December 15, 2015, by Emma Thorne

Beyond counting the edges

Paul Crawford, Professor of Health Humanities in the School of Health Sciences and Director of the Centre for Social Futures at the Institute of Mental Health, discusses why we need to move towards a more compassionate research culture in Higher Education.

It is important that research does not become merely an elite activity for the few in Higher Education. To avoid this there needs to be a substantial reframing of what it means to be active in research and a robust shift to developing an inclusive and compassionate culture of curiosity and enquiry in Higher Education. To do so, emphasis needs to be placed on both research and scholarship, recognising that evidence and knowledge development is everyone’s business and that we need to be much kinder to all contributors.

Rather than follow a hierarchical (pyramid) model of what is valued in research with the business end of writing high quality papers and achieving grant income as the ‘winning zone’ and everything short of this the ‘losing zone’, perhaps we should consider what can be called an Orbits Model in research and scholarship whereby we encourage our higher education institutions to value equally the contribution of:

  • qualitative as much as quantitative research – evidence orbit
  • non-empirical scholarship and theory development – knowledge orbit
  • administrative and practical support to advance capacity for research and scholarship activity – administration orbit
  • network and partnership development with key stakeholders – connections orbit
  • translating research into practice – application orbit
  • sharing knowledge and informing practice – education orbit
  • research publications and communications – dissemination orbit
  • policy and governance development – policy orbit.

Thus, the different, important aspects of research and scholarship could be more productively viewed as non-hierarchical orbits of activity rather than as points in a narrow vertical process with only the people behind ‘top tier’ funded projects or high impact publications being of value.

Through appreciative working between staff in or across different orbits, recognising each other’s valuable and different contributions, a more compassionate culture of curiosity may be sustained in our universities. Isn’t it time to move away from merely counting the edges of individuated research productivity in terms of key deliverables such as publications and grant applications which, arguably, erodes the joy of research and scholarly engagement? The notion of research ‘orbits’ may help a little in emphasising the importance of teamwork and integration in developing research and scholarship.  In so doing, the ground for outputs-driven, high profile research and scholarship may be marked as best supported in team effort rather than purely individual achievement.

Posted in research