So rich were the experiences and demonstrations of Research Uptake best practices within the global research enterprise at INORMS2014, that I returned with confidence that universities in developing countries have the ability to build capacity to move research from policy into practice.
Comments on the keynote INORMS 2014 addresses
In line with the theme ‘Enabling the Global Research Enterprise from Policy to Practice’ the keynote addresses delivered by seasoned experts included, amongst others:
Policy Trends and Opportunities in NIH Research, and
Towards new Horizons
These keynote talks set the tone for all the other sessions and were delivered by: Dr. Sally Rockey, Deputy Director for Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health; Lauritz Holm-Nielsen, President and CEO, Euroscience; Dr. Brad Fenwick, Senior Vice President Global Strategic Alliances, Elsevier; and Dr. Chad Gaffield, President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Their addresses focused on policy trends in research management, including good practices, sharing of experience of what has worked in the Research Uptake arena, and challenges and opportunities facing research management in the future.
“The big question raised was whether structures should be centralised or decentralized”
A recurring theme was the perception that research management is an increasingly complex enterprise that is hypercompetitive, provokes institutional expectations, has multiple points of potential failure and features increasing reporting and performance management procedures and metrics. However, top of mind was the notion that “a smooth sea does not make a good sailor”, and that facing these challenges swiftly creates platforms for better research management.
While performance metrics were covered in some detail, what was particularly noteworthy was that new performance indicators include international and inter-disciplinary collaborations that produce better science, and yield better results.
The DRUSSA sponsored Research Uptake workshop
The purpose of the workshop was to explore the subject of “Getting Research into use by policymakers and practitioners: Research Uptake Management – a new Research Management specialization. The fifty participants, of whom almost half were from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and more than half from Europe, North American and Australasia, were treated to demonstrations of good practices in Research Uptake in a developed country university (York University, Canada) and developing country universities (University of Ibadan, Nigeria and University of Buea, Cameroon). The workshop concluded with panelists from six DRUSSA universities (Mauritius, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria) leading the discussions about the emerging role and increasing importance of research uptake management (RUM) for their research-oriented universities.
“it is possible to successfully integrate Research Uptake into the research cycle in order to achieve maximum impact.”
There was a fascinating line up of sessions within the thematic strands of ‘Policy, Practice and Performance’ in the main conference. These unfortunately overlapped, but I was particularly interested in the following sessions:
How Research Administration can make the World a Smaller Place: from strategy to reality.
The focus in this session was on institutional relationships, and how Research Uptake practitioners can be relationship ambassadors who foster institutional collaboration and partnerships – a trend emerging globally. Developing bilateral institutional relationships and international research collaboration is seen as a necessary response to 21st Century challenges.
Research Management in Low and Middle Income Countries – Research Funders Working together to Strengthen Capacity.
Here it was noted that SSA research capacity strengthening efforts seem fragmented, and in response alliances of funders such as ESSENCE are making efforts to enhance alignment and partnership. Their position is that the research management landscape should be used to improve researcher and research manager capabilities, provide inter-organisational linkages and learning, strengthen national systems of innovation and provide access to management of academic and grey literature. Five keys to research project costing were also outlined.
Structuring your Research Office for Success and Efficiency.
In this session the specific factors that can impact the structure of a research office were identified. These include, size and location, evolution of electronic systems, risk tolerance by superiors and devolution of academic management. The impact factors to consider are dependent on senior administration, institutional technology adoption, the institutional delegation culture and the volume of research operations. The structure of operation also depends on culture, character, scale and resource. The big question raised was whether structures should be centralised or decentralised. Best practice has shown that a combination of both leads to more effectiveness and efficiency. However, at least every five years the skillsets of staff and the office structure in general should be assessed. The success of the research office will be defined by the focus and attitude of the staff hired.
Remaking Research Administration in the Digital Age
Notes: We are in a period of deep transformational change with digital technology becoming increasingly mainstream, so there is a concurrent need for awareness of the the need for institutions to re-examine their knowledge mobilisation models.
Processing Research Administration – what does it take to make it work?
Notes: Here, the effects of the external and internal environment where highlighted. For change to occur there must be: an institutional appetite: change must be seen as a university wide initiative; the right skills and knowledge on project teams; consultations and time to deliver outcomes; engagement with the community maintained; and recognition of the importance of communication and change management.
Building Research Network Capacity within Institutions, and Managing Institutional Research Intelligently – Using Social Network analysis to Inform Research Management and Community Building’.
The theme of this presentation was that management should take a proactive role to foster organic growth of research impact capacity, with an emphasis on group level capacity, and ensuring the availability of literature.
Prior to the main conference some participants from SSA institutions took part in a Funders Forum at the same venue. CASRAI, ORCID, Fogarty International and Welcome Trust were amongst the funders presenting at the Forum. Issues discussed centered on institutions collaborating with funders to clarify how research is achieving its aim while achieving value for money. Participants were made aware that as funders talk to each other there is a need to avoid duplication of research that is externally funded, and that strong collaborative teams with varied specializations are necessary to avoid such a scenario. There was a strong positive sentiment toward aligning research with national development plans, which should be the primary focus of partners in development. In light of this there were calls for high level strategies to: publish and disseminate research reports; standardize research reporting formats; set up information tracking systems; create transparency; share research information; and build administrative and management capacity. The Wellcome Trust, which is funding a major capacity-strengthening programme in SSA, would like to see research information effectively disseminated by institutions.
There is a wealth of research management knowledge and best practice in research institutions, which INORMS successfully showcases. By networking and collaborating, institutions can share experiences in research administration and management for mutual benefit. Overall it is refreshing to note that inserting Research Uptake Management as an emerging and exciting area of research management is on course and that it is possible to successfully integrate Research Uptake into the research cycle in order to achieve maximum impact.
V. A. Ankamah-Lomotey is Deputy Registrar,
University Relations, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana.