Module on the Researcher Development Concordat

This open-access development module explores the Principles of the Concordat and the resulting responsibilities for staff. The module serves to foster conversations that nurture a positive and inclusive culture in which researchers take responsibility for the development of their personal and professional practice. As role-related training, the module will be available to new and existing staff as needed, allowing them to refresh their understanding of the Researcher Development Concordat.

What kind of an organisation are you in the context of the Concordat?

A research-intensive university. We employ 920 staff on research-only contracts and 550 principal investigators (PIs) who are in receipt of grants. The primary beneficiaries of the Researcher Development Concordat at the University of Liverpool are those early in their research career, including postdoctoral researchers, research associates, research assistants and early career research and tenure-track fellows. However, we recognise that the benefits of the Concordat activities extend to other groups who actively engage in research within the University and who are expected to develop their research identity as part of their career progression. These include staff on teaching and research or teaching and scholarship contracts, clinicians, professional support staff and technicians.

What challenge were you trying to address with this initiative?

The Concordat sets out expectations and responsibilities of each stakeholder in terms of researchers themselves, their managers (PIs), employers and funders. It also articulates key principles for the employment; research culture and environment; and support and management of research careers. We therefore wanted to develop a clear and concise obligatory role-related training module that explains the Researcher Development Concordat Principles and resulting responsibilities for staff so that all the key Concordat stakeholders across the University could clearly see and understand how each principle is embedded into institutional practice.

What did you do and how does this align with the Principles and keywords you have selected below?

We produced an open-access Researcher Development Concordat module which aims to provide an understanding of the Concordat, and associated responsibilities for principal investigators and research staff. The module is regularly updated and is made up of seven sections that provide information and resources on:

  • What is the Researcher Development Concordat?
  • The Three Principles.
  • Who is the Researcher Development Concordat for?
  • What does it mean for me as a researcher?
  • What are my responsibilities as a PI or manager of researchers?
  • Liverpool’s Statement of Expectations.
  • Researcher Development Concordat at Liverpool.

A brief quiz at the end reinforces understanding.

What were the challenges in implementation and how did you resolve them?

The development of talented people, and their ideas and skills, is critical to the success of our universities’ research and innovation system. At Liverpool, we are mindful that our research and innovation workforce must be supported to have dynamic, diverse careers that drive societal and economic benefits.

Inspiring, supporting and developing the diversity of people who work, or aspire to work, in research and innovation is integral to our researcher development practice. We have held the HR Excellence in Research Award since 2011, and were one of the first signatories to the 2019 revised Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers. We published an annual update and action plan to meet our concordat obligations, setting out how we will implement the concordat across the institution. We are also a signatory to the Technician Commitment, which is a cross-sector initiative to improve the visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability of technical careers in higher education.

A lack of understanding of the benefits of being signatories to the Concordat can on occasion limit the opportunities and initiatives that researchers at all career levels engage with. Therefore, this development module, the first of its kind in the higher education sector, aims to further enhance the environment, career and professional development of researchers, managers of researchers and professional colleagues supporting our researcher community. It serves to foster understanding and conversations that nurture a positive and inclusive culture in which researchers take responsibility for the development of their personal and professional practice.

How did you evaluate the impact of your initiative?

The success of the module is evident in the following notable outputs and outcomes:

  • In the 18 months since its launch in May 2021, this role-related obligatory training module has received over 1000 completions.
  • There has been an increase in the number of postdocs and early career researchers having an active role on a variety of internal and external committees such as the University of Liverpool Concordat Steering Group, the Athena Swan Group and the Race Equality Charter Steering Group.
  • Case studies and blogposts available on the Researcher Hub also provide examples of how researchers are using the principles of the Concordat and applying them to their research practice.
  • The module is signposted to staff during induction via the role-related obligatory framework, via the PGR Supervisors’ Network on Canvas and regularly via various local level e-bulletins and newsletters. A link to the module has also been added to the ‘Development and Support’ section of the annual Personal Development Review form and to the Concordat pages on the University’s researcher Hub, ensuring that it is clearly and effectively signposted to all existing and new research-related staff at the University.

Feedback for the module includes:

  • Good, well-structured module.
  • It was useful to understand the framework in which professional development for researchers is designed.
  • Concise and informative.
  • Good to be reminded of the universities commitment to career development, my responsibility to plan >10days of professional development for myself and my staff.
  • Neat, bite-size pieces of information. Good use of audio and video.
  • The module is engaging and informative, without being too wordy. Occasional videos are useful.

Were there any surprising or unexpected consequences?

The Academy’s Researcher Development team regularly receive emails from colleagues in external universities complimenting the module. For example, “This is a great way of raising awareness of the RDC. I work at [institutional name redacted] and am tasked with raising awareness of HREiR [HR Excellence in Research] and the RDC and this open access module has given me lots of ideas. Thank you for making it open access so an external can do it.”

What advice would you give others wanting to do this?

We recommend that providing bite-sized information that can be accessed in many different formats and across many different platforms will increase engagement with and understanding of the Concordat. Most importantly, providing information about the Concordat in this manner empowers researchers to take responsibility for the development of their personal and professional practice and to foster conversations that nurture a positive and inclusive culture.

Beneficiaries: Research staff Postgraduate researchers Research and teaching staff Teaching-only staff Technicians Clinicians Managers of researchers Professional support staff

Stakeholders: Researchers Managers of researchers Professional staff Senior/executive team

Concordat principles: Environment and culture Employment Professional and career development

Keywords: Training Professional development Research identity Research culture Induction Career progression Policy Equality, diversity and inclusion Research integrity Wellbeing Researcher voice Bullying and harassment Flexible working Job security Working conditions Performance management Career management Diverse careers Leadership development Research assessment Recognition Open Transparent and Merit-based (OTM) recruitment and progression