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3rd September, 2020

Responding to BEIS R&D Roadmap survey



Evelyn Wilson, Director TCCE

During Summer 2020, government department BEIS set out their R&D roadmap and opened a consultation asking for responses to the following set of questions about the future direction of research in the UK. The questions were as follows: 

  1. How can we best increase knowledge and understanding through research, including by achieving bigger breakthroughs? 
  2. How can we maximise the economic, environmental and societal impact of research through effective application of new knowledge? 
  3. How can we encourage innovation and ensure it is used to greatest effect, not just in our cutting-edge industries, but right across the economy and throughout our public services.  
  4. How can we attract, retain and develop talented and diverse people to R&D roles? How can we make R&D for everyone?
  5. How should we ensure that R&D plays its fullest role in levelling up all over the UK? 
  6. How should we strengthen our research infrastructure and institutions in support of our vision? 
  7. How should we most effectively and safely collaborate with partners and networks around the globe?
  8. How can we harness excitement about this vision, listen to a wider range of voices to ensure R&D is delivering for society, and inspire a whole new generation of scientists, researchers, technicians, engineers, and innovators? 

The following is a summary of our responses to the roadmap at TCCE. Given the nature of our work as connectors between Higher Education and the arts and cultural sectors, we largely urged for better support mechanisms for both knowledge exchange and knowledge co-creation and highlighted the need to think differently about notions such as ‘bigger breakthroughs’ and ‘innovation’. We also indicated the need for a Diversity Concordat, similar to the Knowledge Exchange Concordat and/or for a Policy and Evidence Centre focussing on Equality and Diversity within Higher Education.

In response to Q1 on how to best increase knowledge and understanding through research we suggested the need for new mechanisms to support: better, more nuanced understanding of the Social, Cultural and Environmental impacts of research and greater interdisciplinarity and cross sector connectivity. We also wrote that universities could be encouraged to make industry relevant research, freely available or affordable, accessible and well signposted. We also asked that research councils would be encouraged to fund industry partners to engage more fully in collaborative research, We spoke of the need to recognise that ‘big’ means different things in different contexts and that even relatively modest interventions can have big impacts. We also emphasised the importance of supporting and developing greater diversity (gender, racial, social and economic) at all levels within the sector.  

In response to Q2 on maximising the economic, environmental and societal impact of research through effective application of new knowledge, we wrote of the need to encourage opportunities to better support applied research aligned to need. We also advocated models such as the ‘Researchers-in-Residence’ scheme that we developed in Creativeworks London to enable researchers to develop ‘pracademic’ skills. We encouraged recognition of the fact that sectors outside HE are in themselves deep and rich sources of knowledge. Creative organisations, including Arts Catalyst and Julie’s Bicycle, are conducting leading edge work on climate change and environmental sustainability. The potential for cross-sector learning and information sharing between research and the creative sector and other fields is great but needs greater support. We mentioned the need to encourage wider narratives, evidence and information around the potentials and impacts of research. Universities need to be better championed as knowledge holders and generators. Knowledge brokerage and translation is ripe for more diverse funding structures and strategies and other bodies responsible for public funding and/or innovation should also be encouraged to develop expertise in this field. We wrote that research councils might be further encouraged to work, either individually or through consortia, with non HE funding bodies in areas such as health and wellbeing, culture and society, climate emergency, digital transformations, sustainable economies, with close attention being paid to the knowledge flows arising. We proposed augmenting funding for Knowledge Exchange and HEIF funding for smaller specialist institutions.

In response to Q3 on innovation and ensuring it is used to greatest effect we advocated wider understandings and definitions of innovation, beyond indicators such as ‘growth’, especially pertinent given the findings of this Wellcome Trust report which indicates that Research Culture is prone to risk aversion. We highlighted the relatively recent emergence, as a result of Covid-19, of quick turn-around crowd-sourced approaches to sharing knowledge. We wrote that this could be further supported by encouraging better, more frequent dialogues between researchers and potential users of research. We again urged including a more diverse, representative and current range of industry advisors, reviewers and evaluators in the design, delivery and evaluation of research and innovation calls and initiatives. And we furthermore proposed that BEIS might better champion the role of research and knowledge exchange across other government departments. 

In our response to Q4 on how to attract, retain and develop talented and diverse people to R&D roles? How can we make R&D for everyone? We welcomed BEIS proposals for the R&D People and Culture Strategy and highlighted the need to deploy a diversity of leadership thinking and models. We highlighted Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity model and we suggested a ‘Diversity Concordat’ be developed to support universities, similar to the Knowledge Exchange Concordat.  We mentioned organisations doing work in this field including Sour Lemons. We cited articles including this piece on Neurodiversity  by Paula Graham-Gazzard who writes that ‘for innovation and excellence to occur, we should embrace a wider spectrum of mindsets and practices’ and this Harvard Business Review that says ‘innovation requires companies to include people and ideas ‘from the edges’’. We spoke of the need to reclaim and rediscover neglected or excluded voices. At TCCE, we refer to such  endeavours as ‘Widening the Register’. We suggest that more research around diversity in research is required. Ten broad conclusions about the state of the evidence base are highlighted in research undertaken by Sheffield University for the Wellcome Trust in 2017,  Whilst this study focuses on clinical and biomedical contexts, we might assume that there are wider parallels. We proposed that UKRI consider funding a PEC (Policy and Evidence Centre) or similar to lead and co-ordinate this work.

Responding to Q5 on ensuring that R&D plays its fullest role in levelling up all over the UK, we suggested increased partnership working with LEPS and local authorities citing initiatives e.g. South London Partnership and SELEP where universities play a key role. We cited the public library sector as an interesting model as many have innovated in response to reductions in local authority support. We wrote of the need to re-imagine what life-long learning could look like and suggested greater resources sharing between universities, businesses and wider communities. Konfer is an important new initiative operating in this space. Plans for new university buildings could accommodate local SMEs or charities. Universities often house arts centres as sites of learning and knowledge exchange and this might be further rolled out. We mentioned the need for more practical ‘know-how’ on working with universities and better awareness of mutually beneficial R&D looks like. We proposed small-scale collaborative funding schemes to support blue-skies, experimental and low-risk projects with universities, especially during Covid.19 when organisational resilience is such a big issue across so many sectors. Our recent Boosting Resilience project, funded by ACE had a cohort of 26 leaders from all arts sectors across the UK and may be seen as a useful model.  

In response to Q6 on strengthening research infrastructure and institutions in support of our vision, we suggested developing programmes to support and develop excellent leadership and knowledge development opportunities across the wider R&D ecology, including areas such as Knowledge Exchange and Public Engagement which can be regarded as lower in status than research and typically attract fewer developmental initiatives. We cited the importance of work of our peer organisations like NCCPE that helps universities connect with the public and, like ourselves, also provides opportunities for cross-institutional sharing and networking and Praxis Auril’s leading work in Professional Development activities. Again, we emphasised the need for a wider and more diverse range of voices across the whole spectrum of R&D leadership. Similarly to our colleagues in GuildHE, we also spoke of the importance of recognising and rewarding the role of small specialist HEIs and also Post 92 universities. We suggested that HEIF funds are augmented yet further to give all HE institutions, regardless of scale, access to this important funding stream recognising that even modest sums can have profound impacts. We also proposed an ‘Arts and Society Academy’, similar to The British Academy providing support, programmes and a hospitable networking and showcasing environment for a more inclusive and wider range of HE voices and institutions, and the partners they work with externally, as part of the ‘levelling up’ that also needs to happen within HEIs themselves.

Our response to Q7 on effectively and safely collaborating with partners and networks around the globe suggested firstly finding rapid ways to mitigate the disruptions caused by Brexit. We also suggested supporting networks, to bring people together around emergent areas of concern and opportunity. We suggested virtual rather than physical meetings where feasible. We also suggested greater facilitation of rapid sharing of research methods globally. As Covid-19 has amply demonstrated, working together globally, is becoming increasingly expected and desired. This spring we developed two rapid-fire, crowd-sourced publications  to share examples of good and innovative practice; Doing Arts Research in a Pandemic and Knowledge Sharing and Exchange in a Pandemic. These publications were turned around in a matter of weeks with 70 contributors from within and beyond the UK. We suggested that UKRI could play an important role in developing a ‘ready to go now’ communications strategy to support such initiatives. Similarly, researchers could be better supported to think about quick turn around approaches. The long-held holy grail in academia is that research is slow and that researchers must be ‘patient’. But in some circumstances, ‘fleet of footness’ and aptitude for risk is required, as we are seeing so powerfully now. We also suggested cross country development of international city/town networking initiatives around mutually beneficial themes, similar to work supported through the EU’s MEDIA programme.  

In response to Q8 on How can we harness excitement about this vision, listen to a wider range of voices to ensure R&D is delivering for society, and inspire a whole new generation of scientists, researchers, technicians, engineers, and innovators? we suggested the following: championing and investing in a raft of Public Engagement and Knowledge Exchange initiatives thereby amplifying the value, relevance and power of research as an absolutely crucial part of our lives and culture. We also signalled the importance of showcasing research outside conventional academic and publishing frameworks through models such as festivals. We proposed an annual ‘Green Festival’ that could generate significant interest around the UK and could involve every university. We also highlighted the importance of co-working spaces in which to bring together various wider communities of interest, in emerging fields such as AR. E.g Fusebox in Brighton. We suggested publishers make journal articles openly available at affordable rates similar to newspaper subscription levels. We urged a rethink of what a research career might look like and where it might exist. We also urged that alongside the inclusive definition of science outlined on P10 in the roadmap document, a greater range of examples and case studies from disciplines beyond the sciences is cited in all relevant publications. Finally, we suggested there is a role for broadcasters and online actors such as Youtube and proposed that Community Radio is another medium with great potential – and as yet very underexploited – resource for knowledge sharing.

 


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