Episode 8

Published on:

30th Aug 2023

(S5E8) The Future of Research Impact Culture

In our weekly Research Culture Uncovered conversations we are asking what is Research Culture and why does it matter? In this final episode of Season 5, Ged Hall, is looking at the future for research impact and how it fits into research culture. The episode is based on the responses of the international research impact community to the following questions:

  1. What one big change would you like to see in how research impact improves research culture in your country’s HE sector? 
  2. Considering this change who are the interested / relevant parties that need to be convinced to make it happen? 
  3. How are you trying to make that change happen within your country's HE sector? 
  4. How are you trying to make that change happen within your Institution or organisation? 
  5. What is your biggest fear for change in your country’s HE sector that would mean that research impact degrades research culture? 
  6. Considering this change who are the interested / relevant parties that need to be convinced to prevent this change happening? 
  7. How are you trying to prevent that change happening within your country's HE sector? 
  8. How are you trying to prevent that change happening within your Institution / Organisation?

Responses were collected through a Padlet which you can still access to do your own analysis in the spirit of Open Research.

The hopes were:

  • Research impact will be valued and recognised and for that recognition to be commensurate with the expectations placed on the sector by institutions, funders and research assessment exercises.
  • But rather than valuing the impact outputs we will value the process, as we must not create an impact or perish culture to go alongside the publish or perish one.
  • And this valuing of the process needs to keep in mind the purpose rather than becoming a navel-gazing exercise
  • There is enough resource (people, time and funding) to support impact from all disciplines and types of research and to do it well and that this should translate into all of a university's activities.
  • That the sector finally recognises that research and its impact is a team game and that it values and recognises all of those in the team.

The fears were:

  • That research impact will crowd out curiosity-led research.
  • Impact will be tokenistic and a box-ticking exercise and that the time to properly co-produce research and impact is not possible
  • That some disciplines / research with possibly less potential for impact may be defunded
  • The use of poor metrics to demonstrate impact and the potential for impact being introduced into more countries research assessment exercises
  • That research impact professionals won't have enough time to engage with the literature (on knowledge mobilisation) to inform their practice.

The episode then notes the ways that people are trying to realise these hopes and prevent these fears, which left the impression that there is more collaboration needed to really affect change at scale.

The episode ends with a call for action to reflect on whether more countries need a research impact professional body to be the conduit for this collaboration. Do you agree or disagree that research impact needs a professional body in your country / region? We'd love to know your views.

Organisations mentioned in the episode were:

Be sure to check out the other episodes in this season to find out more about how to ensure research impact has a positive effect on your research culture.

All of our episodes can be accessed via the following playlists:

Follow us on twitter: @ResDevLeeds (new episodes are announced here), @OpenResLeeds@ResCultureLeeds 

Connect to us on LinkedIn: @ResearchUncoveredPodcast (new episodes are announced here)

Leeds Research Culture links:

If you would like to contribute to a podcast episode get in touch: researcherdevelopment@leeds.ac.uk


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.


Hi, this is Ged Hall. And for those of you who don't know me yet, I'm an Academic Development Consultant at the University of Leeds.

This is the final episode in season five of the Research Culture Uncovered podcast. And in this season I've been looking at the effects of research impact on research culture. And for this final episode, we're focusing in on what are people's hopes and fears for the future in relation to research impact.

To do this, I've been trying to source contributions from across the worldwide research community in answering a series of questions. Those questions were what you hope the future will be and how are you trying to make that future real? And I also wanted to know what you fear the future could be. And again, how are you trying to prevent that negative future becoming real?

These are pretty common questions for anyone in anyone looking to have impact, whether that is from their research or from other activities because they're essentially, what's your goal? And once that is well specified, how are we going to make that happen whilst mitigating any negative consequences?

I'd like to thank everybody who has contributed, uh, to the responses to the Padlet that I created. I'm going to leave the Padlet up and fully open so you can have a look at it. Um, do your own analysis if, uh, if you're, if you're interested. Um, and really I'm looking to follow the practices of open research as discussed by my colleague Nick Sheppard in his series on open research. Um, I'll put a link to the playlist for episodes on open research in the show notes.

The majority of the responses on the Padlet were from the UK with the next highest being in Australia, followed by Canada and New Zealand, who were neck and neck. Also, the total number of responses wasn't huge, so I certainly wouldn't describe the analysis as statistically significant, but even so, there were some common themes in both the hopes and the fears that were expressed.

And I'm going to showcase those and highlight some of the ways people were hoping to achieve those hopes and prevent those fears. The first thing that really struck me from reading all of the posts on the Padlet was that nearly all of them mentioned that if we are to have a positive future for research impact, it really has to be valued and recognized in the sector.

And that recognition needs to be commensurate with the expectations that the sector has of achieving impact, whether that's, you know, funders, expectations, whether that's a research assessment's expectations, et cetera. And what do people mean by that? A lot of people juxtaposed it with how the sector values research outputs.

Some people also said that we are replicating this endpoint ob obsession by only valuing impact outputs. They pointed out that we really should be valuing, rewarding and supporting the process, not the actual impacts themselves. Although this wasn't explicitly said by anyone, this suggestion is likely to filter across to the research outputs too.

In some senses we should be working in a research and impact process focussed sector, not a results of those process processes focussed sector. Now I'm a cricket mad Lancastrian, and the fact that the Ashes have just finished as I'm recording this reminded me a little of some of the negative comments from commentators when the England captain said he wasn't in a results business, but an entertainment business.

I think this just goes to show the level of change we'd need. But when you think about it, I love cricket for the joy it brings me. I support Lancashire and England, and so that joy usually correlates with positive results for both of those teams. But even when my sides lose, I still what love watching great cricket for the England team under the current structure, it really is about the enjoyment and not the fear of failure.

To use another analogy, some of you may have listened to my conversation with Emma Spary in our first season, and in that episode I acknowledged that I love pies and it's the process of eating I love not the end result of there being no pie left. Translating these daft analogies back into research impact and research, we need people to enjoy those processes and maximize their potential in both realms.

Without the worry of failure and the potential judgments that may bring. But how to make that happen is a question I'm going to come back to later. However, one response in the hopes was that the sector should be less concerned about processes within research and its culture and focus more on the difference that, that it can make.

I do know this comment came from Australia where their two national assessments, one for research, and the second for engagement and, and impact have been, have been paused while they're redesigned, which means it sits in a very different context to the larger number of UK responses. But this response does remind us that we need to think of our purpose, not just our processes, as this could lead to more navel gazing.

And that's long been a critique of academia. The next most common hope was that there should be appropriate resource, both people and funding to enable deeper engagement with research impact. This was also expressed through there being more time and space for co-production to ensure we, both researchers and those we work with, more fully understand the problem and collaboratively produce appropriate solutions.

Others expressed it via a more inclusive approach to impact so that we aren't picking winners. So that's back to that results issue that I mentioned a few minutes ago where maybe some disciplines and research agendas are more likely to have impact. So we think, but might not actually be true. Another response widened this out to universities organizing themselves to deliver impact through all their knowledge work, both creating it, teaching it, et cetera.

And for this really to be the driver for investment decisions, which could create lasting cultural change. The final point that came up up on the hopes was that research and impact are recognized as a team game no matter what discipline we're talking about. And that all those involved in the team are again recognized and valued.

Moving over to the fears side of the coin, the most common fear was that research impact could crowd out cur, curiosity led or blue sky research. My impression from the phrasing of the responses was that this message came from both research impact professionals or practitioners, and researchers themselves, so there really doesn't appear to be a tug of war going on here between, um, different identities within the sector, which is great news for building those teams that I've just mentioned.

There was also a fear of box ticking and tokenism, which from those re responses related to how impact was assessed from the UK responses. How, which time and resource was available for meaningful co-production, which was another Australian response. Another respondent worried that research impact or more accurately the greater possibility of it coming from some disciplines.

And as I've said that may not actually be true, may influence investments leading to some disciplines or research areas being defunded. Obviously, those who make those decisions really need to remember the point about it being really difficult to pick winners in this space. There were also worries about poor metrics being used to assess impact and it becoming a stick to beat academia with.

With that response also resonating in some responses about not wanting to, not wanting to create a national assessment of impact. Um, and that was a response from Aotearoa New Zealand. There was also concern about the ev ever increasing costs of assessment. You know, that was definitely high on the UK responses.

There were also responses that worried about the potential lack of long-term commitment to research impact. You know, again, maybe, maybe following on from that box ticking exercise and that all institutions big and small were being assessed without any allowance for their very different contexts, such as regional differences and maybe different missions that they have.

And finally, one response really hit home. There was a fear that impact professionals may not be as research led as they could be due to time constraints. And I know I really try to avoid this in my own practice, but I also know from that practice how time consuming is to keep up with the latest papers, which really could be one of the big barriers for research impact itself.

The speed of change in research and in the context it is trying to influence can be really difficult for to keep up with both for us, within the research sector and for our external partners in those different contexts. So if we take a step back, it really seemed that there was a broad agreement on the nature of the different fears that were expressed just as there was in the hopes that were mentioned.

Now as most listeners are likely to work in academia in some form or other, and therefore live and breathe the sector's challenges, wherever you are in the world, these hopes and fears are all pretty familiar. So like me, perhaps deep in your heart, you were hoping to hear about some amazing ways of making the positive futures real and keeping those fears to your deep, dark nightmares.

This is where the story becomes slightly more disappointing. I'm afraid there wasn't a magic bullet in the many actions that people were taking. I guess that's what every researcher realizes after they've sat down with an impact professional. You know, they may have hoped that they have a magic wand and then realized that they don't.

But because I'm an optimist and because the, because I'm convinced that one person can begin the process of making a difference. There was a lot to take in and reflect on and ask myself, am I doing that? Could it help locally? Could I collaborate with them to amplify that action? And lots of other questions like that.

It really made me think. So here are the main things that people were doing. One. They were heavily involved in the conversations both within their institution and within their country's sector, to lobby for that ideal future and convince those with influence to take the action that was within their power.

Two, they were real spokespeople and champions and they looked for each and any way to affect change. Three. They responded to national consultations run by governments and funders, and repeated the messages in less formal ways, even if they risked sounding like a stuck record, but they were optimistic and doing what they could.

Four. They built platforms and processes to democratize knowledge and encouraged others to use them to reduce the burden of doing the work of impact. And five, they created new cross-institutional organizations to do that message amplification and those organizations have begun reaching out to other organizations in different countries with similar aims and objectives.

To pull this all together in one big collaboration.

Now, in my job, I spend a lot of time getting researchers to be as specific as possible with their hoped for impact goal so that they're then able to plan more effectively to hopely achieve that goal. To me, it felt like the responses do have pretty specific impact goals, if we can call them that. But that we are still iterating and refining the plan.

Now, that's not a surprise. We aren't just hoping to affect change at one university, nor indeed one country we are, and we probably have to aim to change academic culture across the globe. The reason I say this is say we probably have to is because academia is more interconnect, interconnected via strong social networks than most of the other industry sectors.

So if the change only happens in one country, will the status quo quo in the rest of the world eventually unwind that change? In fact, one correspondent noticed noted how alluring the status quo can be. and I know I have felt that universities and how they're organized and managed is not hugely innovative in my time in the sector, and that change seems to be more glacial than in other sectors.

This brings me to my big takeaway from the experience of reading those responses, and thanks again to everyone who contributed. We, that's all of us, you and all those listening. Need to move beyond providing each other with advice. That's usually what conferences do and probably what this co podcast has been doing.

We need to move beyond that to create more active and longitudinal collaboration. We need to do this to build enough momentum to affect change on such a log scale and managed to do all of our normal day jobs too. This is why I applaud organizations such as Research Impact Canada, Advancing Research Impact in Society from the US, African Africa Research and Impact Network, the UK University's Policy Engagement Network, and Vincula in Chile.

As well as Advancing and Evaluating the Societal Impact of Science, the AESIS network, who are all working together to amplify and do things that are impossible for their indi, for individuals in those organizations, or even the individual organization themselves. But that leaves loss lots of the world, including the UK, outside of that policy space.

Where individuals may be having to do all the heavy list lift lifting. So my question to leave you with listeners is, does your country need a research impact focused organization and what level of resource would it need to really drive change in your country and work with those organizations that I've mentioned to cement change in academia globally?

Personally for me in the, in the UK, I think the answer to that question is yes. I acknowledge we have Impact Special Interest Groups in our Association of Research Managers and Administrators or ARMA, and we have other professional bodies such as PraxisAur PraxisAuril that focuses on knowledge exchange.

But the, that particular focus on commercialization and innovation pathways doesn't cover the full range of impact that can arise from research. So I'd love to see an holistic research impact organization that is able to focus on all those pathways and is in able to collaborate with those international organizations I've just mentioned, to create that future we all hope to see.

I'd love to hear if other UK colleagues feel the same. And of course, wherever you are in the world, whether you think you need to do more to create, uh, uh, an organization, a group that is really active and can really work together to support and deliver that change.

Thanks for listening, but before I leave you to reflect on that question, I would love to hear your reflections wherever you are in the world. I wanted to say that next week we'll be re releasing a bonus episode. After that bonus episode, we'll be moving into season six of the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, which will be hosted by Emma Spary, my amazing boss.

She'll be taking a broader view of a range of topics that are important in research culture, that the focus seasons we have offered so far haven't been able to cover. So please engage with Emma's season. That will start on the 20th of September as we are moving to a fortnightly release schedule after the bonus episode.

I hope you have found my season interesting and thought provoking, and I'll hope to speak to you again soon.


Thanks for listening to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast. Please subscribe so you never miss out on our brand new episodes. And if you're enjoying the discussions, give us some love by dropping a five star rating and written review as it helps other research culturositists find us and please share with a friend and show them how to subscribe.

Thanks for listening, and here's to you and your research culture.

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About the Podcast

Research Culture Uncovered
Changing Research Culture through conversations
At the University of Leeds, we believe that all members of our research community play a crucial role in developing and promoting a positive and inclusive research culture. Across the globe, the urgent need for a better Research Culture in Higher Education is widely accepted – but how do you make it happen? This weekly podcast focuses on our ideas, approaches and learning as we contribute to the University's attempt to create a Research Culture in which everyone can thrive. Whether you undertake, lead, fund or benefit from research - these are the conversations to listen to if you want to explore what a positive Research Culture is and why it matters.

Unless specified in the episode shownotes, Research Culture Uncovered © 2023 by Research Culturosity, University of Leeds is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. This license requires that reusers give credit to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms. Some episodes may be licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0, please check before use.

About your hosts

Emma Spary

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I moved into development after several years as an independent researcher and now lead the team providing professional and career development for all researchers and those supporting research. I am passionate about research culture and supporting people. I lead our Concordat implementation work and was part of the national Concordat writing group. I represent Leeds as a member of Researchers14, the N8PDRA group and UKRI’s Alternative Uses Group.

Taryn Bell

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I work as a Researcher Development Adviser at the University of Leeds. My focus is on career development, with a particular focus on supporting funding and fellowships. I previously worked at the University of York as their Fellowship Coordinator, developing and growing the University's community of early career fellows. Get in touch if you'd like to learn more (T.L.Bell@leeds.ac.uk)!

Katie Jones

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I am a Researcher Development and Culture Project Officer at the University of Leeds, where I lead projects within the Researcher Development and Culture Team. My role involves managing projects that enhance the development of researchers and foster a positive research culture across the University and the higher education sector.

Tony Bromley

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I've worked in the area of the development of researchers for 20 years, including at the national and international level. I was lead author of the UK sector researcher development impact framework charged with evaluating the over £20M per year investment of UK research councils in researcher development. I have convened the international Researcher Education and Development Scholarship (REDS) conference for a number of years and have published on researcher development evaluation and pedagogy. All the details are on www.tonybromley.com !! Also why not take a look at https://conferences.leeds.ac.uk/reds/

Ged Hall

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I've worked for almost 20 years in researcher development, careers guidance and academic skills development. For the last decade I've focused on the area of research impact. This has included organisational development projects and professional development for individual researchers and groups. I co-authored the Engaged for Impact Strategy and am heavily involved in its implementation, across the University of Leeds, to build a healthy impact culture. For 10 years after my PhD, I was a consultant in the utility sector, which included being broker between academia and my clients.

Ruth Winden

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After many years running my own careers consultancy business I made the transition to researcher development leading our careers provision. My background is in career coaching, facilitation and group-based coaching, and I have a special interest in cohort-based coaching programmes which help researchers manage their careers proactively and transition into any sector and role of their choice.

Nick Sheppard

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I have worked in scholarly communications for over 15 years, currently as Open Research Advisor at the University of Leeds. I am interested in effective dissemination of research through sustainable models of open access, including underlying data, and potential synergies with open education and Open Educational Resources (OER), particularly underlying technology, software and interoperability of systems.