uh, piece of work in, um, in physical chemistry. Um, you don't really need to know, uh, in fact, uh, you know, I don't wanna bore the listeners with what it was all about. Um, but in terms of short hand, I was really hoping that it would, um, open up avenues to try and reduce CO2 emissions from combustion.
Mm-hmm. , that's what, that's what I wanted the research to do. Um, . And, and I guess that that kind of led me into some real debates with my supervisor who, you know, and we, we carried on those debates, um, up until he is untimely death last year, and I miss him a lot. You know, the debates were always Mm, um, always really open even though we were on, uh, maybe different parts of, uh, of the spectrum because he was about kinda knowledge creation, but he was also really interested in how, you know, science and art could help to, um, almost democratize, um, access to information. So, you know, being interested in that engagement. But he, his engagement was for kind of the love of the knowledge.Rick:
I guess from my engagement, it was for the love of what the knowledge could do for us.Rick:
And that's where, that's where my, my stance is. So, so impact. The impact of impact for me is that it's made academia feel more, like, more of a natural home for my views and my, and my stance. Um, and I just wanted to, you know, I just wanted that to be clear, you know, that, you know that that is, uh, that.
Where I stand. So, so Rick, how, what's, what's impact kind of done for you and you, you know, you mentioned obviously it was something of interest that you've, you've researched to kind of come up with the concept of engaged research. So where, where are you with it?Rick:
Yeah, uh, I mean my, my background is different from you.
So I, I come in from the social sciences, um, And I mean, going back to my PhD, my PhD was about communication of, of science, um, how new knowledge hits the public sphere and makes a difference. do you know what I mean, a and, and almost that kind of, it's necessary kind of influence of society on, uh, new knowledge and new knowledge on society.
Just, just, it just emerged through the context of the PhD. Um, so there were, there were. Case studies that looked like, which were very much kind of fundamental research, which, which were very much about communication knowledge, but there were other case studies that looked like, which were much more engaged.
Uh, and that's us imposing that kind of modern definition of engagement on it. It wasn't a term used at the time. Um, so it kind of, it, it, it started to come through the work, uh, through the research I was doing. And, um, at the same time, I got interested in how we might share resources. around this kind of space more effectively.
Uh, and I did some research again, probably about 15 years ago now, uh, where we started to explore that, a and we produced a co-produced a website with, with a community to try and share resources in this kind of space. Mm-hmm. . But as part of that work, we started to look at, okay, what are people actually doing and what are people doing in this space?
So we're mainly interested in scientists, um, and we found that there was a lot of default thinking. In that kind of space. So people were typically, Reconstructing the same activities again and again and again. Do you know what I mean? Forget it was quite a safe space to work in if you'd like. Do you know what I mean?
And also then working with similar people, . So, you know, there was this kind of very, kind of cliched default thinking around what engagement could be. Uh, and that really made me think, okay, there's, there's space here to be a more imaginative, uh, more innovative, more exciting to reach communities that we haven't worked with before.
Um, so it, it was in that kind of, around that time, the impact started to be, uh, You know, imposed if you like, on the sector. Do you know what I mean? Right. At the point where I was saying we need to be more interesting, we need to be more exciting. We need to, we need to think about the quality of this stuff.
Um, was the other dimension of it, are we doing this well and how do we know what, what good engagement or good impact looks like? So that really was where I came, came through it. And, and through that kind of process, I just happened to be in the right space at the right time to, to lead this culture change project at the Open University.
and everything from there onwards, uh, becomes, you know, impact becomes much more kind of closely aligned with my work. So it was, it wasn't a plan , it was an, it was an accident really. You know what I mean? It just, it was an opportunity and, and I remember sitting there chatting to, you know, friends of mine thinking, do I do this?
Cuz it was, it was a new space to work in at the time. And, um, yeah, it, it was, it was an opportunity that I saw, I knew it would be difficult. To try and lead a culture change project in this kind of space. But it, it, it paid off in the sense that I think we've made some useful interventions in that space.
But that's, that's kind of where I came from. It was, it was seeing the opportunity to improve quality, to understand what value we have in this kind of space. And going back to the earlier point is saying, okay, how do we affect positive change through this kind of mechanism, this new mechanism that we didn't, we didn't have in a very consistent way across academia.
So it was there obviously beforehand, but it just wasn't kind of consistent.Ged:
Yeah. Sure. Uh, and it's interesting you talked about imposition, I think, uh, I think that might be some of the, some people's almost objection to it that, you know, there were lots of people in the academy, um, you know, going all the way back as far as you could.
Mm-hmm. as far as you could think you've had. Impact, you know, they've wanted to engage with, um, you know, with the people or the pol or the publics that they wanted to engage with. They've had a change. There's been some change in that, you know, we wouldn't have any innovations without that, um, without that activity.
And I don't just mean technological innovations either. Mm-hmm. . Um, so I think, uh, you know, , I think impact is not new. Mm. Um, I think it's just the imposition of it, that, that feels new. Um, and certainly in, and I, I remember reading, um, the Impact Agenda book, um, and it was saying that, uh, probably. You know, maybe 10 to 15 years ago, people wouldn't have thought of the word impact as being about this.
Um, yeah. So it is a kind of a different lexicon that's, uh, that's sort of come in as a result of that kind of top down hitting the bottom up. That's, that's always happened.Rick:
I think you're right. I think you're right. I think there's probably a third group so that's new, new entrants to the system. . Yeah. Uh, and the potential for the, you know, the obvious example being postgraduate research students.
I mean, they don't see. The imposition of impact because it's just, it's just there. I mean, so there, there is that, and you alluded to in your opening comments about your relationship with your supervisor, I still see that now. I mean, some supervisors in the system think, well, okay, okay, why, why do you wanna do this in an engaged way?
Mm-hmm. , let's just, let's just do your kind of usual contribution to knowledge you, you know, crack on three and a half years, let's get you outta the system. Do you know what I mean? Mm-hmm. , uh, and they're coming to me saying, What are the arguments you can give me, to take back to the supervisor to say there's a more, there's a more engaged way of doing this.
So I think that's, that's the other interesting dimension. The disruptive, if, like in the system is that th third group, uh, which is new entrants. Mm-hmm.Ged:
Yeah. That's fascinating. Actually. Let, I was, I was gonna go on to the, to the kind of next stage, but, um, you, what, what's that? What's that? Disruptions. What, what's happening in that space then?
Do, you know, give us a sense of where, where do you think it's going with those, those new entrants? Are we have, we got a lot more, almost impact, impact evangelists, uh, if we can call them that.Rick:
I don't think I would call them that actually, just, just because I don't think they see themselves in that kind of space.
You know what I mean? So I, I think I've done, I've done a lot, uh, of training with postgraduate research students, mainly in the sciences, mainly in the earth and environmental sciences, but also across different areas. Um, and I think they are, a lot of them are pragmatists, you know, uh, and they see the potential.
Of doing their work in a more engaged way. So when I do training with them, I always start with a, with a, with a kind of position statements, which, uh, is something I produced 10 years ago. So, uh, for a, a consultation from the National Coordinating Center for Public Engagement and, and it was called an engaged thesis.
So it basically just, it, it, it's a kind of provocation saying this is, this is what an engaged thesis looks like. Do you sign up to this or not? Uh, and then we have a debate about it, and then we have a vote on it. Uh, and I've, you know, collected the kind of voting over. Like, it must be six, seven years at least.
I mean, and it's almost 50 50. Yeah. As, as people see value in this notion of, of, of an engaged thesis that doesn't, obviously wed them to it in their research, but it just, it talks about the potential. So I always ask 'em, okay, could you do this in your own research now or would you be willing to consider it as a supervisor?
And it comes out about 50 50, which is kind of fascinating. It's pretty steady what I mean, right across the past. Um, so that gives you a kind, some kind of measure of, of what we're dealing with here. Yeah. Mm-hmm. But when you see what it means for them in, in terms of the research themselves, do you mean?
And how they might do it in a more engaged way. Then it gets really interesting because obviously they're now asking you very practical questions. Okay, how do I do this, uh, in a way that actually does meaningfully engage people? And how do I write this up in a way that, you know, is sensible at the end of the process and gets me, uh, gets me my doctorate at the end of it?
Um, and I think they're, they're much more open to those possibilities because they haven't got that kind of initial framing saying, this is an imposition of an agenda. It's much more about what could this research actually do and who could I involve in it who could make a real difference? And I think that's, that's the most positive way you can ask that question of them.Ged:
Yeah. So it's, it's really about them doing the research in the very best way that they feel. Um, yeah. Is appropriate. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. That's great. Um, I wanted to kind of move on to kind of the, on our next discussion topic, so this is almost like a verbal literature review, so , um, . So what's your, what's your take on, on reading literature, uh, around almost the sector's view and, and we'll, We'll keep it UK focused.
Mm-hmm. cuz we said that's what we do. Um, so yeah. What, what, what do you think the literature said about, uh, the impact of impact?Rick:
Yeah. So I obviously had a little bit of a think about this before , uh, before we chatted. I mean, so, so I think. . I think the literature comes in lots of different forms as the first thing I would say.
So we, we get that kind of classic peer reviewed publication, the primary literature, research literature, um, and that says certain things. I think we also have a lot of kind of secondary and gray literature in this space, which is really interesting. Mm-hmm. , um, . And I think when you then start to look at who's writing this
Uh, so we've obviously got academic researchers. We have this relatively new group of professional practice in this kind of space. You know, public engagement professionals and impact professionals, uh, in this kind of space. And then research funders themselves write about this as well. And sometimes there's collaborations between, uh, those different groups.
So I think if you look at it in that sense, in the more rounded sense, okay. Literature is, is, is, is a really big thing in this kind of context, I think. And it's fascinating once you go beyond the primary literature, which is what I'm trying to get at there. Do you know what I mean? Because I think there is, there is this kind of, um, issue about, you know, generally about the marketer marketization of higher education more generally and the critique of that, uh, which is very strong.
And I think the impact agenda gets rolled into that. At some degree, I think that's justified in some degree. I think that's a bit unfortunate because it defines impact in quite a limited way for me. So impact has never just been about economic or commercial enterprise for me, it's always been a much bigger, much bigger question.
So I think there is, there is the kind of negative re negativity around this kind of agenda and I think it, it tends to focus particularly on what I consider to be a lack of organization or cultural change in this kind of space. Mm-hmm. . So we know there are problems with, with, uh, you know, precarity, we know there are problems with workload in this kind of space and we know there are issues around prioritization in higher education.
So those are three things I think we're gonna talk about a little bit further on in the conversation. So I'll just, I'll just flag them here. So that's, that's one really interesting kind of area to, to look at. And the other one I think is, is around obviously practical guidance. There's a lot of practical guidance here.
How do you do impact better? Do you know what I mean? So there's a lot of kind of practical guidance and more and more of that seems to be written by impact professionals, which is really interesting. So they're, they're moving into this kind of space in a really interesting way. So that's really good. Um, I think there's also work done on.
The, the underpinning of the peer review system, if you like, that the around allocation of funding, uh, and how it's, how it's, uh, how it's looked at, I mean, reviewed and the quality kind of things. I think that's really interesting. Uh, and then the final two, one is around cultural and organizational change in higher education more generally.
do you know what I mean, and how do we do that in a way where impact, uh, becomes more, much more integrated? And then the final one is, is this very kind of practical perspective, which. All that impact Case study database, you mean? So you can go and look at what's been done and, and try and unpick it and see well, okay, Whent there really good stuff in here.
So there's this, it's, it's a really interesting set of different, and there's probably another, uh, group that I've, I've not thought of, but I mean, but those, those are things I think are really fascinating about this kind of. So it's all these different perspectives on what is still a relatively new thing.Ged:
Yeah. Um, it, it's, it's interesting that you picked up the, the, the databases of impact case studies being a rich reser research resource. Um, because obviously you kind of almost, um, you know, I, I spend a lot of time. going through that, both from a, from a practitioner point of view. Mm-hmm. . Um, and, uh, and actually, you know, I published with others on what, you know, what's the difference between high and low scoring Yeah.Uh, case studies in, in:
And I kind of think, you know, I certainly reacted as an author kind of going, do we need more of that? Mm-hmm. You know? Yeah. It hasn't, hasn't almost this, this argument been rehearsed and rere rehearsed and rere rehearsed and regurgitated enough times and it felt like, um, it felt like just, yeah, for me it felt like just wasted words.
so I, I should point out, I didn't review that paper just to say. But you, you're right. I think there are there. There are, there are plenty of critiques out there. do you know what I mean? I think in a way, one of the things which is kind of fascinating is, is thinking a little bit forwards and saying, okay, what, what, what would be different?
I mean, if we, if you know that, that might be something you could put at the end of the paper and say, okay, this is where we've got to, we've done this twice. What, what does it like next time round.Ged:
Mm-hmm. . And I think there's some, there's some really nice, uh, there's some really nice thoughts coming out there, which hopefully will be, will be taken up in, um, REF whatever year it is.Um,:
Um, I, in the coalition government select, uh, The coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the UK that came into power in 2010. Hmm. Um, so while, while the, the debates were still happening about whether impact was going to become part of our research assessment process and, um, He was interviewed after, after leaving government by the Institute for Government, you know, as part of their series of, um, interviews with ministers that they call Ministers Reflect.utside the UK may forget that:
His officials had agreed a 10 to 15% cut in the science budget. So again, to explain for people, uh, beyond the UK the science budget is essentially where all of the funding for research comes from, whether that's arts and humanities or uh, or chemistry, which was my discipline, uh, and all the others in between.
Um, now, He, the interview talk, he talks in, uh, in his interview about how we used the political back channels to say, if the first thing I do is Minister for Universities and Science is to cut the capability of doing science and arts and humanities and all the others, then I'll never be able to get the sector on board with what we're trying to do.
Mm-hmm. any. He argued that, as I said, through the political back channels with George Osborne, the Chancellor. And uh, he said, uh, you know, so this was all happening over a weekend. And he came in on the Monday morning and said to his officials, start preparing for a flat cash settlement. And they went, but we've already agreed 10 to 15% cuts.
And, um, little, a little later that morning, the confirmation from the Treasury came flat cash for, um, for science, for the science budget with the criteria that impact was part of research assessment. So, so we do have to hold our hands up in the UK and go, actually, it maintained research at the level, you know, cash level.Mm. Uh, that it was prior to:
Um, you know, 15 or 20 years ago when we were doing the research, that might have led to that impact. Um, so I think, you know, the, the good outcome from, from REF 2014 was actually some additional funding, and I firmly believe that some of the things like the industrial strategy money, which was additional to the science budget at at the time, post 2015, Was as, was as a result of, of impact.
So we, you know, we do have to recognize that and say, you know, maybe say thanks for it if we're, um, if we're positive towards impact. And if we're, if we're not positive towards impact, at least say phew. Um, you know, I've been able to do the amount of research that I used to be able to do.Rick:
Yeah, I think it's a really interesting perspective.
I suppose the, the other way to look at it was how much of that money was actually spent. To support the generation and evidence of impact, because I'm pretty sure it wasn't 10 to 15% of the science budget. .Ged:
Well, yeah, there, there is that, I mean, the, the cost of actually doing the exercise, I don't think anybody's ever really mm-hmm.
um, really come up with a good answer for that. Um, and, and where we find that money from, um mm-hmm. , because usually. . Usually the things we have to do extra in relation to research actually comes from our teaching income, doesn't it? ?Rick:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean it's, it's an interesting, it is an interesting question. . And how do you then balance those things up?
I mean, cuz that, that is a very lively question, which I was kind of alluding to a little bit earlier of that kind of organizational cultural change. Do you actually steal it from teaching, uh, or do you embed it within the research, or do you add a third category and say, actually there's another activity here, therefore let's re-look at everybody's workload and see where everything fits within this kind of balance.
And I don't think. . I don't think that conversation has really been bottomed out in any kind of consistent way, but it is a really interesting question to ask is how do you actually get the workforce to do this kind of stuff in a sensible way.Ged:
Yeah. I was having conversations with another colleague, uh, a little while ago.years. You know, I joined in:
Because we, you know, we keep seeing the same challenges and, and maybe just trying the same solutions over and over again, which is Einstein's, uh, definition of madness, isn't it? ?Rick:
Well, I mean, I did some work crickey it would've been. 2017 to 2019. So around that kind of time, which, which was to try and think about workloads for, for impact.
Mm-hmm. , uh, and as you can imagine, , it's not a particularly easy piece of work to be done. Um, and it wasn't implemented at the end of that process because it was just seen as too difficult. Uh, it's too difficult to actually grasp this nettle. in any way that's consistent. So that's partly cuz we just have different academic practices across an org, large organization about how workload is thought through mm-hmm.
uh, and then it's about, okay, how do you actually allocate a number of days to generate a, a really high quality impact case study. Yeah. That was the context. And that's, that's not an easy conversation, but it's, it's an interesting one to try.Ged:
Yeah, absolutely. We have um, I have colleagues from, um, different schools that map to the units of assessments, uh, within REF.
What are they doing in School X? You know, they're giving their case study authors time. I have to do it, or, or are they not? And that, that, that's actually, you know, doing the writing up, although it takes a bit of time and just like writing a paper takes a bit of time. Mm. It it's the doing of the work that actually takes the majority of the time, isn't it?
And we, you know, we, we haven't even thought of how to, how to really do that. And, um, you know, I think, I think there's another conversation about that, uh, uh, about that work that didn't. I didn't manage to go anywhere with Yeah. Your institution. The other kind of final point I wanted to make is, um, you know, we've just finished our second Research Excellence, uh, Framework and, uh, and RAND were, uh, contracted to do, uh, the evaluation report for it.
And I was reading that, um, a couple of weeks ago in, in prep for this, uh, for this episode. And it. It was interesting, they pointed out that, um, there was a real strong view in the, in the respondents, and I can't remember the details, but it was, uh, it was quite a high number of respondents was that the Research Excellence Framework has a, has a negative impact on research and, and research culture.
and then they asked the same respondents what impact has as REF had on your research and your research culture. And everybody said it hasn't had any . So is it, it was interesting for me in terms of how do I, you know, how do we think through that? Is it is, is the negative effect only happening to others?
Mm-hmm. who didn't respond to that survey.Rick:
So, . It's, it's fascinating, isn't it? I think there's a lot of, there's a lot of smoke and mirrors in this kind of space. Hmm. That's the thing, is what, what that takes is towards and what is actually, actually happening. . And I think one of the things which I've found, which is, is still a bit of a challenge across the sector is, is as say that organization and culture has not quite caught up mm-hmm.
uh, with what's required to genuinely do excellent impact. Yeah. So, um, you find yourself with this kind of misalignment. I mean, and, and it's in obvious places. Do you know what I mean? So, , is there a plan? ? Yeah. Most people have got a plan, but you know, it can sit at an institutional level and it doesn't tend to, to drip down into, you know, into the actual workforce.
I mean, so there's, there's always that in that little bit of kind of misalignment, I think, between what academics do on a daily basis and what institutional strategy does. I think that's across the sector, do you know what. I mean, uh, and simply asking people to write a justification for, for an application for internal money.
It's amazing how nobody uses the institutional strategy to, to justify what they're doing. And you're like, well, Come on. It's there. It's there. You know what I mean? Uh, so there's a really obvious starting point. I mean, so having, having a, having a, a genuine impact plan that has some, you know, alignment to a specific area of work.tle discussion we had, do we [:
Um, so giving people time and, and funding to do this kind of work. Now that's either through. Uh, you know, applications for external funding or it's some form of internal funding as some kind of slicing off of QR as, as you should take from the previous re results.Ged:
I'll just come in there to say that QR or quality related funding that forms one strand of the dual support for research in the UK is very briefly explained in the she notes.
Sorry to but in. Please go on.Rick:
But you know, some kind of time and money for doing it. Development and opportunities for progression. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. So you do this well and you can move on. Yeah. You know, and you can become a leader in this kind of space. So, you know, recognition of, of excellence in this space is really interesting.
And just as a really simple example of that, I mean, I do a lot of work supporting promotion cases. I did a lot of work when I was head of school doing that, you know what I mean? And it always amazed me, a how few people. , uh, used any kind of previous evidence of impact in their promotion case, which they clearly had and had done well.
Mm-hmm. . Um, and the second one was whether anybody who submitted to the previous REF do you know what I mean had their impact case study on their CV even.Ged:
It was just, wasn't there. It was like, I know, I know you have a four star case study . Why is it on your cv? Oh, I never thought put it on that. What it's, it's, it's, it's there.
You can put a link to it. It's . So, um, I think it's, it's all those things in a kind of nutshell. I mean, which you think, okay, all of this is fairly routine when you think about it actually. But if you put those things in place, then you start to create the conditions where people actually see value in this kind of work.les at the Open University in:
Do you know what I mean? And what that does is give you this enormous leadership capacity, which you didn't have before. Nine profs who all kind of get this stuff, really get this stuff, you know, and value. It is a different context. Where we were before, it's still a tiny proportion of the overall number of profs in the, in the university, but it's, it's, it's a chunk of people.
It's a number of people you can call on, uh, when you need to really start to think through this stuff sensibly. Yeah. Which means it doesn't all fall to me. It doesn't all come to me and go, okay, you are the only knowledge exchange professor in the university. It must, you must fix this problem . I said, actually, no, no, you want to go and speak just, you know, X or Y over in there, in the different part of the university.
Because they're much more sensible than I'm on this particular issue. Yeah,Ged:
yeah. I mean that's a, that's a perfect example of John Kotter's Coalition for Change being formed, isn't it, with your nine colleagues. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, the other thing I kind of, um, Wanted to go into was, uh, was kind of, you know, are the negatives really because of the Research Excellence Framework?
Or are they actually because of people's reactions and behaviours as a result of the, uh, of the, of the, of the REF? So what, what, what's your take on that?Rick:
Um, I think it's fair to say that that research audits are not well loved to start with. Okay. So it's not like the RAE was well loved beforehand. Okay.
Uh, so people weren't dancing through the, uh, the academic aisles waving their, I love the RAE flags, uh, uh, for listeners overseas, that's the Research Assessment Exercise, which predated, uh, the Research Excellence Framework. Uh, but the, one of the biggest changes. Was, was that Introduc introduction of the impact agenda when we switched to, to the Research Excellence Framework.
So I think, I think you get, you get mixed up with all these different things coming in together. So there are, you know, genuine concerns about, uh, the way AC higher education is being governed in the UK, do you know what I mean, and, and whether we are moving to this kind of marketization, whether we already have, I mean mm-hmm.
it's, you know, it's, it's a kind of foregone conclusion. , there were real concerns. You've alluded to some of them before about research funding and whether that's gonna be maintained and how much of that is being hived off into the impact space? Those two things are real concerns. I mean, but they're not specific to the impact agenda.
Yeah. Mm-hmm. . So for me, the impact agenda is, is a set of possibilities. Uh, and that's the key thing for me. That's the reason why I see it as a positive thing. It's. You know, a, a whole set of possibilities about affecting positive change with groups of people who often haven't had the opportunity to have that kind of conversation with university lecturers in a kind of equitable way.
That's, that's the thing that drives me. That's the thing that gets me outta bed in the morning, says, okay, we need to go again, and I need to have that argument again with that professor told that this is, it's all a waste of time. Um, so yeah, so I think, you know, there is, there is, there are these kind of concerns.
I think, you know, there are. obvious concerns around, you know, that bigger political agenda and isolation of the UK do what I mean, which, you know, and then what that means for European funding, do what I mean, and all those kind of things all wrapped in together. Do what I mean? But to, to, to blame the impact agenda for all that.
It's just completely unfair to me. Do you know what I mean? Mm-hmm. , uh, so I see, I say it, I think, I think it's, it's a series of possibilities. Do you what I mean? And that's the way I would say to, to a, to a postgraduate researcher or anybody I work with. Do you mean. The, the one thing I add when I speak to postgraduate searchers is what type of researcher do you want to be?at type of supervisor do you [:
Yeah, I think that's a really great point. I mean, it, we, we have a, I've, I've used that si kind of similar question in different ways. You know, kind of you, what's your academic identity? What are the things you're plugging into the, um, to the whole mm-hmm. that is, that is right for you. Yeah. Um, you know, that, that for me is actually the definition of academic freedom, notRick:
Yeah. Yeah. Not that
kinda heart. Well, allied to that, you know, you often get the argument comes back. , it's just really difficult to do . Mm-hmm. , you know, well actually it's not . You just have to start with first principles and work it through it. And once you've done a whole research cycle, once in an engaged way, Most people don't go back, I think because they realize the benefits, uh, and they realize actually that they, they are one lovely, brilliant mind in this kind of process.
But actually once you start to, you know, devolve the problem to different minds, you find that there, there are lots of solutions elsewhere in the, in this, you know, beyond academia, which are fascinating and much more relevant actually in the space than we can come up with academics.Ged:
Yeah. And that chimes with.
Some of the feedback I've had from people who've, you know, the first time I've encouraged that, you know, they've gone off and actually had a stakeholder conversation. I'll use that word because we do, and other's debates around it at the moment and whether we carry on using that term, but it, you know, Not going into that debate, but, um, you know, they've come back from those conversations and said, that was the most interesting conversation I've had about my research in many a long time.
Yeah. Um, and you just think, you know that. No, no wonder you, you know, do you feel lonely with back, back within the academy when you're trying to find somebody else to talk to about your research? Yeah. When it's, you know, sometimes it might be easy to just go and talk to somebody outside who, you know, you've done your research around them so you've understood that they will be interested and will be interested from this perspective.Rick:
Yeah. I mean the, the worst case scenario is you, you have your own idea validated. Mm-hmm. . Yes, I was, I was right. I was right all along. I mean, that's the worst case scenario, right? So, uh, yeah. But chances are that, that you'll always have something added to that kind of conversation. Yes. And I think that the other thing is when you, when you do it again, obviously, you start to build those partnerships mm-hmm.
and you find, you start to look for other issues and, and, and your agenda. Actually shift and morph in really interesting ways that you didn't expect it to. Mm-hmm. , you gotta be open to that, obviously .Ged:
Absolutely. Looking at, looking at academia and, and my time in it. I think one of the hardest jobs, um, I think I've thankfully not had, but have seen people have is as head of school, um, which you've had.
Um, so I wonder if you could tell us about that period and how you've managed to try and make sure that for the colleagues that. Were in your school at the time that they have a positive experience of impact if they want to build that into their academic identity. What are the kinds of things you did to, to try and give that, uh, a positive, uh, cultural aspect?Rick:
Yeah, again, I, I, I don't think any of this is rocket science, but it is, it is just getting your head round, accepting that there are different types of academic work, uh, and they're all valid. Looking at the possibilities of what we did as a, as a school. Uh, and again, I was, I was lucky to take over a school that was already quite engaged, uh, before I started.
But to be fair, that's one of the reasons why I chose that school in the first place to go into, because for, for various complicated reasons, I did have that choice. Um, so we already had, for example, a, a flood plain meadows partnership. Which had been going for 20 years by the time I took over as Head School.
Um, and had been doing wonderful work in that kind of space. So it was just a case of actually recognizing that and celebrating it. Okay, so how do we celebrate that kind of work in really obvious ways? So, um, That, that's part of it. It's just celebrating excellence when you see it, recognising and celebrating it.
Um, I think it's about reducing precarity in that kind of space because the reality is, I think that one of the issues in this, in this space is you have a lot of people on short term contracts and whether that's a greater proportion than you have in in other parts of academia is a, an interesting argument can be made.
But just actually doing the work to secure people permanent contracts. Is another thing, um, getting people promoted in that kind of space and saying, okay, let's have a look at your CVs. Do you know what, I mean we, we've got these four profiles at the Open University. You can go through teaching, you go through teaching research and go through, uh, research on its own.
You can go knowledge exchange on its own, and obviously you can vie between them a lot. So just looking at, at the possibilities of people's profiles right across the piece and saying, actually this, this looks like a knowledge exchange case to me. So let's, let's see if we can get you through there. Uh, and seeing people being successful there.
So that's partly about, obviously mentoring the case through the actual application process, but it's also about seeing the possibilities of where they could go, which would fill a gap that would take them into, into that kind of space where they get their next promotion. Um, and I, I've head of school for three years, but actually for weird reasons, I did four promotion rounds.
I mean, I think we had like 20 people promoted through the school through that kind of process. Was it three or four new chairs? Yeah. Through that process. And that's just through sitting down and having sensible conversations with individuals and saying, let's do the hard yards now. I mean, this might be a difficult conversation to start with, but trust me, we will get you to the next level.
But we have to have that sensible conversation about where you are now. Do you have the evidence right? You need that gap plugged. Okay, how do we do that? Yeah. So that there's, once you've done that, a couple of times, people start to trust the process, you mean? Mm-hmm. And it becomes this kind of positive, uh, virtuous circle basically.
You know, when I came in as head of school, I was a social scientist leading a science school. You know what I mean? I said to them, do you really want this? Yeah. . . But I think to be fair, I mean having done that work and they could see that I was willing to do the work with them to support them. That's really what it comes down to.
It's that kind of leadership capacity building. Do you what I mean in this kind of space and saying, okay, we need knowledge exchange leaders as much as we need research leaders as much as really teaching leaders and. We could go along about the teaching leadership thing and how te teaching isn't always recognised in the way it should be in academia as well.
That'd be another whole podcast, but do you know what I mean. But it is about just saying it's not just research. Yeah. Different types of academic work all have value for this, for this school and for this institution. Uh, and once you get people to, to actually buy into that, it's, it's quite straightforward actually.Ged:
I mean, I, I, I'm making this sound really simple, , which of course it's not do you know what I mean, but I think there are simple things that can be done. And it is, it is. A lot of it's in that aspirational culture. Mm-hmm. Yeah. You need to make knowledge exchange, engage, research, aspirational, and say, look, you, you're really clever people.
Yeah. And you can work with other clever people and you can solve problems. Do you know what I mean? And what can I do as your head of school to help you to do that?Ged:
Yeah, I mean, when you talk about, yes, it's simple to describe, and then you said the hard yards to actually sit down and find the time and, um, and focus in on that individual that you're talking to and, you know, making sure that they, you know, they.
Properly feel like they're getting your attention thought, um, and, and deep reflection actually, that that takes a lot of emotional energy as well as brain energy, doesn't it?Rick:
That may explain why I only did head of school for three years. . Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, it, it does, you mean? But I think it in every single promotion case I did, uh, with people to support them.
The hardest meeting was the first one. Always the hard, it's always the hardest one because you, you're either telling people that this isn't quite there, do you know what I mean, or you're, you are asking people to move stuff around the case where they don't feel that's the thing they want to do. do you know what I mean, or you're saying you're two years away.
Do you know what I mean, but we will get you there. Do you know what I mean this, that's the hardest conversation you can have. And once people have gone away and reflected on that, in every case, they would come back. Sometimes it would take them a couple of days. Sometimes it would take 'em two weeks, but they would come back and say, okay, I've thought about this.
and what you're saying is sensible. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. And I trust you . Uh, so let's give it a go. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. And um, yeah, I got everybody through that I started withGed:
So we've been. We've talked around a number of things and it's probably time looking at the, the clock. Mm-hmm. the wheel to, we ought to wrap up and I'm sure our listeners are probably thinking well, yeah, I've had enough now.
Um, so may maybe, if we can try and, uh, maybe sum up, um, where do you think the UK is at the moment in terms of the impact that impact has had on its research culture? What, is there anything you'd like to offer as a summation?Rick:
I think, I mean the, I suppose were the fascinating thing when we started this conversation about having, you know, having this con, you know, discussion about impact.
It, it did start from, from a, a period of reflection for myself and a couple of colleagues, uh, where we put together this PhD project on the impact of impact. Uh, and the big things I think we were really interested in. , one of which was around value and quality. Yeah. So do we really understand value and quality, do you know what I mean, in this kind of space?
Uh, and I think we have a much better idea, obviously now than we did before. Um, but there are still these kind of odd gaps and I, I gave you that classic example impact case study. It doesn't appear on people's cv, you know, when you've got a four star case study and it's worth, you know, half a million quid.
Um, How's that now ? Mm. It's not seen as value. Do you know what I mean? So there's kind of, there's these kind of, you know, tensions and, and gaps in the kind of ideas of quality and value I think is interesting. Um, this kind of introduction of, of if you like a, a new area of work in academia, the impact space.
Do you know what I mean? And who then works in that kind of space, I think is fascinating. Do you know what I mean so, um, Impact professionals on understanding their work and how they fit into this kind of space. And it's obvious to me from what I've seen that as say some of the things we've talked about, you know, greater precarity, part-time jobs, entry level jobs, I mean, um, whether that really is.pace. Now, uh, who started in:
And we're gonna have this another, another argument, , for the next two, three years about what the next one looks like. You know what I mean? And what does that, what does that look like? And one of, one of the really interesting areas, I think, Could be introduced. And it was discussed a bit, you know, before 2021, was this idea of institutional case studies.
Mm-hmm. , as well as, you know, individual case studies sitting within units for assessments. What would that look like? That would be fascinating to start to have those kind of conversations about what an institutional case study would look like. So those are kind of three things I'm interested in. Mm-hmm.
um, You know, if, if we, if we manage to get a good PhD candidate in, do you know what I mean? Um, and, and they take off. They could, they could choose a completely different area. So we, we are not gonna impose that on, but the, it is, it's an interesting kind of, uh, set of issues to start with and say, okay, where could you go in two or three years with, with, uh, with PhD research in this kind of space?Ged:
Yeah, I'm really hoping, um, that the, the PhD, you, first of all, you either get some really brilliant candidates and that they, they come through your selection process and uh, uh, and it is a project that kicks off, um, in October, hopefully.Rick:
Fingers crossed. Yeah. Really looking forward to that.
So, fingers crossed it, it does happen. I think for me, you know, kind of summing up, um, I'll come back to kind of my first point, which was, you know, philosophically I think. Personally, I think this is what universities are for actually, that we've, um, you know, there might be, there might be a narrative in the literature that it's kind of almost a, a third way and, and all sorts of things for, for universities.
But actually I think for me it's the first way this is, mm, this is what, this is what they're really for. Um, through whatever discipline. You know, you are aligned with or want to be aligned with, you know, it doesn't matter. I think the, you know, there is the, there is the almost, you know, reminding people of the kind of pragmatic, um, defense of, uh, of academia that that impact allows, you know, that it, it does have that purpose and it does have an engagement with, with the world beyond the university door, and that it does, uh, it does change it.
For the better, hopefully. Um, mm-hmm. , there are, there are examples of research change in the world in the opposite direction. And, and, and that's, uh, that's unfortunate. Um, but he is part of, you know, almost the negotiated way that the impact happens. Um, I think for me the, you know, the pandemic showed that, you know, engaged research and engaged academics really does lift the reputation of the sector and has lift lifted the reputation of the sector.
Although I do acknowledge that some people who've been brave in that space to be out there and, um, and saying their views based on the research that, that they're doing right now. Mm-hmm. , uh, about COVID has led to, led to them receiving some kind of negative press from, you know, maybe social media trolls. And, uh, but you know, in, in a, in a, in a sense, that will always be the case.
There will always be people who will disagree with you, whether you are only talking within the academy or talking beyond it too. Um, and I think, I think that's, you know, that, that. A really important message, hopefully to, to lead on. And I think it, I think it also buys into your, your research message about engaged research is that, you know, we're all humans together and we need to talk to each other, to, to deliver the
Yeah, I think that's a, that's a lovely way to finish . Yeah.Ged:
Rick, thank you so much for a really interesting chat. I'm, I'm kind of hoping as I said that that PhD project, uh, is, uh, does start off because I'm looking forward to some really interesting conversations in the future. So thanks very much for your time and, um, uh, and say bye to the listeners for me.Rick:
Yeah. Goodbye. Thank you.Intro:
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